By Riya Rana:
“To touch, to move, to inspire. This is the true gift of dance.”- Aubrey lynch
Dance is an art form where the body is the instrument. It truly encapsulates a culture’s values and traditions, passed on from generation to generation. Dance has existed since times earlier than the birth of human civilizations. Although it’s not definite, there are currently around 5000 different types of dance. While it has been evolving through the years, recently it has been subjected to factors which are bringing certain dance traditions under threat.
Tamasha- It is a folk dance of Maharashtra, involving dancing, singing, and acting in a suggestive manner. It is usually performed by local theatre groups, and is traditionally related with the Kolhati and Mahar communities. The men play the harmonium, dholak and tabla. While the women perform the lavani dance, wearing paithani saris, ghungroos, make up and flowers on their head. There was a time when it was widely enjoyed but now it’s popular only among uneducated, village-side Maharashtrians, due to satellite TV invasion. The dancers are living in poverty, dancing being their only means of employment. Tamasha is dying a slow death.
Cham- from the valleys of Tibet comes Cham, a collective form of 1300 year old mystical dances. It is a visual treat because of the variety of colourful masks and dresses. Buddhist monks meditate for days beforehand; during the performance they visualize themselves as deities, perform ancient moves, repeat mantras and collect evil from the crowd. The evil is trapped in an effigy and later the dance master cuts it open, drawing the evil into his own body, thus granting it deliverance. Cham has many historical and mystical anecdotes associated with it. Nowadays the local population of the Himalayas is declining, as many of the families want to have lesser children, citing economic reasons. With just one or two children, families are hesitant to send their children to monasteries. Hence lesser number of children are becoming monks. If not passed, Cham might become extinct soon.
Domni- A folk form of Maldah, West Bengal- Domni is mainly based on drama. The dancers are called ‘Nachari/Lachari’. The plays involve everyday life incidents, with a twist of satire. Hence roles of family members like husband, wives, mothers, and greedy house lenders are prominent. A Domni performance generally starts with devotional prayers. Harmonium, dholak and flute accompany the drama and dance. With changes in popular taste and culture, this dance form is moving towards extinction.
Morris dance– It is an English folk dance, dating back to 1448. It involves teams of dancers – often wearing hats and bells on their legs – wielding handkerchiefs, sticks or swords. Although Morris dancing is a common activity in countries like the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and so on, it is endangered. Many believe that soon it will become just a part of books. The youth is simply not interested in participating, probably because it ‘embarrasses’ them. The number of dancers is going down whilst the average age is going up. If younger people are not involved soon, it would become impossible to carry on this tradition.
Ojha — It is an ancient religious dance, performed in the Barak valley of Assam. It is performed by a sole male dancer, wearing a long skirt and kurta. He performs with a ‘chamar’/ broom in his hand. It is performed in the month of Shravan, during the puja of Goddess ‘Bishari’. Mythological stories related to ‘’Behula’, ‘Lakhindar’ and ‘Chand saudagar’ are also recited. This dance also faces a lack of interest and participation from the younger generation, endangering its existence.
Many folk artists lack opportunities and are stuck in a brutal cycle of poverty and exploitation. For many art forms, these few people are the only bearers. We need to realize the urgency of the situation. Funds, documentation, national recognition can save them from disappearing. We need to assure these artists of a livelihood, so that the dance may continue. Because once it ceases to exist, we will have lost an important part of our culture forever, and reviving it would be, simply put, impossible.