Art, as described by scholars and treatises centuries ago, primarily refers to its sixty-four kinds which encompass singing, playing instruments, dancing, artwork, perfumery, magic, culinary, tailoring, carpentry, poetry, etc. Of these, dance is of special interest to us.
Dance is an art form that has existed since time immemorial. Dance is dynamic, vibrant, full of awareness and ecstasy and has a universal appeal. Either unconsciously or consciously, dance remains a significant part of life. Dance is a creative and imaginative process which is a mirror of the world we see around us, reflected in a stylized way. For over centuries, dance has been about expressing one’s feelings and emotions through stylized movements with the body as the medium.
Any art form requires a systematic way of learning and dance is not an exception. Truly, there is no age or time limit to begin one’s learning. The triangle of the artiste and learning of the art is only complete when there is a guru. The term guru is usually translated as ‘teacher’. However, the term 'teacher' is a very weak translation of the intensity of the term 'guru'; for, a Guru does not only teach the art form itself but moulds the individual into a cultured being. The guru inculcates values and life lessons in us.
Dance, or for that matter any art form, is always a spiritual experience. In the attempt to learn, execute, teach and relish the art form, we try to get a glimpse of the supreme bliss – brahmānanda. Every individual undertakes the spiritual journey all by himself/herself. In this path, it is the guru who inspires, guides and thoroughly prepares us for the ecstasy that awaits us in our journeys and at the destination.
The saint poet Kabir has appropriately said, “When Guru and God both are there before us, to whom should one first bow? All glory be unto the guru who bestowed upon us the path to God.”
Thus, learning the art form begins with the guru. Once the spark of learning and the desperate search for knowledge has sprouted inside an individual, s/he is bound to seek a guru. The student finds a path in the guru which will answer his/her quest and thus the beautiful journey of learning and experience of art begins!
In dance, the learning is always multifarious. To begin with, the student learns the basic movements of the body and gradually progresses to learn the more complex dance numbers over many long, committed years. While the body shapes itself thus, the mind learns to open its awareness, imagination and concentration to the more subtle and finer aspects of art and life. Fortunately, dance is a dependent art form. It ensures that one is familiar with music and its elements, the science of the body, the working of the mind and a universe of imagination. This unison helps in articulating the thoughts, feelings and emotions through the medium of the body through stylized movements – a dancer is born.
It is only now that the dancer brings to take his/her first steps into the art experience. Just like an innocent child, curious about the ways of the world – the dancer is, rather must be, curious to learn more; ‘more’ does not refer to only a greater number of dance pieces or ancillary art forms, but also to learn how to delve deeper into one’s self and the art form itself, thus inching towards the experience of sheer bliss! Making this art and learning the purpose of one’s life, the dancer learns to replicate the experience in real life too while at the same time transcending the boundaries of the mundane world; there takes place an internalization, a manifestation and an assimilation of art – the artiste is thus born.
The learning is needed not only by a dancer but also by the spectator to appreciate and enjoy this art form. Firstly, the artiste himself/herself must become a spectator and be capable of enjoying another individual’s portrayal of art. An extremely important aspect of learning is being a sahŗdaya. To be a connoisseur in the true sense demands one to set aside all the preconceived notions and enjoy the freshness of the art form. Swami Vivekananda has said, “Learn Everything that is good from others but bring it in, and in your own way absorb it; do not become others.” This is true for the learning of art as well. One must always be willing to graciously receive knowledge from others while at the same time not imitating blindly. Art can be truly experienced and expressed only when it emerges from within one’s self after years of churning and intense sādhana; discipline, dedication, commitment, devotion, learning – words fall short to give the essence of the term sādhana. It is only this sādhana that takes the artiste closer to brahmānanda.
Aesthetician M. Hiriyanna says that experiencing art is characterized by a unique kind of delight. It is this delight that all artistes and connoisseurs seek throughout their journey of the art. For a true artiste, there is never an end to learning. The learning of techniques and expressions in class from a guru, learning by watching other artistes and art forms, learning of life lessons from the guru, fellow artistes and the world around, learning from one’s own performance, learning in the process of passing on the knowledge to others, etc. are all different forms of art learning. One can keep adding to this learning and experience in art, thus finding a great sense of peace and contentment, a silence within that touches the deepest parts of our soul, the Supreme.