On April 22 and 23, I hosted the World Dance Day celebrations in Delhi. There was a frenzy for seats. The show sold out, with audiences eagerly watching a live performance after ages. Private sector sponsors, an eclectic organization and the thrill of the dancers creating the perfection and brilliance of the live performances made the event memorable.
The response assured us that all was not lost for the online world and that the nightmare of the pandemic was finally beginning to fade.
For dancers, the last two years have been hellish.
Cut off from the public and all sources of income, dancers retreated from public arenas to domestic spaces, forced to practice in bedrooms and kitchens, garages and driveways.
In the end, the dancers are just day laborers in fancy costumes (which exponentially increases their upkeep costs) with food bills, school fees, and unemployed spouses. So how has the dance community survived on little or no revenue? And what support did the state give them in distress?
First, dance was brought online, changing the very nature of dance and its consumption. If before the public had to attend a live performance, now they could attend performances from the comfort of their sofas and convenient toilets! The pause button allowed them to watch tracks and fast-forward at their convenience, ruining the aesthetic pleasure and intent the dancer had envisioned.
The mental health of dancers has also entered a downward spiral. Since dancers are used to rehearsing in large spaces, it was overwhelming for many to be confined to cramped areas. The camaraderie that is so essential between dancers in a troupe was missing and led to further isolation and mental anguish. And because many artists lack significant health insurance policies and access to mental health resources, few have sought help.
In this miserable scenario, government support for artists was woefully insufficient. While Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States developed new and creative cultural support policies, in India the state drastically reduced its support and let artists down altogether.
The pandemic has also highlighted a new breed of dance influencers who are garnering millions of views for their two-minute Insta streams and reels. While many of them are unlikely to be able to sustain a full live performance, their popularity shows that audience expectations have been reduced to abominable common denominators.
However, there were also positive aspects of the pandemic. Although online learning has had its challenges, it has brought us all closer together. Distance and location no longer mattered; many of my students who had moved from Delhi to other cities or countries suddenly reconnected with me and resumed their line dance training.
We also realized that our mundane routines alone do not define us. We needed an extra activity close to our hearts to survive loneliness, isolation and fear. Music, dancing, poetry, reading, singing, painting, gardening and cooking gave people hope and joy. It was cathartic for some.
Everyone in the arts has been forced to become tech savvy. Expertise varied by exposure and background, but no one could ignore technology and the importance of being connected. Whether it was online teaching, performance or sharing process, or discussion of arts-related issues, everyone had to learn certain skills to stay connected with the community.
Indian classical dancer Padmashri Geeta Chandran engages in a range of dance-related activities: performing, teaching, directing, singing, collaborating, organizing, writing and speaking to new youth audiences. She can be contacted at [email protected]