Fernando Aguilera, instructor with the IFBC Ballet Company, Delhi, calls Black Swan a horror film. And it’s easy to see why. The instructor in the film is brutish and plays mind games with his ballerinas. Their stricken faces throughout the movie confirm every cliché about ballerinas’ lives being full of grace and pain. Delhiites, have, however, bought the tickets, seen the film, and come back for more. They are learning not one, two, but three or four ‘Western dances’ at the same time.
Suraj Nanda, a student, learns ballet at IFBC and tango at Vivek Yadav’s Tango Club India. Academic Anubha Mukherjee learns hip-hop, jazz and funk at Lalita Badhwar’s Ballroom Dreams Dance Studio with her husband, Tapas Sen, who works for a radio channel.
Delhi has always danced the dance in fashion. In the 80s, every wannabe dancer wanted to do the ‘Dirty Dance’ for the climactic lifts they had seen in Dirty Dancing. In 2004, ballroom dancing became the hot tip to reconnect with family, career and self with the Richard Gere-starrer, Shall We Dance. This year’s post-Oscar frenzy around the Black Swan has kept the light burning for ‘Western dances’.
Yadav’s classes, for example, are like a picnic – there’s dancing for sure, but the larger point is about socialising. “Where else will I meet people who like the same kind of dance?” asks Ishita Gupta, 23, a management student. Clearly, dance class is also a time to exchange notes with fellow dancers on the city’s “dance scene”. She knows which restaurants do salsa nights on weekdays and tango on Sundays. No one’s thinking ‘high art’ either. The 30-odd students in Aguilera’s group, try out their swirls and leaps with various degrees of competence – but without stress. Alissa Gupta, 33, a teacher, stretches her leotard-ed legs, (almost) stands on her toes and raises her chin imperiously. “I enjoy the physical demands of ballet, the discipline and the music, though at times, it feels like a losing battle,” says Gupta.
New students, however, have quizzed their teacher about the darkly driven ballet film. “I tell them it’s a just a movie,” says Aguilera. “It’s true ballerinas are competitive. But ballet also teaches you control. My students look for perfection, without obsessing about it.”
Weight-loss — dance’s underlined promise — is also fulfilled more by dancing than gymming, say some students. “I wanted to lose weight fast but fell in love with salsa and Sinatra. The gym plays Bollywood music all day long, so it became no-go,” says Shashant, a tango student.
Anubha Mukherjee, who took to dance in her 40s, has thought deeply about her experience. “In ballroom dancing, the woman is not required to have an individuality, it is the man who leads,” she says. “When he leads well, you dance well…. I did not like my instructor. He made me turn, pushed me, but I was swept off my feet…Tapas, my husband, on the other hand, is patient. All the women in the class are comfortable with him. He does not push but, maybe, it does not make him a great dancer.”
Dr Lalita Badhwar who teaches “social dances, not competition” to young and middle-aged couples like Anubha and Tapas says she has had a couple join in “because they were going on a cruise and didn’t want to stand out on a banquet night which would be followed by dancing and without knowing how to.” Many of her students consider her studio as a finishing school in social grace.
Surgeon Arun Prasad, Badhwar’s student, now has no qualms pairing up with nurses and resident doctors during the hospital’s Annual Day dance. His wife, also a doctor, dances too. Does Badhwar have jealous spouses keeping tabs in her class? “My advice is simple,” she says. “ ‘Instead of feeling jealous, join in’.”