A swirling success

Updated: 05 September, 2020 08:52 IST | Jovita Aranha | Mumbai

To support Kalbeliya performers during the lockdown, an initiative is enabling them to teach the dance form to a global audience

An artiste performing the kalbeliya dance. Pic/Kalbeliya World
An artiste performing the kalbeliya dance. Pic/Kalbeliya World

Ayla Joncheere was only 12 when her tryst with Indian dance forms began at a dance class in her hometown of Ghent in Belgium. The beats, rhythm and energy of the dance intrigued her. She pursued her higher education in Indian languages and cultures and travelled to India to conduct her postdoctoral research on the nomadic Kalbeliya community of Rajasthan. The four-year research on its musicians, mystics, herbalists and their gypsy or sapera dance resulted in a lifelong association.

When the pandemic struck the Kalbeliya community, especially its sole-breadwinning women, Joncheere alongside LA-based Aakansha Maheshwari and Christina Gomes decided to bring the talent of these performers online through 'Kalbeliya World.'

"Kalbeliya dance has emancipated these women to assume the role of providers. These highly-skilled performers over the years have created a global student base; many students solely travel to India to train under them," shares Joncheere. Through Kalbeliya World, 11 such teachers are collaborating with international Kalbeliya practitioners and conducting online dance classes for a global audience.

The Kalbeliya dance boasts of fluid body gestures to the sound of the pungi (flute), akin to the movement of cobras the instrument evokes. The power-packed dance style is characterised by fast spins, elegant hand gestures, hip moves and rhythmic tapping of the feet to the beats of the dholak, dafli, chang and manjeeras. The income helps these women to sustain their families. Any additional donations support a COVID-19 food relief programme for needy artistes in Jaipur, Pushkar and Jodhpur.

Dr Ayla Joncheere
Dr Ayla Joncheere 

These performers faced several challenges, Joncheere adds, "Many live without adequate water or electricity. One of our teachers who lives in a hut and uses her smartphone to teach, travels to the nearest town to ensure her phone is fully charged before a class. When a thunderstorm damaged her entire roof, she moved to her neighbour's house to conduct the session. Her income helped her build a new roof."

The team is trying to help these teachers with solar panels and Wi-Fi. Was language a barrier, we ask. "Kalbeliya surpasses such barriers as the teacher creates movements spontaneously inspired by the mood of the music and the students dance along." Besides, many speak English, thanks to their past experience with international students. If they face a hurdle, translators step in. Their global volunteers, are helping them teach classes in Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and French.

The Kalbeliya performers are over the moon with the response. "The connection between women around the world through dance is a powerful, positive message in these bleak times. That's the solidarity, we need," Joncheere signs off.

On Everyday
Cost Rs 750
Log on to kalbeliyaworld.com

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First Published: 05 September, 2020 08:52 IST

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