Debapriya Das, Belly Dancer

Dance has been a part of my life from a very long time. I started my technical dance training in Bharatanatyam at a tender age of 8 and graduated from the Nalanda dance research centre, Mumbai in 2007. I can safely say that my relationship with dance is one of the most long-lasting one. It has stayed with me over the last 2 decades and has changed me as an individual. I had never imagined that I would be a pursuing a professional career in dancing one day.

I am trained as an economist and I came to Bangalore in 2012 with my first job. This is when my journey with belly dance commenced. What started as casual fun dancing soon became a career choice. I am very grateful that during my initial belly dancing days, there were numerous international belly dance artists who visited India for workshops and intensives. Attending few of these sessions soon made me realise that the art form is not exactly what I have been learning in India and one has to travel to know more. The year 2015 sort of changed my life when I travelled to Italy to deepen my knowledge in Belly dance. I spent the next 3 years travelling extensively in USA and Europe to learn not only about the physicality of the dance form but also the history, culture and contemporaries of belly dance and what it stands for. Early 2018, I quit my job as a senior research economist in one of leading think tanks in India and went on to pursue my career as a full-time dancer. Even though I loved my job as a research economist, dance was always my true calling, I just needed a nudge to realise it.

Having said this choosing art as a career option is not for the faint hearted. Monetary struggle is one of most common hurdles we face as artists. Our line of job is not really fuelled with money but I guess if money was the reason for everything, we wouldn’t have had art and artists who change the way the world works!

Struggle is a part and parcel of every ambition one pursues and I feel its one of main ingredients to a successful career. I feel my journey has just started and there is a lot struggle out there for me. Although if I have to mention a particularly difficult time, it would be during the making of my fist belly dance production, Safar-E-Raqs. This dance production narrated the journey of belly dance from the late 1700’s to the present day from an orientalist point of view. This kind of a narrative required a thorough understanding of history, politics, culture and how to make it relevant in the present context to an Indian audience. The dance production was a culmination of a year and half of my research work and it opened with two house full shows at the Alliance Francaise auditorium on 21st January, 2018. This was also the time when I was a full-time employee at a Bangalore Thinktank and handling two professions at the same time was not a very smooth process. Soon after the dance production I realised one cannot keep sailing in two boats for a long time and that’s when I decided to pursue dancing full time. It’s been more than year since I quit my job and it has been one of most satisfying decisions of my life.

I have also been blessed to have great teachers who are also my mentors and I am inspired by them all the time. One of my biggest learnings has been from my teacher Rachel Brice who has always insisted that ‘talent is overrated’ and only insane amount of intelligent practice is going to help one grow and become a better practitioner of art. She also instilled the importance of having a growth mindset and being patient with our physical abilities to perform. I would also like mention about Mira Betz, she is one of my favourite performers and I am lucky to have been trained by her. She always said, “as a performer one has so much power, therefore one must use it thoughtfully”. She made me believe that performances don’t necessarily have to look aesthetically pleasing, each performance must convey something – such is the power that we hold as artists.

Today, I work as a belly dance performer and teacher. I established Nrityakosh – house of classical and contemporary belly dance and as a group we have been teaching and performing domestically and internationally since 2017. We host “performance labs” every once a month for belly dancers and belly dance enthusiasts. The lab is a place where belly dancers across Bangalore perform and improvise. It’s a safe and informal place for artists to grow and share their work. This initiative is one of its kind and is in its 2nd year now! The labs happen mostly on the 3rd or 4th Saturday of the month at Lahe lahe, Indiranagar.

In my 6 years of belly dancing in Bangalore, I have noticed one thing that the city is extremely welcoming to artists. Bangalore as a city has so much to offer when it comes to different forms of art. It is wonderful to have so many different arts forms thriving and co-existing respectfully. The audience is very forthcoming and always supportive of new art forms and the new stories they have to tell. With the amount of knowledge that is available these days it is no longer easy to sustain audiences without a good story and good dancing. I have seen belly dance evolve in Bangalore with the current generation of dancers travelling and learning and always bringing something new and exciting for the audiences. Some of my contemporaries such as Shruthi Kulkarni, Shruthi Narayanan and Kavya Viswanathan are not shy to handle difficult stories and narrate it through belly dance. I am excited to be a part of the change that is happening in India w.r.t to belly dance and all the fusion dance forms that are evolving from belly dance.

I feel a lot has changed in the last decade when it comes to opting for a career in the arts or as a performer. Today I see more and more people open to it unlike 10 years back. One big change is that young students these days are aware that they have an option of graduating in performing arts. Awareness and acceptance go hand in hand and the change has just started 😊

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