Style Intolerance and Personal Preference

I have seen a growing obsession and intolerance to styles among dancers, students of dance and rasika. While stylistic differences are becoming less apparent due to dancers learning from more than one guru,  antagonism between dancers who follow different styles does exist and is quite shocking.

I have often heard arguments centered around:-

  • geometry vs spontaneity
  • measured movements vs fluidity
  • individuality vs mass-production
  • aesthetics vs authenticity
  • tradition vs innovation
  • typical vs unpredictable
  • dignity vs grace

While personal preferences are but normal, is this total intolerance to others usual too?  Have you ever sensed this animosity I am talking about?  Blessed is the rasika who is able to appreciate across boundaries???

I  just spoke to someone who refused to attend a program because despite the dancer being a  ” perfect executioner” ( a term that came from the other end of the phone), he/she hates the style.

“Near and dears” and “not- so near and dears”  often express reservations with comments like

” Style too mathematically defined and superficial for my taste!” , ” Abhinaya measured”, ” Total Exhibitionism, self-obsessed “,”filmy”…While a few of these refer to the school/style, a few refer to the individual interpretation of the style too.

While most rasikas define and identify  the known styles/panis of Bharathanatyam ( as in kalakshetra, Vazhuvoor, Tanjore, Pandanallur etc etc) I knew a rasika/ critic who had his own classification system. This person never failed to coin terms that caught those destined to sit next to him off-guard!  Watching programs with this person was entertaining, educative and upsetting  all at once . This person was never ever pleased easily and his verdict was usually pronounced within the first 2 mins of the dancer’s stage presence. Here are a few samples:-

  • ” vettu killi tothu kili style”  – as in extra tempo
  • “karappanpuchi style”- too much hurried movement on stage
  • “Chani Mithi”- lack of movement on stage/ too much on the spot movement
  • “kathakalashepam”- very lokadharmi
  • “kizha boltu style”- no angasuddha
  • “tharasu”- measured to perfection
  • “intellectual type”- when more content is delegated to the compere!
  • “circus”- you know what
  • “photo shoot”- when too many poses were thrown in together
  • “key kodutha bommai style”- perfect but lack of internalization
  • mezhugu (wax) apple – everything is alright, but lacks soul
  • “all in one”- when the dancer learnt from gurus of more than one style
  • “garva natyam”- a dancer who always danced with the feeling and knew that she was good

Once he could place the dancer in one of his classes, he would  know what to expect. But the ones who were really good made him forget all about his nomenclature and classification. He would remain in his seat for a couple of minutes after the show, soaking up the experience. Finally he would get up and say ” paravalle illa?” (it was ok, wasn’t it?”).  He had coined a special feminine gender term for “nattuvanar”- “tattuvaani”!

And then, when a dancers natyarambham during the alarippu was below acceptable standards, he would proclaim ” tham enga vachikkarthu? kitathatta thaiya vachikkarathu!” playing on the phonetics of tham dit tham, kita taka thai. He once pacified an expectant parent who sought approval after his daughter’s performance. Not wanting to displease the father, he offered the following appraisal:

“Nanna key kodutha bomma mathiriye adina pongo! karapampoochi thootudumna ivakitte.. keep it up! Guruvaiyum sollanum parungo. She should take the credit for this!”( She danced like a wound-up toy, speedwise, she could win  the cockroaches..keep it up… You need to credit the Guru too!”

All of us friends and cousins had to scurry off hurriedly before we embarrassed ourselves!

This person isn’t with us any more. But his comments and classification system still lives among those of us who were blessed to know this genuine rasika. He enjoyed the goodness everywhere and objectively (within his scope of course) evaluated every performance.  We realized that vettukilis , tothu kilis, kizha boltus and mezhugu apples come from all different dance schools and so do the rare gems.


8 responses to “Style Intolerance and Personal Preference

  1. Interesting classification. Can you give some names of dancers he really enjoyed watching.

    As to the other things you mention – a dancer should find that fine balance between all the vs you mention. And it would also somewhat depend on the what the song conveys. What gets me totally off is when they don’t finish a teermanam – have seen this even in experienced well-known dancers.

    Dear Munimma,

    You sound a lot like somebody we know! Well I got to watch a lot of student recitals ( arangetrams and first few performances) with this person. Two names that come to my mind are Sridevi Priya and Aparna. Dont know if these girls took up dancing seriously. I just hope they did!
    I agree that a fine balance between all the “vs” would be the most ideal thing to do. But as I said earlier, things happen to be either white or black for a few atleast. They are not interested in exploring the middle grounds. “If-you-are-not-this, you-are-that” logic! Sad- a few dance students don’t go out to watch students from other dance schools. The balance as you rightly point out may depend on the composition itself and to an extent, the intended audience.
    Not finishing a teermanam- as in not completing th movement to completion ? Oh yeah the bug seems to have bitten a lot of recent student/upcoming performers I got to see.. I wonder if the rising tempo has something to do with it too!

  2. tempo or the teacher. What I see is most teachers (incl some well-established well-known ones) do not correct the students at the basic levels. If the foundation is rocky, you can’t do much beyond that, right?

