Why I dance?
…the only person you are in competition with is the individual you know you can become…” — Martha Graham
That is the absolute beauty of dance.
My relationship with dance is complex and yet simple. I sleep, walk, bathe, eat, wander, dream and suffer with dance. Sometimes because of it. I am aware of dance and its workings in my system at every moment: like that of a lover. Being on the stage held an irresistible allure for me even at five. But I didn’t dance to perform. I still don’t. I dance because it is something I must do. I dance not to entertain, or to take a break from the drudgery of everyday life. Dance is essential for my survival. On one hand it nourishes, fulfills, invigorates me and on the other it is a source of my agony, pain and longing for the achievement of the unattained. Dance brings me closer to a profound, divine presence.
At ten I was sneaking my way in a small town in India around a building where dance classes were held. I would quietly listen to the sounds of dance for hours outside a window, fearing someone might catch me. The pull was too strong to resist. On many occasions I was caught dancing frenetically in a locked room. This happened when I was sometimes alone at home after school. At times the neighbors complained of the sounds of my bare feet causing vibrations in their homes. I was also caught cross-dressing and dancing. With make-up on and dancing. Singing and dancing. Dancing and singing. But there was always the Dance. At eleven I started my formal training in Bharatanatyam: the distinct dance style from Southern India. With it I embarked on a life-long path of countless hours of training, sweat, learning, unlearning, injuries, heart aches, body aches, even starvation. Because I could either eat or dance. I chose the latter.
Dancers have an intrinsic sense that their journey is essentially solitary. It is a lonely pursuit. But it is again dance that rescues one from this loneliness. The impulse to dance is inexplicable: something primal, basic and compulsive is at work. Dance, for all its talk of beauty and grace is simply a force helping me sail through the vicissitudes of life. Fluff? Perhaps, especially to a twenty first century pragmatic mind. Nevertheless the kind that makes each day for me bearable and more livable.
In an age of instant access and rapid information, in times when breadth matters more than the depth of thought, dance quenches my thirst of turning inward, of self-reflection, of developing a far more advanced technology of communication. Dance is the technology of conveying both simple thoughts and complicated human emotions, of honing sensitivity towards the environment, of living a healthy lifestyle and of connecting with fellow human beings (not their virtual apparitions, but real people in real flesh and blood). Dance makes me stop and admire the insurmountable beauty of an unfurling flower and the changing shapes of the clouds. I stop because I want to let the flower and the cloud pass through me. So I may dance their life force. My body merely a tool.
In an impersonal world of Blackberries, cryptic communication and instant messaging, dance affords me a personable space. A space where I can revel in engaging all of my senses, a world in which one friend will invest the time and energy to pacify another who is lovelorn, where she will set out to find that insensitive lover.* In the dance world she mocks at commercialism and its hallmarks: homogeneity, conformity and mindless repetition. In a social culture where keypad is king, where marketability and predictability rule, it is dance that helps me dwell in a parallel but tangible world of human connectivity. Because neither movement nor free spirits can be canned for longer shelf lives.
Mesma S. Belsare
Mesma is a Bharatanatyam dancer, educator and artist based in Boston, MA.
* Reference to two of the popular themes in the Bharatanatyam repertoire.