How Contemporary Jazz Helped Me Discover Myself

Posted on July 21, 2014 in Culture-Vulture

By Veda Nadendla:

Growing up in Delhi, I got accustomed to jigging to the tunes of the dholak, manjira and dhik-chik waale Punjabi beats from before I can remember. My first formal introduction to dance was when my dad decided that I was becoming useless after school and discovered The Danceworx; a Jazz, Ballet and Contemporary dance company in New Delhi founded in 1988 by dancer and choreographer Ashley Lobo. He wanted to give dancers in India the opportunity to learn from an institute at par with dance institutes overseas. Best decision ever. This is where I met my first and eternal love; contemporary jazz.

Aparna

Jazz is the personification of music. Originating from the African American vernacular dance, contemporary jazz eventually absorbed the Caribbean traditional dance, thus becoming a form of fluid movement. Like water; the water flowing down the windshield of your car when it rains, slow and smooth, almost floating. It is a deeply expressive and elegant form of dance, focused on the creative movement of the body; especially the limbs. A strong foundation in Ballet encourages grace and balance in contemporary jazz. This is an art form that evolved to be used in musicals, television, commercials, music videos and films.

Attending jazz classes, I was this shy, scared, chubby girl with a long oily plat and rimless glasses, expecting to be judged and ridiculed. I almost believed that I had two left feet! Every day, I’d go home and dance in front of the mirror; sometimes just giggling at how funny I looked doing that move. The more I did that, more I realized I was dancing with my heart, giving in to the temptations of the movement and letting myself just be. I could move my body to any music. To my surprise, this is how I discovered myself; and continue to discover more of me even now.

Every class I attended exploded with energy. My instructor would scream her lungs off over the music “Get your groove on people!” The music styles vary from hip-hop to show tunes and can go as far as Bollywood and Bhangra, so the beat alone is enough to get you moving. Wearing loose-at-the ankle pants is important to allow free movement, with a fitting tank top or shirt that makes body lines visible. In a Jazz class, the instructor begins with a series of warm up exercises and leads you into stretching and isolation movements. Isolation involves moving one part of the body while the other remains motionless. Similarly, jazz dancers also do suspensions, that is, transitioning from one movement position to another without a break. Every time I was dancing I felt waves, as if I were being washed ashore.

What is your walking style?” she asked us, and strangely enough, almost every time, I was picturing a duck in my head. She encouraged us to dab our own personality to each step and each move. I will always be thankful to the jazz walk for helping me discover my walking style. The jazz walk is a signature move of jazz and it looks like a really groovy catwalk. You can do it too, c’mon! Stand up and put your hands on your hips. Lift one leg and point your toes in front of you, do the same with your other leg. Now transform into your own fabulous superstar, play the music in your head and just walk!

Dancing helped me discover myself; the way I gesticulate when I talk, the way I cross my legs when I sit, the way I walk, my expressions when I’m talking to another person, the confidence to walk into a room full of strangers and feel like the most attractive person and the urge to feel sexy in my skin, mind and soul. Jazz has a therapeutic effect, every time I am worried or bothered, I’m dancing; every time I need a solution, I’m dancing; I’m dancing when I’m happy; and when I want express myself, I am dancing. Contemporary jazz motivates flow and comfort. It helps develop a sense of ease with your body as you begin to appreciate your movements, movements while dancing and while doing the mundane things in life like walking and cooking.

“Jazz is like mathematics”, says Aparna. “You learn mathematics and then you progress to trigonometry and algebra”. Aparna Nagesh is a dancer/choreographer in Chennai, who founded Chennai’s first all girls’ dance ensemble called ‘High-Kicks’ in 2011. She says that learning jazz opens up whole worlds of opportunities for dancers because it gives you a certain line which you can play around with. She calls herself a true blue Chennai Girl and tells me that jazz will always be the lifeline of modern dance forms. There are influences of jazz in dance forms like salsa, Lindy- hop and swing. Add an element of street to jazz and it becomes jazz funk and street jazz; the dance form popularized by legendary dancer siblings Janet and Michael Jackson. Aparna regrets that Chennai is dominated only by free style and hip-hop, and hopes that more dancers in the city dabble with jazz so they can experiment with newer dance forms around it. Aparna also stresses that Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi are cities which have completely adopted contemporary jazz and transformed them into fun new modern jazz styles, blending the moves into other dance forms such as hip-hop and jive to create something new.

Do you like food? I love food. I eat small, yummy meals, at least 8 times a day and my classmates, who watch me munching away, ask me only one question; how do you stay so fit? You work out in secret, don’t you? I have only one word for them; dance. I spend about 30 minutes every day dancing away to music on the radio; it helps me relax and let loose after a tiring day. There is no norm to dancing, really; when you feel the rhythm you move. Dancing is a great way to keep both the mind and body healthy. In fact, a study led by The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City found that dancing improves your mental acuity by 76% because it integrates several brain functions at once- kinaesthetic, musical, emotional, and rational- further increasing your neural connectivity.

Dancing has always been a way of taking control; it gives me power and tells me I have what it takes. It’s an expressive art form which personifies our emotions into movement through music. I believe that you too can feel that power if you just move it. Move it like the boom box is built in you, move it like your inner animal is an ape, move it because your mind is a madman; move it every day.

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