The relationship between the Bollywood industry (namely, many of its choreographers) and Indian classical styles of dance is controversial and has been somewhat problematic for a long time. This is a rant that may seem repetitive but comes as a necessary response to the following video I encountered, in which a famous Indian choreographer has created a guide to Indian classical dance. Take a look…
Some brief context about Terence Lewis – he is an excellent contemporary dance artist with lots of experience in other Western styles of dance (having been a judge and choreographer for many Indian dance reality shows, films, and award functions). During the first minute or so of the video where Terence explained the hastas/mudras (hand gestures), I was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and true to the form he was being. Unfortunately, what came afterwards was a slow downward spiral. From demonstrating subpar adavus in an even more subpar araimandi to incorrectly labeling other mudras, it is clear that Terence Lewis is not an expert on teaching Bharatanatyam, yet it is unclear why he made this video considering his lack of expertise.
What I find even more appalling and disappointing than the misinformation and lack of proper technique in this video is how Indian classical art forms are generally reduced to something that can be easily learned and picked up, as evidenced by the random insertion of Indian classical dance steps into mainstream Bollywood film songs and by many Bollywood fusion dance teams and groups around the world. This degrades the amount of dedication, determination, discipline, and hard work required to learn and perfect Indian classical dance, which is a lifelong pursuit and journey for many artists.
Bharatanatyam and Bollywood are both so dear to me that it really breaks my heart to see the former’s consistent misrepresentation in the latter. Part of me is compelled to feel hopeful for the future but the other part of me knows how slow (or unlikely) change can be in a society that values fusion over form.
Note: This is by no means an attack on all choreographers who incorporate Indian classical styles of dance into their work. While there are non-trained dancers who do it improperly, it is important to recognize that there are others who approach Indian classical dance with the sincerity and respect it deserves.