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Reflections on Learning

When I sit in my Leap writing class I cannot help but think about how closely Indian classical dance is related to writing. There is always a story or message that an Indian classical dancer strives to convey. Natyasastra, the most important book for all Indian fine arts defines the end purpose of any art as “Rasa.” Rasa is achieved if the artist succeeds in transferring the sentiment behind his or her work to the audience. To elaborate, if the artist has a humorous plot and she conveys it to her audience prompting them to laugh, she is said to have created Rasa. This is true for any art, be it dance or writing. A writer uses creative and rhetoric tools to impress upon the audience her sentiment. Her tone, register, diction are carefully chosen keeping this sentiment in mind. Similarly, an Indian classical dancer uses her eyes, facial muscles, body and fingers to elaborate on a central theme. In writing, it is important for the writer to adhere to a predominant voice throughout the piece. In Martin Luther King’s speech, I felt passion and emotion as his predominant voice; on the other hand I felt, Zadie Smith adopted a voice of reason (though condescending). King used dramatic imagery and metaphors to convey his voice; Smith used ridicule, expert opinion amongst other techniques to convey her voice. This predominant voice is called “Sthayi Bhava” or dominant mood according to the Natya Sastra. If the dancer is portraying a jealous lover, then through out the piece she would adorn this persona which would manifest itself in her actions, looks, gait and attitude. A writer uses rhetorical tools like wit, ridicule, repetition etc, to persuade the audience to appreciate his or her sentiment. An Indian classical dancer also uses several approaches like role play, humor and repetition to elaborate and convey her plot. These rhetorics that the dancer uses are called as vyabachari bhavas or transient moods. Dr. Kanak Rele in her book Bhava Niroopanna states that, “ Vyabachari bhavas spring from or assist the basic mental state i.e. the sthayi bhava.”


The similarity I noticed did not stop with rhetorical usage or Vyabachari bhavas to convey the voice or sthaayi bhava but also in the approach towards structuring this writing. While giving form to the powerful content the writer has to keep in mind techniques like transitioning from one thought process to another, proving a claim and progressing from the introduction towards the conclusion in a smooth manner, all exercised with a singular intent of retaining the reader’s interest through out the piece. We use a similar technique in Indian classical dance too. In a quintessential piece of the Bharatnatyam (a form of Indian classical dance) repertoire called ‘netrandhi neratile...’, the heroine starts with questioning her lover about his illicit meeting with his mistress, she then reminisces with him the memorable moments they have had together and then finally appeals to him to come back to her. When I choreograph this piece, I always pay attention to the transition between the moods that the heroine goes through. I substantiate her transitions with actions or role play that justify the transitions and finally I conclude the piece showing a logical progression in attitude.

I was thrilled to notice that writing and dance used similar techniques and methods to convey a message. I am someone who believes that one needs to step out of one’s comfort zone to achieve greater heights. This writing course taught me to understand and appreciate a medium of expression which is so similar yet so different from my dance. I love this feeling of discomfort and look forward to embracing this medium of expression, as I know that it would take me to my bigger goal of completing my graduate studies in performing arts.

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