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August 04, 2014

Hanging by a thread

Text by Nittal Chandarana

Dancing on ground doesn’t stand a chance against being suspended in mid-air. Get the low-down on Aerial and Malkhamb dance forms

Sport for one; dance for the other. Rope Malkhamb in India and Aerial from the USA, have been slowly garnering a loyal group of followers. What one country sees as a serious, competitive sport, the other has channelized into a medium to enhance dance moves.

Native to Maharashtra, Malkhamb is a strenuous sport practiced in Hyderabad and Madhya Pradesh as well, with the latter assigning it ‘state sport’ status. Malla means wrestler and khamb is a pole. Originally seen as a mode of exercise and a form of strengthening grip for wrestlers, it gradually transcended to being a sport by itself and currently has three variations at the competitive level. Pole Malkhamb – pole made from teak wood, Hanging Malkhamb consisting of a pole hanging from chains and a hook mainly focusing on balance, and Rope Malkhamb. The rope variation has gained popularity in the media after Isha Sharvani’s performance in the movie Kisna and in the theatrical adaptation of The Jungle Book wherein Faezeh Jalali dabbles in Aerial as the python Kaa, and uses rope in Peter Pan, reprising the titular role. Reality dance shows in the country have also been experimenting with Aerial since quite a while.

It’s difficult to maintain composure when you’re hanging on for dear life. Now try smiling, twirling, somersaulting into a full split mid-air. That is what Aerial constitutes. Originated in the USA in the 1970s, it rapidly gained popularity and was adopted by dancers all over the world. Mainly performed with either silk cloth, a lyra (hoop) or a trapeze pole, Aerial acts require a sense of balance, grip and an understanding of the gear. Sushmita Sen has been instrumental in bringing Aerial to the forefront, when she announced her use of the same as part of her fitness programme. What the diva says, we must follow.

Mastering the art in Mumbai

 Shruti Jasani, performer and Aerial instructor, has trained at the Terence Lewis Company, NYU for contemporary dance, with Uday Deshpande for Malkhamb and The Athletic Play Ground, San Francisco for Aerial. She answers five quick questions about life in mid-air:

1. Why Aerial?Why not? I’ve been a dancer. Aerial is taking it to the next level!”

2. Something you love about this dance form “The feeling of being accomplished.”

3.First time on the cloth “Really strenuous! A Spanish lady introduced the concept of Aerial here. I went right up but was in bed for a week after….”

4. Aerial for you…. “Is not as a means of exercise. I don’t do it as a sport. I don’t compete in championships or competitions of the sort. I mix it with dance.”

5. Three things absolutely essential to this form Courage, will power and motivation. Strength and flexibility come along the way.”

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