Friday, 15 February 2013

How Young Is Too Young?

It's not often that I think disturbing thoughts after listening to classical music or watching a classical dance performance, yet I must confess to having a few misgivings after watching this highly talented 9 year old girl perform a marvellous Kuchipudi dance piece.

Alekhya Ennamsetty's expressive performance can make one forget she's only a child. Is that a good thing?

I'm not an expert on Indian dance, but I know just enough to understand that among the essential components of a dance are its rasa and bhaava (which together mean "mood"). The rasa of this dance is Sringaara (love/beauty/attraction) and its bhaava is Rati (love/attachment). The girl does an excellent job of conveying the mood of the dance, which is why I'm somewhat disturbed. Should little girls be schooled in emoting with facial expressions that (let's face it) denote flirtatiousness and coquetry?

This is related, although not entirely analogous, to child beauty pageants in the West where children are hypersexualised. The similarity is that in both cases, pre-pubescent girls are encouraged and rewarded for behaving like adult women. I guess the difference is that a beauty pageant is unabashedly about physical appearance, while the classical dance is primarily about mastering a set of skills. It so happens that some of those skills require the adoption of expressions and actions more suited to adults. I still find it disturbing, though.

Cute or disturbing is in the eye of the beholder

This isn't a moralistic rant against beauty pageants or classical dance in general, just a plea for children to be allowed to be children. The British government has even published a booklet called Letting Children Be Children, a "report on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood".

I'm sure I'll earn the ire of many for daring to criticise a cultural icon like Indian classical dance, but it's an authentic opinion that I'm willing to stand up for. The doyens of the art should evolve a 'G' rated version of classical dance that is safe to teach to children, and progress to the unadulterated version when the students are older.

On the other hand, teaching classical dance could be seen as the new way to raise your child's EQ! (Stampede of Asian feet heard in background.) Sigh.

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