Asian Music and Dance

What is Riyaaz? Part 3

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

I know, I know – given the demands of daily life, whether it’s school, college, work or a ‘must-attend’ family function, it can be really challenging to fit in time for riyaaz. This is not I as a teacher being polite here and nodding away to excuses for not doing it; I agree it can be difficult because I remember the effort I had to make earlier on in my training to make it a part of me. I learned that, despite all the obstacles and temptations of the world, it comes down to self-discipline and determination. Below are three main questions that you may contend with every day, but with willpower and the passion for your art you can find several options to make riyaaz happen (the suggestions can be adapted to your personal circumstances):


Interlace riyaaz within your day-to-day activities. For example, if you are an early riser you could schedule an hour of practice before school and an hour after, once you’ve freshened up and had a bite to eat. If mornings are difficult, I know of students who practise in their lunch breaks for forty-five minutes and eat packed lunch just before lessons. Your weekends may be filled up with weddings and parties as well as your regular class. But it’s likely that if mornings are best for you then you will stick to it, regardless of what the day ahead brings. An hour of practice daily is the minimum and I’m sure you’ve heard it: ‘the more the better.’ If it’s only an hour you can manage, then that’s better than nothing at all. And remember, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a session for whatever reason. If on occasion you only have ten minutes or half an hour, you can practise other elements, e.g. recitation of compositions, tala-based work, abhinaya, etc. But ‘focus’ in that spare moment is key. 


Space can be an issue. It’s crucial to have the right flooring and enough of it to move around on, safely. And mirrors are ideal. Try your local gym, mandir, community centre or school/college if they can lend you space in kind, and in return you could offer a short performance for their upcoming events or help out as a volunteer. The conversation about ‘in-kind’ support can be daunting but you may be surprised by the result. If you’re really stuck, then there’s the living/bedroom (or conservatory) and either plead with your parents for wooden flooring or do what my dad did: he cut out 2mx2m heavy plyboard for me to practise on and I used the reflection of the patio doors as my mirrors. When I had finished, I’d slide the plyboard behind the sofa. It was perfect for me at that time. 


As with any routine, you could fall prey to monotony or it becomes a lonely process. So it’s important that you have all the means to keep you excited and fulfilling your targets. Why not allocate one day a week where you practise with your peers from dance class or with a musician? Devise a practice plan; observe and encourage each other’s progress. This way you could also share the costs of hiring a studio. I’m sure you’ll have music provided but there are several apps that can support your riyaaz too. This is where I say “I love iPhone!” The apps available from taanpura to tihai-maker are fantastic. It’s certainly worth checking them out and asking your teacher/guru how to use them as part of your practice. I personally am not a great fan of online tutorials or DVDs, purely because technique and style vary dramatically. If you need a visual guide, then I recommend filming your teacher/guru so you can capture the exact details you need to work towards. 

The main point to remember is to do riyaaz each day, no matter what. I know we all say there’s never enough time for it, so surely there must be a little time for it and a little is much more than nothing.

Next issue: Integrating dance in other areas of life…



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