    Also, performers/teachers need to be aware of their limitations and work accordingly.

  3. anyone who can make the rasika forget his prejudices and take him from the mental state of judging to the spiritual state of bliss is a true dancer.

    a rasika who refuses to attend recitals inspite of hearing about a good dancer is as bad, if not worse than a dancer who refuses to learn from a good dancer/good things from a dancer not his/her guru. A closed mindset can hardly harbor bliss. The sahasrara chakra is shown as an open lotus. Not a closed bud.

  4. I never thought that “geometry” is supposed to be “vs spontaneity”! Do you know anyone who doesn’t fall asleep at a performance where every move, every glance and expressions are predictable? Where there is no surprise?

    The most absurd “pair” is “dignity vs grace”. Can you elaborate?
    Sangeetha : Dignity as in minimalism (including abhinaya) and grace as in lasya(extreme). When sometimes the dancer appears to excessively/ repetitively flutter her eyelids/ quiver her lips and look too coy,even if she is portraying vatsalyam, as in being inspired by yester- year cinematic depictions
    A famous dance institute administrator here denounced a particular style as being too much of thalukkus and kullukus !!!

    “measured movements vs fluidity” should depend on how pronounced the mridangam/nattuvangam beats are, shouldn’t they? It’s a matter of context.

    As for intolerance, it is genetic: a rejection of a foreign tissue transplant. There is no animosity when you touch someone else’s blood of an incompatible blood group. When this blood enters your own blood vessels, what happens then? Those who exhibit their “tolerance” are actually exhibiting their indifference and remoteness. Usually, it happens to the intellectuals who live in the world of abstract concepts totally detached from their life.
    Sangeetha: Hmm ??? So would you liken the differenent schools or styles of BN to blood groups? I am not sure that’s an apt analogy though.

    ” Total Exhibitionism, self-obsessed “ are the comments when the dancer has not established a rapport with the audience (Alarmel Valli always takes great pains to avoid this common error).

    karappanpuchi style – sporadic and disorderly moves of a scared cockroach 🙂
    (Sangeetha:Yes )

    kathakalashepam – without nritta?
    ( Sangeetha :well almost, more of grounded, on the spot abhinaya/story telling)

    What exactly did he mean by “circus”?-
    (Sangeetha :Extreme exhibition of balancing and flexibility skills at every turn)

    Can you give us an example to illustrate the difference between “key kodutha bommai style” and mezhugu (wax) apple ? And a few instances of “tharasu”?
    (Sangeetha: Well Ashwini, we were never given a “real definition” of the term, so it’s more like what we understood.. So here is my understanding
    1.KKB Style: Usually happens to young kids who parrot what they are taught without much thought. These kids were lost if the singer/mridanga unintentionally changed a phrase. It was a start to end sequence, mechanical.
    2. Mezhugu Apple: More like the ones who wanted to look pretty all the time, so couldn’t really get “into” their dance.
    3.“Tharasu”: Extermely precise movement, reherased to perfection, where dance became all about technique

    Whereas in one, the dancer was totally the Guru’s tool, in the second and third types, the dancer was all the time aware of and concerned with her stage presence/execution.

    Who was labelled as “garva natyam”? I want to see them!
    Sangeetha: Usually happened to some senior students of non-performing gurus who were used to be looked upon by the whole dance class as role models. And since they never attended other programs they never knew if certain aspects could be improved. I recently came accross one case here. The only arangetram student of the class who seemed to forget the most, had the poorest araimandi and the most sagging natyarambham but a slightly raised chin as in “I am the best here”. The muthaippu is that the other dance students’ mothers pamper her ego too! She wasn’t really bad, its just that there was scope was improvement and others around her were doing better, but her pride just stopped her from improving..

    Subha is right: “the ones who were really good made him forget all about his nomenclature and classification”. Can you explain what does sahasrara chakra (rather than ajna) have to do with it?

  5. @ Ashwini: Purpose of a paragraph is to break a line of thought.

    If you can see my quote you are enquiring about, it has a paragraph break and the second paragraph is about Sangeethas ANOTHER observation with a subsequent remark from me. I cannot answer questions that you have linking my first line of thought to the logical conclusion of some other line of thought, now can i? 🙂

  6. and by the way, there are classifications of blood groups. AB blood group type is a universal acceptor (which is incidentally my blood group) and the O group is universal donor. There are other two blood types which accept O’s but not any others.

    The reason a mother is considered foremost is that she can harbor, grow and nourish a completely incompatible blood type in her womb and even if it turns out to be a devil, cannot hate her child.

    Dont give philosophical dal makhni. There is so much philosophy around that everyone can support their ideas with any permutation and combination of them. Watch Balasaraswathis book launch and the amount of extrapolations people are willing to derive out of simple things that happened in her life to make her look like
    a. someone directly blessed by nataraja disguised as a mad beggar
    b. As krishna in mahabaharata giving upadesha to arjuna (anirudhdha knight, yeah right!) via a mute videotape so on and so forth. You really want to sound like one of them?

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