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The Oblivious Art Behind Odissi Performance

By B M Baisali
Odissi has its own tapestry of sweetness and delicate splendour. It offers freshness and jollity both to the performers as well as the beholders. It has a distinctive style with pure elegance and grace, and is meant to show personality and attitude when you put your own flair into it.  An integral part of this dance form is always to have a straight back and knees fully extended. This kind of dance is full of sculpturesque postures, elegant bhangis and graceful movements using the backbone and knee as its support system.
The basic postures of odissi i.e  tribhangi, chauka, abhanga, which is widely used in every item includes a great involvement of torso, backbone and knee. The technique of odissi requires the dancers to stay in chauka/ tribhanga for an extended period of time. While dancing in these postures the lower back, spine, thighs, knees and feet are at constant work. Extensive footwork exerts additional pressure on the knees and spine. The chauka / tribhanga is not natural to the body. It takes years of intensive training, practice and building strength to attain a good bhangi. It can’t be achieved  overnight. The body structure also plays a vital role. So it is very important to be aware of the limitations of each individual’s body structure and not push it to dance forcefully by exerting heavy pressure.
Our backbone and knee – we never really seem to realise how important they are to us till they give up.
The knee is the largest joint in the body which comprises of bony surfaces, cartilages, muscles, tendons and strong ligaments. The motion that the knee is capable of consists of bending (flexion) and straightening (extention) with a limited degree of rotation and sliding. The spine is made up of 24 movable segments and 9 fused segments. Owing to the extreme ranges of motion and artistic demands placed on dances, the lumbar spine vertebrae and the knee joint are the most often injured segments.
“ Oh! I pulled something in my back “, “ my knee cracks a lot “ , “ my back hurts at the end of the day”, “ the front of my knee hurts when I jump “, these are the initial phrases we often use which then leads to severe injury, if not treated properly. If we neglect this at the initial stage then it may result in the end of the dancing career.
There are several reasons which leads to spine and knee injuries some of which are as follows :
Performance / rehearsals on concrete floors.
  • Lifting a heavy object
  • Sudden movement or fall
  • Use of improper techniques
  • Working on the same movement over and over which results forceful flexion of spine.
  • Incorrect postures while sitting, standing, running, walking, sleeping, lifting weight and dancing.
  • Improper diet i.e  junk food, spicy food
  •  Obesity
  • Genetic deformity/ heredity
  • Negligence of warming up before practice/ performance
  • Negligence of cooling down after practice/ performance
  • Precisely we dancers need to safeguard the two superheroes who help us to achieve the perfectly etched bhangis. But don’t panic. Where there is a will , there is a way.
  • Fortunately we can do a lot inorder to avoid or prevent the injuries in a very long run by following ways :
  • Use of proper techniques especially which stress the spine and knee.
  • A good upright posture while standing, sitting, running, jumping, lifting, sleeping and dancing
  • Proper warming up before class/performance/rehearsals.
  • Proper cooling down after class/performance/rehearsals.
  • Avoid overtraining
  • Proper balanced diet and pay attention to hydration and nutrition.
  • Proper conditioning
  • Increase in training should be matched with increase in resting.
  • Proper medical care for chronic back pain and knee pain. Treat even seemingly minor injuries very carefully from becoming a big problem.
  • Proper training surface such as sprung/ wooden floors.
  • Regular massage.
  • Performing yoga, asans, cross-training methods.
This danceform includes both ornamental and expressional pieces and so requires flexible movements of the limbs, especially.
Well, here an interesting question arises. Did the Devadasis ever warm up or cool down? Or did they ever practised on wooden floors? Well at the same time their lifestyle, environment, nutrition and physical activities are way different than what we have today.
By safeguarding our superheroes we can increase our active dancing years.
Now wake up! Protect your super limbs. Dance with elegance and gaiety and earn appreciation and praise yourself. ARE YOU READY ????

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