The “High Spirits” Of Dance & Music

The “High Spirits” Of Dance & Music

Those on my blog who are not aware of my extra-curricular activities, 2 such interesting activities on my weekly agenda are a) Kathak classical dance & b) Hindustani classical vocal music. Both these choices are less from interest and more from the desire to make a humble beginning in arts & music for a coming life.

I read somewhere in one of those philosophy books – that what we are challenged in, but what we aspire to do, perhaps with proficiency in future lives – are the areas in which we need to make our beginnings in this life.

One such area of challenge for me has been dance & music. Challenge because fine arts are an inborn gift – either we have it or we don’t; much like so many other talents that cannot be learnt, but just have to flow from inside. Hence the choice to make a humble beginning.

Till date, I haven’t yet learnt to dance or sing with the “heart”. I dance and sing with my “mind”. I’m forever calculating the beats, the number of steps before a turn; or when a line of musical notes should rise or fall or stretch. Till the time I see myself doing that – I know I’m not “quite there” yet.

Because for example when I write, I don’t “think”, I just write; my “fingers” do the writing. It means the speed of my word processing is so fast that I’m not consciously aware that I’m “thinking” about what or how to write. When that speed of processing is achieved in dance or music – then my “feet” will dance, and my “voice” will sing – the “mind” will take a backseat.

My meager class of 4 students in Kathak dance, consists of 4 x 40yr olds desirous of some “physical activity”. Among the 4 is a rather feather-brained, super-competitive old girl with an otherwise heart-of-gold, and who has a fixation for stage performances. For months now, my 26yr old dance teacher has been racqueting off requests from the old girl, to prepare us for a stage performance. Finally worn out, last week she gave in. She will choreograph us for a song, she promised.

In spite of optimistic promises, our young teacher appeared bit worried. From her experience she has seen that older students, not earlier exposed to dance or music, usually develop odd mental & physical symptoms just before a performance. They usually forget beats, they’re not in sync, hand gestures (mudras/hastaks) run faster than normal, ghungroos tend to get untied on stage etc. it’s a common phenomena. A disturbing phenomena more so, because classical dance unlike modern beats, has no scope for improvisation. Also, accompanying musicians like Tabla, Pakhawaj & Harmonium players get edgy when dancers are off-beat; then they refused to cooperate.

In this context our young teacher also mentioned that even seasoned performers (who are icons of Classical dance & Classical music today) get nervous & edgy before lengthy performances; and most of them have deviced their own relaxation & anti-inhibitory techniques before long performances & long practice sessions (riyaaz) – chief of such techniques being a favorite quarter bottle of alcohol snugly tucked away, from which periodic swigs are taken.

Allow me to deviate from my narrative for a brief moment:-

  1. This habit of dancers & musicians intrigued me, and I did a bit of research on these artistic side-effects of alcohol.
  2. In art forms which have repetitive sequences, artistes cannot concentrate for more than 50 minutes as brain’s neuro-receptors are prone to boredom & fatigue where repetition is involved.
  3. Neuro-receptors combat boredom & fatigue better when sequences or routines are in variation & irregular.
  4. Boredom & fatigue disturb concentration levels, and a musician or dancer can easily go off-tune or off-beat.
  5. Alcohol temporarily affects brain function by tilting the delicate balance between inhibitory neuro-transmitters & excitatory neuro-transmitters, in favor of excitatory neuro-transmitters, by subduing the inhibitory neuro-transmitters.
  6. This makes a person under the influence of alcohol more-excited & less-inhibited. This excitement makes us believe we can deliver more than we are actually capable – and in a way, this takes us through the performance sans boredom & fatigue.
  7. Also, alcohol evaporates at a faster rate than human blood; thus it exits our body via skin cells as vapors. Alcohol is basically spirit/ether, so with these vapors around us, we feel “high-spirited” & “ethereal”.

Thus explained, let me come back to the main point of my narrative: the planned stage performance of my class of 4.

My young teacher had this to say to us: “aap lagaake aayenge, toh mein aapki stage performance lagaa sakti hoon… lekin zyaada mat lagaiye, varna mein vilambit-laya mein taal loongi aur aap dhrut-laya mein bhaagenge”.

Translation: if you can “raise your spirits” than I can be spirited enough to choreograph your performance… but don’t “raise your spirits too high”, else I will be tapping in slow beat & you old girls will be running in fast beat.

I like my teacher’s sense of humor. But what I liked better was the excitement that this remark generated. My class of 4, along with my respected young teacher, are planning discreet wine-sessions to determine the right “shot” for our performances. No point collapsing on stage with a Patiala-peg when 2 tablespoons would have sufficed.

Yippee for me. Yippier for the other 3, whose better-haves may frown at the very mention. My better-half…? Well – he’s threatening to withdraw his sponsorship of my artistic pursuits. Hmmm. Where there is a will, there is always a way – albeit a swaggering one.


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