R was four. An animated, naughty girl chattering away at every chance she got. The only time she was silent was when her Music Sir used to walk in to teach her music. She liked singing. But she never liked it when she had to attend music lessons. Things did not work that way. Forcing her to do something made her despise it.
She stood before the mirror and danced. She choreographed her own steps. She imitated the expressions and mudras that she picked up from watching television. After each step, she turned. The grace while people turned round and round during dance was what caught her attention always. She loved dancing.
She was five. Her class teacher had asked many girls in her class to come for the dance practice. She went. Among all the girls, 6 of them were selected for the Annual Day. And she was among them. She put her heart and soul into the steps they taught her. She loved everything about those steps.
She was Seven. It was the first day of School that year. She had to pick her extra activity and she knew without doubt what it would be. She got herself registered for dance. Satisfied, she went home. In the evening, her mother told her that her Music teacher from school had called. She wondered why R hadn’t joined music. She convinced her mother that she had a lovely voice and that music suited her better.
“It seems next year onward, you can select 2 activities. So you can take up music AND dance next year.”, her mother convinced her and she agreed to switch to music that year.
She was Eight. On the first day of school, she signed up for Music and Dance. Finally! She could learn dance. She went for her first dance class and felt elated. But the Instructor who was there until the previous year was gone. And in his place stood a short, balding man with a thick mustache. He held a very long stick and she could say that she didn’t like him. Her fears were confirmed when he began to shout and hit at any child who passed by.
The next year, she left dance. But, the passion remained.
She was Nine. A new annual event was introduced in the school. It was a class wise event. Each class had to prepare dance, music, drama and any other extra events.
“You sing well. So you should go for music.”, they said. And before she knew, her classmates had picked their own favorites and best friends for dance.
Next time, she assured herself.
And every single time she was met with, “You sing well. And you’re also preparing the prayer for the day. So you can’t participate in more than one.”
She was eleven. She registered herself for solo dance competition. She got home, choreographed the steps and when her mother got to know about this, she said, “We cannot afford the dress and the ornaments. Even if we send you for dance classes, we can’t afford the initiation on stage.”, she looked sad. And she understood. She never spoke to her about dance again.
She was fourteen. The same classmates. Except, they were one short for the group dance.
“Can I join you?”, she asked.
“Oh! You sing well-“, they began.
“This time there are people participating in more than one item. Let her join.”, R’s friend interjected.
“We kind of decided on B to take up the place.”, they said. B was one among their gang.
Her friends looked at each other uneasily. And the communication was clear. All these years, they wanted their friends to be in the dance team. Talents did not matter. This year too, nothing was about to change.
“Alright! We’ll give some steps. Just do that. Both of you. And we will pick the best.”, it was a favor.
I nodded. I knew the results already. We were given the steps and we showed it to them. They looked at me and said, “You are a bit…”, they searched for the word “-slow! Next time. Okay?”
She smiled, and she knew there wouldn’t be a next time.
She was sixteen. It was her new school and they had freshers in a week.
“Do you dance?”
“No.”, she said confidently.
She was twenty. Final year of her college. They next day was a cultural event. Someone knocked at her door.
“Hi! Do you mind dancing?”
“We are in short of people. C’mon.”, she pulled her.
“No way! I don’t dance.”, she dug her heels to the ground, pulling back.
“It’s ok. I have seen you sway. You can.”
“The last time I danced was in UKG. And never after that.”
“Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. Just learn. I’ll teach you. C’mooon!!!”
That old passion was chained and buried. It was decaying. They taught her the first few steps. She hesitated. And slowly, she began. She was embarrassed. She was told at school that she did not dance well. She feared they would tell her the same. Here.
She stopped as soon as she had started.
“What is wrong with you? You are graceful. Just do it.”, and she did. They encouraged her and she did. She practiced into the night. Next day was the competition. She knew she wouldn’t remember. But anyway, she did. 2Am… she persisted. 3Am… no one could stop her.
During the performance she forgot half the steps. She was nervous and throughout the years, she had convinced herself that she wasn’t a good dancer, ‘And anyway, I will not remember all those steps.’ she told herself every time.
She was twenty three. She egged on her office-mates to participate for the year’s cultural event. She decided to take up the organizing. She convinced and encouraged her office-mates and in the process, was forced into joining the dance group, again.
“I will sing. I really can’t dance. I don’t know.”
“You can. There is nothing much to do.”
“I haven’t learnt dancing.”
“None of us have.”
And again, she faced the audience. This time, she didn’t make many mistakes. But, she had become more confident. The next year, another event, she again resisted but not like earlier. She performed part of the entire dance sequence.
She was Twenty Five. She was asked to join for another group dance and she readily agreed. It wasn’t a competition. But she prepared herself, put in extra efforts. In spite of her tiredness after a long day, she practiced overnight. Many of her friends asked, “Why are you guys practicing so much? It is not a competition! I don’t even understand why you’re participating.”
They would never understand. They would never get it. The ecstasy she feels when she moves to the rhythm of music, when she performs, it is almost like she has wings. They wouldn’t get it. The difficulty she faced when she had to chain her passion. When she had to choose between music and dance and she was forced to choose music. When her friends told her that she could either sing or dance and THEY chose music for her.
And finally, with much difficulty when another set of friends pulled her out of those chains and set her on the stage, how could she not go for her passion? It wasn’t about competition. It was about passion.
The ‘She’ above is Me. Most importantly, it was about the ‘Or’ that had turned into an ‘And’. It was about those talks after the performance.
“This dance was superb. You guys were almost in perfect sync. You should have also sung. Like last year. That was a lovely performance.”
“But I was already in the dance.”
“So what? You could have done both – Sung AND danced!”
This was my journey from ‘Or’ to ‘And’. When I was given this topic, this was the first experience that came to my mind.