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A book to learn theory aspects of Bharatanatya

Posted On: Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
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Author: Anupama Mangalvedhe, Chicago anu2nitin@gmail.com

“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

It took me a few years after I started learning Bharatanatyam to understand what the great Albert Einstein once said!  I was always under the impression that if I learn how to dance, theoretical knowledge would automatically be somehow imbibed in me! My assumption might have been due to the rush that I was in to learn and perform since I took up Bharatanatyam late in my life! I also thought learning how to dance was more important than knowing the theoretical aspects of it.

My guru, Kshama Shah, had made an attempt to teach me theory, but because of my poor memory in memorizing things, I couldn’t get past learning the single-hand and double-hand gestures! Last year I got an opportunity to learn theory from guru Dr. Rohitha Ishwar for a couple of days at Mysore.  That is when I got a glimpse of the vastness and the beauty of the theoretical aspects of dance and that left me wanting to know more about it.

Incidentally, during the same trip, I happened to attend the book release function of Dr. Manorama, a danseuse, researcher and director of Noopura Bhramari. She has authored several books including “Mudraanava”, “Nritya Marga Mukura”, “MahamuniBharatha” and “Nandikeshwara”. Her latest book “Bharatha Natyabodhini” is what interested me. This is a bilingual Bharatanatya text, in which the translation from Kannada to English has been done by Shalini Vittal, an art researcher and founder of Kalagowri institute, and Dr. Dwaritha Vishwanath, an art researcher and a teacher.

At the very outset, this book appealed to me because of the content being published in both English and Kannada, making it available to a larger audience. Knowing both the languages, I switched pages back and forth to refer to Shlokas only in Kannada version as they could be read easily.

I am at a stage where I do not care about passing exams and this book is perfect for students like me. It is very informative and provides systematic dance education for students who are genuinely interested in acquiring knowledge. At the same time, I would be a fool to say that it would not help with exams! The book is rich in information but doesn’t feel overwhelming to the student. The reason is that all the salient and vital points have been distinctly noted in bold and have been bulleted, making the learning simple and easy to memorize. Instead of having long running text and making the reading boring, the author has condensed the subject and provided information in capsules, which is very helpful for an exam-taker of this generation, who is usually accustomed to objective types of questions and answers.

In the foreword, Dr. Shobha Shashikumar (Bharatanatya danseuse, researcher and aesthetician) says that “this book is highly recommendable to the earnest learners, inclusive of the students and the teachers. The teachers are provided with a definite and simpler, but wholesome approach to the process of introducing theory and practice simultaneously.”

The chapters are divided based on Chaturvidha abhinaya, which helps in understanding the concepts. In the beginning of each chapter, the author lets you know at what stage of learning the art form the chapter should be read. Along with that, she also indicates, from an exam perspective, how many marks you can score by learning that chapter.

The introductory chapter explains how natya came into existence, the origin and development of Bharatanatya, its different styles, benefits and about the ancient texts of dance. An entire chapter has been dedicated to explaining various aasanas and exercises that are recommended before dancing. One can also learn the classification of adavus, the various hand gestures and their practicality, along with different movements of the feet, head, neck, eyes and eyebrows. An overview on rhythms in music, and a nice explanation of a few technical terms and instruments used in dance music are also provided. If a student wonders how one needs to dress up for a dance class and for a performance, there is a chapter dedicated to costumes and make-up too. The book ends with a brief introduction to the nine rasas and a detailed list of what constitutes a maargam. It is also worth mentioning about the illustrations and drawings which are very pleasing and appealing to the eyes.

For me, the take away from this book was that I got a big picture of what dance theory is all about and a holistic understanding of the theoretical and practical aspects of dance. This book has fueled further curiosity and interest in me to study dance texts to gain more knowledge.

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[ The author is based in Chicago (USA), and is a practicing Bharatanatyam enthusiast. She started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of 35 and performed Arangetram at the age of 40. She also has published a book in Kannada narrating her experiences of learning Bharatanatyam, while living and working as a software engineer in the USA.]

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