Sayli Kulkarni Joshi was one the oldest students at Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bengaluru in 2016. “I was 28. Some of my classmates were 18. They could raise their legs 180 degrees, straight above their heads. I could barely manage 90 degrees,” she says. In that challenging moment, the contemporary dancer realised, “No two bodies are alike. Mine may not be the most flexible but didn’t it have a really powerful stage presence?” she adds. Now a professional dancer, Joshi is heading a workshop, titled “Body Matters”, which will feature a combination of physical fitness and body awareness exercises as a means to explore the ideas of space, weight and fluidity. It will be held at TIFA Working Studios on May 19.
“We live in a society where a particular type of body is promoted over others. It shouldn’t work like that. Being healthy is being mentally and physically fit. The rest is peer pressure,” she says. Participants will work in solos and groups and with partners; articulate their ideas and creativity on paper; or exercises like soul gazing. “It is very difficult to look into the eyes of another person, as your emotions, thoughts and feelings are exposed,” says Joshi, who recently performed a piece, titled Locks, Throughs and Avoids, which was directed by Maitreyee Joshi, in Pune. It is a piece she had worked on for her diploma and features her and another dancer exploring the influence of distance between two identities.
The body has been a contentious issue in Indian culture, with old customs as new pressures attempting to decide what a society’s physical appearance must be. Joshi says she is geared for the challenge. She adds that she is on another quest, simultaneously. Joshi belongs to a family that left her free to explore her ambitions and creativity. As a child, she learned Bollywood dancing and idolised Shiamak Davar before she hit the wall in her hometown, Pune.
“The city has a classically-driven culture — a lot of Kathak and Bharatanatyam and quite a bit of Odissi — as well as a vibrant classical music scene. Contemporary dance, however, is largely an untapped genre. I stopped dancing and started working until, in 2016, Attakkalari came to Pune for an audition and I decided to give it a shot. I was accepted for the two-year course and, with that, my training in dance began,” she says.
At Attakkalari, Joshi was trained in Bharatanatyam, Ballet, Kalaripayattu and different techniques of contemporary as well as yoga and body conditioning and nutrition classes. “The second year was about me, looking within and asking myself, ‘who am I? I cut out the noise and listened to what my body had been telling me all these years,” she says. Joshi says she found herself as she accepted her creativity and that a regular job was not for her.
Joshi undertook another course, on choreography for three months in Bengaluru, before returning to Pune in December 2018, determined to perform and take workshops to spread awareness and interest in contemporary dance. In April, she was among the eight dancers who featured in a month-long dance event organised by Pune-based organisation, International Association for Performing Arts and Research. “With this workshop, I am aiming to enable participants to listen to understand their own bodies and achieve emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration,” she says.
Body Matters will be held at TIFA Working Studios on May 19. To register: firstname.lastname@example.org