I actually have a friend who happens to be a Bharatnatyam dancer. She works hard, looks gorgeous (did the eyes come first or the dance?) and performs in some very exotic cities across Europe in shows we only hear of on her FB page. Beyond that page, I haven’t really given a thought to this particular form of performing arts since early school years when they made us learn the names by rote.
Who ever saw a real Manipuri dance performance? It will never be able to leap from a text book into a terrace concert in Hauz Khas like Sufi Kathak did, nor does it look likely of being transported from fields of India on to auditoriums in California like the electrified Bhangra. Even for more popular dances like Kathakali, it’s a task to find an authentic performance in the places where they originate (and no, hotel lawn performances don’t count!).
Dance is inevitably linked to the Divine. Most classical dances were born in temples or were, in any case, steeped in telling spiritual stories. So obviously, you’re unlikely to learn about mudras unless you have a cool friend like I do. Or, unless you travel to one of these gorgeous places and see for yourself what the big deal is!
Nrityagram for Odissi
Nrityagram is special, and the people who run it seem to know it. It is the country’s only ‘dance village’, a sort of modern Gurukul set up by Protima Gauri (Kabir Bedi’s socialite wife indeed!) in 1990. It’s impossible to imagine the atmosphere of the place until you make a trip to this beautiful bucolic setting on the outskirts of Bangalore. Here you can catch in rehearsal some of the world’s finest Odissi dancers. Learn, you say? You’ll have to promise your kidneys over to them before they are convinced of your passion. It’s a gurukul, duh!
Chennai for Bharatnatyam
It’s true that Chennai is almost snooty when it comes to Bharatnatyam, but there’s really not much anyone can do about it considering this form was born inside the temples of Tamil Nadu, where the enchanting devadasis danced. There are a string of festivals that showcase the senior-most of Bharatnatyam dancers, Chennai December Season being your best bet to witness one at a large scale. There are many (many, many) schools to learn Bharatnatyam in Chennai, Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts being one of the more reputed ones. Speaking of which, try making a trip to Chidambaram town if you can; its temples form the ultimate dance pilgrimage.
UP for Kathak
You read that right. I mean Uttar Pradesh. Because while it is a piece of cake to find a Kathak performance around the corner, it’s hard to make sense of it unless you’ve seen the real thing in one of the original gharanas. It’s the most versatile of classical dances, the most experimented with, and one you might have most seen thanks to old Bollywood mujra numbers. Varanasi and Lucknow are two of the most beautiful spots to see Kathak in its true form, as it is practised in many musical homes even now. Kathak Kendra in Delhi and Rashtriya Kathak Sansthan in Lucknow are two excellent schools to learn from. For something more Sufi, the stunning Manjari Chaturvedi’s Sufi Kathak Foundation in Delhi is where you have to go. You might spit on salsa once you see this one.
Thrissur for Kathakali
Kathakali is one of those dances found dime a dozen regardless of what part of Kerala you are in. Heck, you’ll even find them in Dilli Haat. I once went on a wild goose chase trying to find something authentic around Varkala Beach, and at the end of several touristy performances, stopped wasting my money on dance and switched to sampling the best fish instead. Kerala Kalamandalam is where you need to go. It’s one of the best-recognised Kathakali schools in the country, located in Thrissur. Margi Kathakali School in Trivandrum is another one that organises regular performances.