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Committed to dance

Samana Gururaja trains at the Chitkala School of Dance under P.Praveen Kumar and is currently working at a non-profit organization, A.R.T (Art, Resources & Teaching) in Bangalore.
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Dance is most important to me as a means of communication, connection and entertainment. As a dancer, the moment you get on the stage, you start to build a relationship with the audience, through shared stories, experiences and emotions. You are able to invoke the essence of feelings and transport the people watching you to other places and times, other realms of imagination. In a time when there is a rhetoric of classical dance “disappearing” and the need to “preserve” it, people often end up justifying and educating rather than simply aspiring to entertain and uplift their audience for the duration of the performance. I aspire, in my performing career to have a deep awareness of bhava and rasa, and to be able to invoke involvement from the audience through it, so that they leave a performance feeling inspired by the depth and complexity of human emotion and experience.

However, I did not always feel this way about dance. I never felt a special joy while dancing, and yet I could never imagine not dancing; it was a part of my life, which I had not necessarily chosen but could not deny. I went to class twice a week, performed when an opportunity came and of course, enjoyed dressing up in colourful costumes and makeup.

This feeling changed completely in the preparation for my Rangapravesham, when I was hit with the knowledge that I would be responsible for holding a large audience for over two hours. At this time, working for long hours with my teacher, perfection became the primary objective. The intensity of practice made me experience emotions to a degree that I had not previously known. Some days I would walk home completely frustrated and defeated by my inability to master a set of adavus, but I would be back the next day with determination improve, if only inch by inch, and finally, when I did, the feeling of satisfaction and confidence was equally powerful.
I never felt a special joy while dancing, and yet I could never imagine not dancing; it was a part of my life, which I had not necessarily chosen but could not deny.
In this manner the movements of the nritta and the narratives in the abhinaya items became physically ingrained in my system. I felt ready to do justice to what my teacher had given me. However, the experience I had on the day of my Rangpravesham far surpassed anything I had expected. The joy I felt after the correct completion of each jathi, the involvement I felt in the abhinaya seemed to multiply with each member of the audience. They responded to me, with applause when I completed a jathi correctly, and I responded to them with increased confidence and for those two hours, for the first time in my life, dancing truly gave me joy and I came away knowing that it was always going to be a part of my life. Even though, now, looking back on my Rangapravesham, I see so many faults, quirks and signs of inexperience in my dancing, I see it as a major turning point in the way I experienced dance.

After completing my high school education, I went to study abroad, pursuing my other passion, the study of history. It was at this time that I realised the importance of a guru. As I tried to motivate myself to practice on my own, I felt the lack of guidance and encouragement keenly and my practice suffered as a result. However, my ideas of dance were evolving in another manner. When I started my B.A. in History I was unsure as to what specific area or time I wanted to study. Over time, the more courses I took, the more I narrowed my interests down to the field of Indian History then to women in Indian History, and finally to courtesan culture, leading me, once again, from an entirely fresh perspective, back into dance.

Upon realising this specific interest, I made the decision to graduate a year early and return to India, both to practically pursue my dance in a serious way and to study its rich history in the temples and courts of South India, through the intriguing lives of temple and court performers (devadasis and rajanarthakis).

I have been back in Bangalore for a year now and am continuing to understand and interpret my relationship with dance as a student of Bharatanatyam, as a researcher of the devadasi heritage, and other streams of courtesan culture, and as a performer, taking on the joys and responsibilities of establishing a rapport with the audience and evoking sometimes the arrogance of a woman who goes forth boldly to meet her lord, sometimes the thrill of an adavu begun off beat and sometimes the powerful stability of maintaining a still posture with unwavering balance. Such a connection with the audience is achieved, not just through intense emotion, but also through accuracy, appropriateness and flawless timing, each of which requires intense practice, knowledge of history, mythology and human behaviour and keen awareness of one’s own body and mind. This to me is the commitment of a dancer, one that I have made and hope to fulfill.