For that balancing act on stage and in life

This photograph shows the author on stage enacting an Odissi ‘abhinaya’ to a popular song ‘To Lagi Gopa Danda’. She is in a kneeling posture with the right knee touching the floor and the other folded (‘abhanga’ posture); she has her arms in a wide open stance with hands placed squarely on the knees and torso tilted to the right; her gaze is fixated to her left, away from the camera. Against a dark stage background, she looks resplendent in a deep red saree, silver ornaments and headgear traditional to the Odissi dance form. With eyes highlighted strikingly with kohl, she has a bright smile as she performs the act with grace. Photo credit: Kaushik Mukherjee

My Story, Dec '18
Subhamita Maitra on the power of dance to rejuvenate body and mind

‘Dance’ may be a small word but its impact on life can be glorious. In the Brahma Samhita, Lord Brahma narrates that in the spiritual world, no one talks but they sing, no one walks but they dance. It’s a process of communication – starting from the invertebrates to other lower vertebrates, dance and tones are the mode of interaction. The bee dance has been a major focus of research as have been the dolphin hymns. However for humans, dance is a passion, a strong feeling of sovereignty, often a profession as well.

For me, dance is an educator. It always teaches me something new. It guides me how to express myself, boosts me how to move ahead while often training me how to control my emotions. A continuous practice of dance rejuvenates me – my body and soul.

This is a collage of three photographs that show the author performing Odissi on stage depicting different dancing moods. In one photograph she is kneeling down in the ‘samabhanga’ posture and offering ‘vandana’ with flowers; in another she is standing up in the graceful ‘tribhanga’ (s-shaped) posture offering ‘vandana’ with flowers; and in a third she is performing an ‘abhinaya’. In all the photographs she is dressed in costumes and ornaments traditional to the Odissi dance form. The dark stage background provides a striking and pleasing contrast to her brightly lit up figure. Photo credit: Kaushik Mukherjee

I was formally introduced to dance when I was six (in 1994), though my family often remarks that I started dancing even before that. Around four years of age, I used to dance in front of the mirror in my own childish way. Owing to this keen interest, I was admitted to a dance school near my home. I spent 16 years learning Kathak and Rabindra Nritya. Even after my class was over, I stayed back to watch my seniors dance. At times I practiced other’s performances during annual shows. I made my debut performance in 1997 in the role of Princess Kalavatikanya from a popular Bengali dance drama Buddhu Bhutum. I still have that old princess’ dress! Now, I often laugh looking at it, recalling those moments.

I made several close friends at the dance school. I felt extremely bad whenever I missed my dance classes because of school examinations or other reasons. I remember one particular incident. I was in class nine, it was a Sunday and on the very next day, I had a history paper, which was a nightmare for me. I used to have a regular Sunday dance class in the morning. As the time for the class neared, my eagerness to attend it overtook the compulsion to study for the history paper. When it was 11 am, I couldn’t resist myself. I just got ready for the class, went to my mother and asked her in a timid voice if I could go. To my dismay, she burst out in anger and sent me back to my books. In the end I could neither attend the dance class nor study for the history paper.

Years later, I found myself in a similar situation. My final year dance examination was just ahead of the fourth semester examinations of my Master’s in Science course. This time my mother knew that scolding or stopping me wouldn’t be a good choice. Instead she calmly requested me to come back from the dance examination as early as possible. I was happy that she’d realized and appreciated my dedication towards dance. Time can bring about many significant changes in life.

Soon after I completed my degrees in Kathak, I started receiving formal training in Odissi. Today I’m a solo Odissi artiste; I conduct classes, work as a choreographer and present myself in national and international forums.

On another front, I’m a neuroscience researcher and have completed my PhD in this sphere. I can sense the positivity of being a dancer in this field as well. As a dancer, I feel that being dynamic is a virtue by which we can prove ourselves. I can approach people easily and increase my circle of contacts. But my professional commitments often try to drive me away from dance. So I need to put in a constant effort to continue with both passion and profession.

Quote: I feel that dance has a great contribution to what I am today. It has taught me how to recover when I’m down; it has trained me how to set my focus above the mundane pros and cons and conflict of desires. When circumstances ruin my well-being, I know that no matter how deep the problem is, I will make my way out of it. The credit has to go to dance.People often think that dance contributes only to physical fitness, but it also offers mental grooming. In one of my recent investigations (as part of a Post-Graduation Diploma in Psychological Counselling), I found that those who are actively involved in music and dance have good memory skills and better regulation. Dance training influences our personality and silently builds our mind.

I feel that dance has a great contribution to what I am today. It has taught me how to recover when I’m down; it has trained me how to set my focus above the mundane pros and cons and conflict of desires. When circumstances ruin my well-being, I know that no matter how deep the problem is, I will make my way out of it. The credit has to go to dance.

To me dance is like worshipping the Almighty. Enacting the verses from Gita Govinda or performing the Tandava helps me explore the core philosophy of life, which is more intense than we often care to acknowledge.

My journey of dance has been all of 24 years. It has had its share of struggles. But I feel fortunate that I’ve always found my gurus, teachers, parents, sister, family members and friends by my side. The silent but strong support from my companion Kaushik and the simple yet charming wishes from my little prince Kittu inspire me to walk many miles more. Today, when I think of what dance has offered me, the first thing that happens is that it puts a bright smile on my face. The very thought of life without dance suffocates me!

I’ve hardly dreamt of becoming a celebrity dancer and winning awards. I wish to remain a learner so that my dance form always reflects the essence of life – which is all about a continuous struggle to maintain a balance. I dance only because I love to dance!

About the main photo: The author enacting an Odissi abhinaya to a popular song To Lagi Gopa Danda. Photo credits: Kaushik Mukherjee

Author Photo

Subhamita Maitra

Dr. Subhamita Maitra has a PhD in Neuroscience and is an Indian classical dance exponent specialized in Odissi. She aims to connect her knowledge and skills to establish the contribution of dance in developing the human mind.

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