We all turned to our screens in a plethora of ways during this time- for work, college, events as well as all forms of entertainment. Most of our connections with creativity and culture, as well as people, was through art and film online. Work made before the pandemic became an archetype for a world before COVID19. But barely any thought went into the impact of the pandemic on the people who build these art works. Sure, we all knew no movies were being made or no showcases were being held, but our imagination of the people working in this sector halted at that point.
We all love a well-made Bollywood movie, with song and dance capturing our fancy, but what of those who help build that industry? In a world of no gatherings and no movie sets, where do these dancers find themselves? In a creative economy as scattered as that of India’s, the impact of the pandemic was immediate and jarring. 53% of the events and entertainment management sector experienced 90% of their business cancelled between March and July 2020 itself, according to a survey called Taking the Temperature, undertaken by The British Council in India.
Impacted heavily by this closure, dancers in India have had to scramble to make ends meet. Even when the rest of the economy could start to rebuild itself, dancers still found themselves left in the lurch. The nature of the dance form is such, that it is built around people and their interactions, around body and movement, and with social events still at a standstill, dancers have been unable to find any stability. The problem then becomes multi-fold- with dancers having no sustainable income, overlapped with their caste and class intersections, with families to feed and a new world to adjust to, far too many dancers have been pushed to abandon their passion and art form and turn to the unorganized sector for trying to make ends meet.
These intersections become more apparent when we move away from only viewing freestyle or background dancers. Traditional and folk dancers, those who perform at weddings, festivals, and gatherings, have been completed left outside the purview of our imagination. The new and complex challenges of a global pandemic have pushed them to the side-lines, and our connections to culture, to our roots and to our artists hang at a delicate balance.
Sinhayana Foundation has been working with dance as a tool for change for 5 years now. Our flagship initiative, ‘Dance Out of Poverty’ emerged from our unwavering belief that creativity is a fuel that must exist in the lives of all children. Through this group-based learning program, children residing in slum communities of Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad are nudged to take control of their own narrative, and to confidently showcase the talent that already resides within them. Started in 2016, the initiative has an aim to use free of cost dance education as a steppingstone for creating opportunities and also as a form of movement therapy. and has successfully impacted over 2500 children so far through its on-ground efforts in the past 5 years.
Sinhayana Foundation strongly believes that dancers and other artists should be able to live a dignified life while pursuing their passion, and having intimately interacted with dancers in the industry, we created a fundraiser called The Indian Dancers Relief program. Under the IDRP, we built a database of over 500 dancers all over the nation, from all walks of life, that have faced dire losses due to the pandemic. Having heard their stories and understood their challenges, we aim to raise funds to help their families sustain themselves, as well as give support during these trying times.
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Vinay Sharma is a choreographer and film maker turned social entrepreneur. Rooted in the belief that dance has huge potential to help alleviate poverty, he built Dance out of Poverty to be a catalyst for the same.