Asian Music and Dance

What is Riyaaz? Part 2

Kathak dancer and choreographer Sonia Sabri continues her series on riyaaz for Young Pulse

Riyaaz can close the gap between you and your goals. It can make the difference between good and great. The fruits of your riyaaz will surface and even if subtle, will usher you towards your personal path of success. Not doing it could be the one thing that can hold you back and leave you wondering why others are so much better at that something for which you pine. 

It’s important for you to practise those subjects advised by your teacher. There’s no point in trying to practise aspects you are less familiar with but tempted to because you want to learn EVERYTHING quickly. Riyaaz is a regime that must have a considered approach suited to one’s physical, mental and emotional capacity and build up knowledge, strength and sensitivity for the art in the correct sequence. Many a time I’ve stopped eager students trying to spin on one heel when they can’t even spin with both feet on the ground…!

So what to include in riyaaz? Of course, your teacher will specify areas on which to focus, and given that Indian dance has elements of both technical and expressional language, both should be incorporated. Technical dance demands more physical power by comparison, yet each element requires an exacting technique of stance, alignment, definition, dynamic, musicality, speed and, indeed, delivery with conviction. In addition, the expressional demands imagination and empathy to support an emotion or the trajectory of a narrative. Personally, I feel this is one of the most challenging aspects. One must repeatedly apply techniques to help tap into a required emotion to be expressed through mime, gesture and facial expressions. This aspect demands a lot of mental and emotional energy and can be draining. And it is one aspect that one can easily let slip. Don’t. 

Practical suggestions to include in the above:

To prepare for the technical or nritta, I find it’s best to warm up through the technique, e.g. tatkaar (kathak), building towards a fast tempo to get your heart rate up and break sweat or the equivalent, e.g. tat adavus. This leads well into practising footwork compositions. After this it’s vital to stretch the whole body for at least five to seven minutes: this will release any tension, open up all the joints and lengthen the muscles to enable you to do movement-based work including spins or compositions set by your teacher. There may be an urge to work in fast tempo but the key to mastering technique is to practise the method of getting the movement right. Therefore start in slow tempo and gradually build up to the required tempo, without compromising the technique. This may not happen in one session but over several. 

For the abhinaya or expressional work, it’s important to thoroughly understand the context, character, emotion and narrative. It’s likely that you may not relate to or have any experience of what you need to depict. For this I love the method-acting approach of using your own personal experiences. For example, when in an invocatory item where students need to portray a character asking the Almighty for evil to be removed from the world, it’s often difficult for many to understand the depth of the request or frankly even be bothered with the subject matter as their own appreciation of the world is so limited. So I ask them to think back to when they have asked their parents or someone very important for a present they desperately wanted for their birthday. We discuss that present in detail: why they needed it, how did they ask for it, did they do anything special to earn it, etc. I then ask them to re-enact that moment. By adapting this to the dance context, it’s amazing how this works every time. If there are no such personal examples to use, the next most effective method is to experience the given situation for real and then express it. A classic one is if you don’t know how to present the enjoyment of the monsoon rain, just step into the shower, play with the water and remember in detail the feel of the drops on your hands, feet, face, etc. Then try to replicate it without the water until it becomes real. 

Next issue: How to fit riyaaz into your daily life…



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