Sunday, May 26, 2024

Odissi – The Dance of Love

Written By Harshikaa Khanna (Grade 6)

“Dancing is like art. The floor is your canvas and I am the brush, and whatever I create comes from the heart”, my instructor once told me. One of the oldest dance forms around the world, Odissi is the hardest to perfect.

It has complex moves, expressive gestures, and over 50 mudras used in the dance. Odissi is a dance form which expresses love and devotion to our higher being. It is considered a lyrical dance form and talks about the divine aspects of life.

My interest in dancing all started in the fifth grade where we had to make selections for a dance workshop – the choices were between Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kathakali and Odissi. Due to my unfamiliarity with Kathak and my adventurous personality, I decided to give it a try.

The first few classes were not very flattering since it was taking very long to learn the gestures and the positions. I was not having any fun. I kept on hearing from my friends in Odissi classes that they had already learnt a dance and were really having a lot of fun and were learning a lot.  

I stayed silent because Kathak was a different story. We hadn’t learnt anything past the Bhumi Pranam, which is a pranam needed to do at the start of any dance to ask for permission to dance on the floor. Doing Kathak just did not feel right.

My roommates had to push me out of our dorm so that I could go to Kathak class. It was a royal pain. I had this really horrible feeling in my stomach which worsened with every class.

So, I started to pick up a few steps from my friends who were learning Odissi. At first, I was very sceptical about the idea of doing two dances at once. Odissi and Kathak seemed the same for me, and I thought it really would not make a difference. But I was very wrong.

Before dancing, we had to do the ‘Bhumi Pranam’ which is a pranam to ask permission from the gods to dance on the floor. My friends, although very bad at explaining, first told me the story of the dance they were teaching me.

They talked about Ram and Sita in Ayodhya, when Sita got kidnapped by the great demon Raavan. Sita was taking off her jewellery to leave traces since she knew Ram would find her. She was tied to a tree and was eventually saved. It felt as if I were right there when everything happened. Then the graceful body movements and hand gestures were taught to me and I just felt some sort of connection.

My Kathak teacher was evidently not very happy with me, but I did not seem to care. Grade 6 was the year I actually started doing Odissi. The teacher was again, very slow with her teachings since Odissi takes lot of time, concentration and precision to perfect.

 Soon enough we learnt another dance about Lord Jagannath, which we got to perform in front of my parents. Seeing my talent, my parents enrolled me into an Odissi dance class where I could hone my dance skills.

I was doing progressively well each year. In the 12th grade, everything became serious. We all became better dancers, but we needed to perfect each step. Our instructor had to keep pushing us to do more. With every mistake one person made, all of us had to repeat the entire dance again, just so that one person could perfect the step.

One of the most distinct features of the Odissi dance form is the torso movement, without which the dance would be incomplete. We were constantly told by our instructors to bend our knees and move our torso. The movement of torso usually takes a lot of time, but with the help of our encouraging instructors, my friends and I learnt how to perfect it.

Odissi requires great coordination between one’s eye, wrist and torso and expects the kind of grace from a dancer that is hard to perfect. It was very hard and confusing but with our instructors explained it and showed us how to maintain the coordination. We were continuously practicing.

Our feet were becoming sore after repeatedly dancing. Some nights, we had to stay all night long at the studio. After months of practicing the same songs, our instructor informed us that the director of one of the biggest Indian dance schools in the world was coming to watch our performance.

I really wanted to impress the director, so in my dorm I practiced all night long. My friends constantly told me that I was stressing myself too much, and I had to sleep. I eventually listened to them, but still practiced the dance in my dreams

The day finally came. My friends and I arrived backstage six hours prior to the show. The first three hours, we perfected and revised all our steps and the other three hours we spent getting ready. I was a little nervous at first when I looked at the crowd, which was enormous, but I knew that it was only my friends and my parents out there along with the director.

I had to give it my all, and I did. I did not forget one step and perfected all of my dances. After the show was over, the director came over. He had out of the blue offered me a dance scholarship at his college. As I was thanking him, I was screaming with joy from the inside.

At the same time, my heart was pounding and I knew that it interfered with my speech. After hard work in college, I became an Odissi instructor. I remembered my instructor in the sixth grade and remembered how much of an inspiration she was for her students.

 I was ready to be that inspiration for my students, to allow them to always follow their heart like I did. It was heartwarming to watch my students grow up to become amazing dancers, just like I did.

Featured Image Courtesy – ipassio

Harshikaa Khanna
Harshikaa Khanna
I am an 8-year-old girl who enjoys playing the synthesizer and listening to music. Writing has been a very recent hobby.


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