Saturday, August 7, 2010

Praise Dancing

Because my favorite book has the word August in it, this month makes me stop and take note every year. This year, I think I'll remember August (or the first half of it at least) by two events.

The first event is Aadi. Aadi is the month in the Tamil calendar when I can forget about sleeping. The drumming on my street corner begins at 6 a.m., if not earlier, and goes on till later and later every night. It doesn't help that by August, my pride in my ability to brave the Chennai summer has worn thin. I know that there will be no release from the heat until November, and yet the tempo of the music mounts and mounts, culminating in a frenzy of drumming until the early hours of the morning. It's at about this time that the women start to go into a trance at the temple outside my gate.

I like the exoticism of being able to describe the scene to my friends in the West, but other than that I feel no connection to these women or this form of religion. For my birthday this year I went to the Ramakrishna Math, a temple (if it can be called that) where worship consists of sitting in a hall in silence. I've been brought up in a family that likes to keep rituals at arm's length, and prefers the philosophical side of religion. For me, religion has always been about finding peace, and I've always thought I disliked popular temples like Madurai Meenakshi, Tirupathi and Guruvayur for all the noise and chaos.

The second event of August for me will be the Salsa Congress in Bangalore, if I get my act together and register. I joined salsa class as a skeptic who wanted to believe. I was willing to forget some workshops I had taken many years ago in which I had disappointed myself, and put all my faith in one enthusiastic instructor.

After nine months, I am gradually falling more and more for salsa. Yet I must confess, it is not my first love.

There are some types of dances that I just get, intuitively. Jive, for example. I've never learnt it formally. And of course a good partner is essential. But if my partner lets go, my body naturally comes up with steps that seem to make sense. It's easy for me to enjoy myself.

The most intuitive type of dancing for me, though, is African. African dancing is one of the most difficult forms I have learnt, and I know I have lots of room for improvement. But even when I'm dancing on my own, to any vaguely rhythmic music, my steps unconsciously end up looking kind of African.

Salsa, on the other hand, for me is not intuitive. I know that some day, if I keep at it, the steps will become second nature to me. Nevertheless, it will always be second nature, and the fact remains that it's a learned dance for me.

The other thing I love about African dance is that there's a moment in the music, translated as "the break", where all of the dancers are supposed to lose control, and supposed to not do the steps. The idea is that this is the part of the song where you dance for God, and it's really only God who's in control. In salsa I haven't yet figured out whether it's ok for the woman to lose control or not, but either way, the man is always supposed to be in control. So for all these reasons, I've been trying to track down an African dance teacher who I heard is in Pondicherry, but to no avail.

This evening I've decided to accept defeat, and am escaping Aadi by closing all my doors and windows, and turning on the AC. The drumming is still audible through my walls, but I'm mentally distracting myself by thinking about salsa class tomorrow. As I lose myself in my thoughts, I slowly realize that I am imagining salsa to the beat of the drummers outside. I get up to try it, but after a few awkward steps slip quickly into African dancing.

The next season of So You Think You Can Dance has started, and this week I watched a boy audition whose mother is a drug addict, and for whom dance is his salvation. By the end of his piece his arms were up in supplication, his face was raised to the ceiling, and he was dancing directly to God. The judges referred to it as "praise dancing". It was a phrase I'd never heard before, but it struck me that that was exactly what I was doing, in my room. And that those women going into trance outside my gate might have a thing or two to teach me.

1 comment:

  1. i like the journey reading your write.

    though short, every para takes me to a different thought and somewhere at the end i surprise myself realising the woven ways.