Keeping Dance Scholarship alive
In agreement with my previous article in ‘Footloose’, a regular reader asked for my thoughts on the possible solutions or guidelines to “instill and motivate academic scholarship in dancers” and students of dance. The answers, which came to mind, were both easy and difficult to implement at different levels. But it was immediately clear that the answers lay in a multi-tiered revamping of the way we view dance education in India.
For the positive transformation of dance scholarship in India to take place, changes would have to be made at four distinct levels – at the level of the government, institution, at a private as well as individual level.
At the highest level, the government would have to take the arts much more seriously than it does. Every year, funding for the arts diminishes further and further. This has serious repercussions on the study and practice of dance. It affects the incentive of people to take up dance even as a performance art - dance as an academic study, which already has a subordinate position in the dance education hierarchy, then has no hope. Further, the government needs to approve or incentivize schools, colleges and universities to give importance to dance education. This doesn't just mean that the government merely tells all educational institutions to include dance in their curriculum, but needs to put effort into making sure that this directive to include dance in education is implemented properly and effectively.
At the institutional level, funding bodies and institutional heads of schools, colleges, universities and dance institutions need to give dance academics and theory importance. A school, for example, must be able and willing to hire properly trained dancers and dance educators specifically for the purpose of educating the students in the area of dance, rather than using a certified Physics, Mathematics or English teacher to do the job.
At the college and university level, we need to have Performing arts departments that offer practical and theoretical modules for all of the performing arts - theatre, music, dance. None of our major university departments have this. The few dance institutions that have opened up in India in the last decade also do not offer dance theory and history as a priority subject. I conceptualized and initiated a dance history and theory course for Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, here in Bangalore and I believe it is one of the few dance institutions that now offers this kind of study into dance.
Third, there are several dance students who study dance privately - either at privately run institutions or they attend private lessons with a dance teacher. These privately run dance schools and private dance tutors also need to prioritize a wholistic dance education, which includes the history and theory of dance, at least of the dance form that they are teaching. This also needs to happen at a larger scale. I do not know of many of these that teach theory and history as an important and integral part of learning dance. Most of these private educators concentrate on the practical aspect of learning dance, and some completely ignore even the basic theoretical aspects of dance that are integral even to the correct performance of dance.
And finally, at an individual level, dance practitioners and students need to take initiative to constantly educate and re-educate themselves. Just as they do riyaaz regularly, so must they read regularly on dance, go to conferences and seminars on dance, perhaps even organize and initiate them. A change has to take place within the very minds of practitioners and students that makes them realize that they cannot be whole by learning only a part of what knowing dance is all about.
To conclude, dance scholarship needs to be encouraged at all the four levels and will need the cooperation and will of people from varying backgrounds with varying powers to make this change. Without changes on all the four levels – government, institution, private and individual – we cannot hope for dance scholarship to gain the importance it deserves.