World Dance Day: "Performing arts tend to unify people in a way nothing else does"

Ahead of World Dance Day, here is an introspection about integral relation between performing arts and culture. Since long performing arts have been a form of self-expression, entertainment and more

World Dance Day: "Performing arts tend to unify people in a way nothing else does"

Dr Parul Purohit Vats

Since time immemorial performing arts has been a popular and a prevalent form of self-expression, sharing tales, entertaining and exhibiting talent. The term ‘performing art’ encapsulates vocal and instrumental music, dance and theatre to pantomime, singing and more. In other words, we can say that these art forms are cultural expressions reflecting creativity, found in various cultural heritage spheres.

It would not be wrong to say that art is an intrinsic part of life and India has an abundance of performing art forms. There is a gem hidden in each corner of this vast country. Indian history would not be complete without the thousands of stories narrated through folk songs, dances and theatre. In the Vedic and medieval era these were a source of educating the masses, until a few years back these art forms (dance, drama and music) where used for propagating religion and social reforms too. These various facets of performing arts have also been an integral part, and add colour and joy to the numerous festivals and ceremonies.

With every decade, these performing arts have evolved with the changing times. In the field of education, until a few years back, academics overshadowed the performing arts. Dance, music and drama were restrained as recreational activities, performed on the stage for school/college functions. Education institutes were aware of the proven beneficial outcomes of performing arts, but side lined them as co-curricular education. Despite various efforts, for many exposure to performing arts stopped in primary school, debates and quizzes and group discussions were categorised as ‘extra-curricular activities’ in senior school. As a result, many learners never experienced the arts fully because they were made to think that learning and success should be confined to mastering academic subjects.

Until a few years back dance, music, drama were getting restricted as fun activities and as a part some thesis or library books. It felt as if our unique cultural identity would soon be diluted by the influx of media. Though over the years the importance of performing arts was repeatedly debated and discussed and the importance of teaching these arts to the youth of India could not be undermined, but nothing much changed.

Digitalisation has led to influx of various media forums and the perception of arts has started changing with what is seen and heard in the name of arts. The youth is constantly bombarded with visuals from Bollywood songs and music videos that dilute and take away from the original art forms; even schools and colleges encouraging performances of songs, dance and plays around these; it is becoming even more crucial to bring the focus back to our cultural and artistic awareness.

The pedagogues have realised the intrinsic value of the performing arts in curriculum and also as independent courses. Performing arts cannot not be restrained to role-playing or a little dance; the versatile and transferable skills learned through them matter. The pedagogues stress that learning performing arts, nurtures the mind, the body and the emotions, into a collaboration, essential to live well and weather the adversaries of life. Performing arts might have come across as fun and a bit challenging but finally the belief has been restored. There is no doubt that it not only hones the learner’s creativity, sparking the intelligence but also teaches compassion and empathy. It leads to a higher understanding of humanity, making the performers/learners critical thinkers. By studying and learning performing arts, students gain skills which are vital for the future: critical appreciation and knowledge of artistic techniques, and insight into the cultural nuances of dance, drama, music.

Through various studies, over the years, it has been proven that performing arts encourage learners to explore their emotions, expand their imagination and help build their own, unique voice. Music, dance and drama sync a learner's brain, body and emotions in many ways and enhance their confidence and help them find joy in self-expression, thus broadening their horizon.

It is well established that the importance of ‘emotional intelligence’ cannot be undervalued. So to ensure the learners become happy and well-rounded individuals through their journey in schools, performing arts have started paving the way in as a part of the curriculum. Time and again it has been reiterated that learners who learn music, dance or drama show improved performance in their academic subjects too. The confidence gained and better communication skills are life skills that empower their future path, career and personal.

Thus, with time various schools/colleges in India introduced Performing arts courses. These are not categorised as extracurricular activities anymore. As time passed, it was discovered that the trend to relegate the arts as mere extra-curricular activities would lead to artistic and cultural ruin. If arts were not introduced as a part of curriculum/course it would remain as fun/amusement activity or an occasional song or dance, and the essence of these performing arts would be lost overtime. The need for holistic development of the learners in this fast-paced world brought back the need to make them a part of the curriculum and courses.

The educationists have increasingly been realising that if the learner is not exposed to these arts at school level, they are deprived of the option of taking it up for their higher education. Thus, taking away a chance of a successful career opportunity by not honing their talent.

The main idea, through the past years, has not been only to make the youth culturally aware but also liberal and creative in their thinking. The restored stress on learning dance, music or drama is seen in schools and as well as in formal set ups dedicated to performing arts. These arts lead to collaborations and restore faith in our culture and heritage, a common thread binding us all. David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has rightly said:

"The world is a complicated place, and there's a lot of division between people. The performing arts tend to unify people in a way nothing else does."

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