Sindhuja is a Kuchipudi and Carnatic vocal practitioner based in Hyderabad. She is presently pursuing Doctoral degree from the Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad. She has established Sinjini School of Arts and imparts training in Kuchipudi and Carnatic vocal.
Being a professional dance practitioner, finances are an everyday issue. Apart from battling all issues associated with the tag of a dancer in the society, monetary matters are mandatory troubles one faces. This essay is an attempt to trace how the performances and finances are connected (from the point of view of an Indian Classical Dancer) in the contemporary arena; how a dancer could possibly react and act in such a situation and at a larger plane what is it doing to the dance itself.
We read and hear of artistes of yore invited to perform and paid for their worth of art. How often is that heard now? Gone are the days when dancers, recognized by their artistic merit were invited by temples and patrons to perform. The trend in the last few decades has almost reversed of sorts wherein the dancers approach prospective individuals/groups and seek performance opportunities. Since, the request is from the dancer, in most cases the point of remuneration doesn't arise. There are certainly a handful of organizers- both government and private who actually fund a dance performance. Again here, the amount varies. The famed, established dancers are paid handsomely whereas the upcoming ones a meager amount more often than not.
Why such a lacuna? Oft cited reason is that the value of art is unrecognized! How true is that? Then there is also this impression that the supply of dancers is more than demand. There is also no yardstick to measure the merit in this creative field, unlike in sports where the performance dictates a price on the player. It is not a strange phenomenon to be confronted with organizations/individuals who think it’s a privilege for the dancer to perform for them. Putting the issue of payment aside, these organizers believe that it is they who are giving an opportunity to the performer and thereby it’s them that should be benefited. So, is there a need for the dancer to grab this so called opportunity?
A sea of opportunities *tags attached *conditions apply Image courtesy: Author
Upcoming artists are generally asked to pay for performing in the pretence of covering the auditorium and miscellaneous expenses that the organizer apparently bears. Few also lure the artist into paying by giving awards. There are few Sabhas that accept if the dancer gets a sponsorship with a clause that a percentage of the money goes into their kitty. Then there is a no loss-no gain situation where the organizer doesn't pay and the artist needn’t pay too but can come and use the space provided. Out-station programs are another hassle as there is an extra burden of travel, food, and accommodation on either of the parties. If someone insists on a live-performance all these issues become multi-fold, as there are more members in the troupe and more expenses involved. Though pre-recording of audio is a much more costly affair, it is generally treated as a one time investment. And in many of the Dance Festivals, where there is screening of the artistes, once the registration fee is paid and unfortunately if the committee for the festival does not select the artist, the amount is not refunded! So, the dancer might end up contributing for someone else’s performance. And all these would be clearly mentioned in the registration form or the festival details and thus there is a game of luck involved.
A sample disclaimer note generally found in the application form of many festivals. Image courtesy: Author
Why would a dancer want to contribute his/her money and dance? It could be for visibility in the artist circles, publicity, building up artist-resume, scouring for potential shows further or just for the love of art. But how long can one shell their money and continue? How many dancers are self-efficient to self-sponsor? Why would parents/partner (who are generally asked for investment in many instances) want to invest in such a career where the returns are miniscule in comparison? As it is dance is an expensive profession with costs for training, costumes, makeup and music borne by the artist. Additionally, organizer expects his share too. The accompanying orchestra has to be paid by the dancer irrespective of her status. Looking at such precarious circumstances, how can parents of the next generation enroll their children and encourage them to dance? So, can we say that the future of dance itself is at stake?
Should the dancers protest this trend and as a result lose a chance to perform? But is it worth shelling money? If few dancers take a stance and reject, there are others who are ready to grab the show, pay and dance. So, how much and how many times can anyone resist and keep losing shows?
This is not to conclude that the organizers should put in their own money, there are avenues that could be explored. The corpus funds and patrons could be accessed. Reducing overall costs by sourcing technical requirements from donators, cutting on flamboyancy from both the organizer and dancer, and like measures might be of help. Governments do sponsor if a proposal is submitted, there are few private companies and ones with CSR initiatives that fund cultural activities. The dancer should be patient with requisite strength and potential to pursue this too apart from learning, teaching, practicing and publicizing! Recently, there was an innovative approach to this problem by a dancer who staged a crowd-funded dance festival- a first of its kind in India. Such creative solutions aid in viewing dance in a different light, kindle interest and hope.
Measures to benefit dance. Image courtesy: www.wishberry.in
On a larger base, however, such issues can be addressed with a substantial understanding between artists, teachers and organizers (and may be art-lovers). Keeping aside personal gains and prejudices, with a scope to think ahead for the destiny of dance, there might be possibilities of arriving at multiple solutions to this problem that everyone faces.
It took me some time to recollect my thoughts and proceed with the conversation.
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