To stand like a Dancer.

Here is the recipe:

Buy one beautiful stunning well-tailored dance costume from India. Follow with appropriate costume jewelry, also from India, and learn how to do the make-up. Take a few lessons in dance from the three or four trained dancers, (trained mostly in India though they don’t always like to say so), in Pakistan or a few lessons while you were studying abroad, watch YouTube videos and indulge in Bollywood dance scenes.

Then find a journalist friend who writes for one of the better-known English newspapers who will write effusive reviews of your shows with absolutely no idea about your art. Start a Facebook page in which you and your family put up photographs of yourself every day in ordinary or dance poses. Get a couple of small TV roles and interviews. Post little bits of dance or dance performances on YouTube and perform at every opportunity.

Now, to round it all up start calling yourself a Dancer/Choreographer, “unique and amazing”, through all these media outlets with the help of your friends and Facebook. If you say it often enough, you will, from simple force of repeated bludgeoning, force this into the deprived and hungry media and people’s minds and then, hey, presto, you ARE a Dancer/choreographer.

You mean it’s not supposed to be this way?

Since the last year or so of Z.A. Bhutto’s regime in Pakistan when he started giving in to the religious extremist groups, cultural expression has been suppressed in Pakistan through successive governments supported by The West and The Saudis; especially when it comes to dance which is sad as there were not many trained dancers in Pakistan anyway. Now after a quarter century suddenly there are private media networks galore and they all have programming hours to fill. Entertainers are in great demand and why should not all artists be seen through the prism of entertainment, very especially so, dancers?

With all these slots available, every Siddique, Sadia and Shaheen (but only from a certain rung of the middle class), has jumped into the fray. Every time I turn around I am told about a new dancer who has emerged in the country. I look them up with great interest and enquire around. Hot air, again and again.

It is sad but only natural that these young people who can make themselves into stars overnight with little sweat lost have no wish to go through the pains it would take to undergo real training in dance. Nor can they even imagine the real joy that comes with training that pushes their body to it’s maximum, building a deep understanding of it’s workings, how they can move, how they can express something they had not even thought about before.

To do that you need someone with a burning desire to learn, delve in deep and perfect their art. To do that you need, above all, humility. And to have the humility you need a depth to your soul, and that, my dear friends, is in short supply when it comes to these starlets.

Seeing these self-proclaimed dancers, (who become choreographers without even understanding the term), again and again with nothing to compare them to does the whole of society a great disservice. A crazy mix of Bollywood and western dance is what the starlets watch on You Tube and aspire to. Or they get up on stage to do a dance role in a musical like, Chicago, (yes, can you believe this in Paksitan?), or Bombay Dreams; slick shows produced with much rehearsal but not one of the young men and women can even stand like a Dancer, let alone move like one.

Yet, this is what people begin to acknowledge as the standard and thus the quality of the whole nation’s art drops, all in the service of a few egos.

NGO’s and outside funders have not helped the situation. Funding artists to do anything “Sufi” connected or “women” orientated does not produce fine art: it only produces NGO level community activism art, dance and drama that  present a superficial and cheap depiction of Sufism. Then there are a few who have trained a little abroad, and with this they come back to Pakistan, stumbling around trying to fit what they have been taught into a culture that has nothing to do with it. A little knowledge is a truly dangerous thing.

It is heartbreaking to see this in Pakistan again and again. Here is a country that is full of young people with potential. That is what always excites me: the possibilities. Yet there is little interest in training to perfection in anything, especially the arts. “Sara chalta hai:, (anything goes) is the attitude, from camera men to television producers to actors. And it is not the fault of the young alone. The ones that should be leading them have given up some time ago. The spirit of adventure, the quest for more knowledge is found in few and far between and that permeates the generations, seeping into what would otherwise be innovative and bright minds.

What Pakistan lacks right now is quality art and finesse. Classical musicians and vocalists are slowly starving. So as to survive and feed their families, they are perform light, pop and popular music. Families that have for centuries continued the tradition of classical music are not passing on their unique knowledge, or their children do not want to learn, for they see no future in it. Amazingly wonderful young classical vocalists and musicians from these renowned “gharanas” are forced to teach schoolgirls and boys synthesizers and film songs. How their souls must hurt.

And they don’t even get to be stars on television networks. Roshanara Begum, considered one of the greatest classical singers in South Asia, died in Pakistan with no credible shagird to continue her work. She got little Television airtime while she was alive and in her later years, when she was not well but still singing beautifully, few in the country even knew her name.

And classical music does not even have the stigma in the culture that dance carries with it. By presenting themselves as entertainers with their limited approach to repertoire, dancers in Pakistan cannot pull this beautiful and ancient art up into the realm of respectability in the 21st century.


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Tehreema Mitha Dance Company
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