Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Socio-Economic Issues of Dancers: Now

By S. Janaki
Paper presented at the seminar on “Socio-economic issues of Dancers: Then and Now” organized by the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) on 28 April at the mini hall of the Narada Gana Sabha in Chennai.
The morning session focusing on the “Socio-economic issues of dancers – Then” was overwhelming, giving rare and lovely insights into the past. Times have changed from Then to Now. The milieu has changed, attitudes have changed. In the session on “Socio-economic issues of dancers: Now” – we come to the ground realities.
Change is unchangeable and inevitable in life. All art forms have undergone change, are undergoing changes, and will continue to change. Dance in general, and Bharatanatyam in particular, are no exceptions.
Changes in the context of the dance, and changes in the socio-economic state of the practitioners and propagators of the dance form, have influenced the dance scene a great deal.
With the transition from Sadir to Bharatanatyam, the art has gone global. The economics of the dance is such that performance alone is not lucrative. So come summer, most dancers fly off to the West to the US, Europe, Australia, or South Africa to conduct workshops and also to dance. The foreign currency they earn, when converted into Indian rupees when they return before the Chennai season, keeps them going for the rest of the year. Bharatanatyam is now looked upon as a universal “dance vocabulary”. Dance has moved from communion to communication. Today, the dancer often takes on the role of a social commentator. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the tenets and standard of Bharatanatyam are maintained!
Now, there is no stigma attached to the dance. It is actually “fashionable” to learn Bharatanatyam. Dancers are respected, though male dancers have not found the going easy. The situation has improved of late.
Overall, we cannot deny that there have been changes in the performing space, changes in the type of practitioners and custodians of the art form, changes in patronage of the art form, and changes in the audience for the dance. Let us look at some of the factors influencing change.

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