GOING PRO Along with classical dance, modern dance forms are finding their place in the city and the hearts of its people. MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN
In a city that has a flourishing trend of classical music and dance classes, a day when passion for “non-classical” dance form would take over was never imagined. From a few dance classes thrusting their modest heads into the cultural blanket of the city more than 10 years ago, and to learning to understand the difference between western dance and its filmy pelvic-thrusting counterpart, Chennai has come a long way indeed. The numerous dance schools that have mushroomed all over the city and the number of dance competitions that find their place in the city’s event calendar are proof of this growing change.
When Muthukrishnan alias ‘Michael’ Muthu, as he is popularly known in the dance circle for his successful impersonation of the legendary Michael Jackson since his college days, wanted to take it up as a full-fledged career eight to 10 years back, it wasn’t as viable as it is now. “When we used to perform as a team we could only earn around Rs. 15, 000 per month for everyone put together” he reveals. This amount obviously not being enough to build a career on, he decided to change track and took up a regular job. But with their passion for dance intact, the team now consisting of his friends and old team mates from college, and calling themselves iMovz, continues to perform at various shows. With the situation now conducive for dancers who want to take it up professionally, Muthu though regretful is clear about not going back to it. “Now I have a family and a good job that I cannot give up. That’s why I continue to dance part-time along with my team” he says.
Unlike Muthu, Suresh has been fortunate to have been able to pursue his first love. It is his love for dance that got him through the initial phases of struggle, he shares. Now the initial fight’s been won, he is making enough money. “Unlike a few years back, people are now looking and treating us like professionals. People aren’t just considering dance as a part-time pursuit,” says Suresh who after years of performing with a well-known dance studio branched out to set up his own dance school called Studio 8. Even with girls, times when families hesitated to let girls perform, especially out of station, are passé. “Now parents are okay about sending their daughters for shows because there is an increased awareness about what it actually involves and a change in perspective towards dance as a profession” he feels.
Agreeing with him is Fayaz, a young professional dancer, who says dance has even helped him land a role in a film. Awaiting the release of the film “Malar Melnilai Palli” in January next year, he says he decided to become a professional dancer since childhood as he had even decided to enter filmdom. Dancing in school and college culturals, becoming a part of a dance school was only the natural thing to do for him despite facing opposition from family. “There were too many problems at home. But I wouldn’t listen to them,” he reveals. It was only after dance got him a chance to participate in a popular dance competition on TV that his parents have calmed down. “It is possible to become a professional dancer now as there are a lot of opportunities but there is also a lot of competition, so it is important to practise every day.”
Ajith Neereekkshan too faced similar opposition to his choice of career. “My teachers would scold me and ask me to concentrate on academics when I tell them that I wanted to become a professional dancer, “ he recalls. Having decided that his future lies in dance while in Std XI, Ajith took his passion up seriously and even started a dance school at the age of 20. With the experience of having learnt under popular choreographers including John Britto and at Shiamak Davar Institute of Performing Arts in Mumbai, he started out but says “people only teach you dance but no one teaches you the business of it.” So after many trials and tribulations, at the age of 26 he is now settled as a professional dancer and dance teacher with his dance school, Top Dancers. Looks like Chennai — home to classical dance, has now broadened to adopt its western counterpart as well.
Choreographer Jeffrey Vardon on the trend of mushrooming western dance schools and advice for young aspiring dancers…
I grew up only on Doordarshan. So we got to see only Bharatanatyam shows and film dances through programmes like “Oliyum Oliyum”. The entry of foreign channels brought the western influence right into the viewers’ homes, bringing with it an insight into the modern dance in which they saw freedom of movement. Modern dance has no fixed rules, but only figures and that have to be precise and well-executed. So this dance was being looked at as casual and something that can be performed just about anywhere like a birthday party or get-togethers. Thus its popularity increased. It is a good trend that a lot of dance schools are opening as there is always a need for it. Even when I started my dance school – Hot Shoe Dance Company, 12 years ago, my classes were always full. People take up dancing for the fun of it but there are also people who want to take it up professionally. For them my advice would be to learn a classical style first because that would help them experience the full range of movement of the joints. Then adapting to any other style becomes easier. And for those who want to take up teaching, I would recommend they go through a structured, professional course first. The business of dance is not like any other as it deals with the human body, so one has to be careful.
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