Just the other day, I was engaged in a fascinating discussion with a fellow dancer, about how stunts have seemingly taken over dance forms. This is fast leading to a loss of the dance form itself, as well as the sheen associated with it. Creativity and innovation in dance is now translated as tossing someone from a height, and taking a few high jumps and pirouettes yourself, whilst catching your partner. In other dance performances, a dancer tosses their partner like a ball while this person then needs to get nimbly to their feet. All this, of course, is followed by thundering rounds of applause!
As judge of two of the biggest national level dance competitions last year – Malhar, the annual college festival of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai and Mood Indigo, the much-awaited annual event at IIT Powai – I was able to appreciate folk dance forms even more than I already did. I have always believed that folk dances are a true celebration of life, bringing people together, and thereby giving rise to the opportunity of coming together and celebrating in dance.
India has a rich culture of folk dances across regions, communities and faiths. I recently read an enriching book on dance by author Jiwan Pani, and I quote: “The range and variety of folk dance traditions surviving in India is indeed amazing. The sub-continent has around thirty different cultural regions”. Not too many people know that there are different folk dances to acknowledge special occasions such as a wedding, the birth of a child, death, and even festivals such as the onset of the harvest season. The vast body of folk dances clearly is part of every occasion, from cradle to grave.
Coming back to the college competitions, I noticed that there were dance groups at both festivals that recreated authentic folk dances from various regions in India. This brought me back to the discussion with my fellow dancer, on how some Indian folk dances have stunts incorporated into the dance routine, elevating the performance and adding an entirely different dimension. This is the stuff that adds the zing and wow factor to any performance and can hold an audience enthralled!
In conclusion, I believe that folk dances comprise primarily of dance steps and just a few stunts; however, these stuntsare examples of sheer strength, stamina and impeccable training. Some of these dances include:
Bhavai nritya: Originating in the desert state of Rajasthan, this dance form sees women dance gracefully with brass pots on their head. As they whirl in a fast-paced dance, they not only balance these pots, but also dance on talwars (swords), sharp, upended nails and shards of glass. The Bhavai nritya therefore involves tricky balancing acts; from balancing seven to nine brass pots on the head to balancing oneself (together with the pots) on narrow and unstable objects such as glass bottles, brass paraats (plates) or on the edge of a sword. The brass pots can, and are often, substituted by an even greater number of earthen pots.
Karakattam folk dance: The karakattam or karakam harvest folk dance is from Tamil Nadu, and involves balancing a large number of pots of decreasing size on the heads of the dancers. At the same time, these dancers continue their dance movements, all the while dancing and balancing on seesaw-like sticks. They are able to beautifully express the theme of the dance to the audience through their delicate movements. Other highlights include blowing fire, sticking needles into their eyes and maintaining balance with a bottle on the performer’s back, held parallel to the ground. This dance is performed both as a form of entertainment as well as a deeply spiritual practice.
Hojagiri folk dance: Also known as Hodaigri, this dance form has its origins in Tripura, and has been traditionally performed by the Bru (Reang) people on the festival of Hojagiri around Durga Puja. Balancing earthenware, glass lamps, pitchers and bottles on their head, together with the mairang (a wide circular rice cleaning utensil made of cane) on their hands, the dancer performs what can be called a slow hip hop. The dancer’s hip and waist movements with all the balancing techniques are indeed a visual treat. Balancing is main key factor of this dance form. The Hojagiri tribal dance can be termed as one of the more graceful and intricate Indian dances, which is proudly showcased at most international festivals.
Above are some of the dance forms that involve stunts in addition to dance steps. A quick search on the Internet will introduce you to many more such amazing Indian folk dances. Intrigued? Watch out for more in my next blog post! Stay tuned!
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