While dance has gradually crept back into the country with classes being held at schools and private centres, national bodies responsible for promoting dance, alongside other art forms, seem to be oblivious to the fact that the dark days of General Ziaul Haq are over and dance, in fact, needs to be promoted to help it recover from the ban imposed during that time. Neither the Punjab Arts Council nor the Lahore Arts Council will be marking the International Dance Day that falls on April 29, which was first introduced in 1982 by the International Theatre Institute, a Unesco-supported organisation.
The Punjab Arts Council, which has branches in eight districts of the province, has said that its dance ensemble, created in 1976, collapsed a few years later following orders that all female dancers be replaced by men. Despite the gradual relaxing of such policies following Zia’s death in 1988, the Council has apparently failed to revive the ensemble, despite the passage of over two decades. This is a reflection of the mentality created by Zia that still lingers on, with dance in all its varied forms still treated with suspicion by many. This is despite the fact that dance has deep roots in our soil with many aspects of classical dance, notably the kathak form, developed at the courts of the Mughul rulers.
While the Shakir Ali Museum, affiliated to the Islamabad National Council for the Arts is celebrating the day with classical dance performances, it is obvious that dance needs wider and more enthusiastic official patronage. The national Arts Councils need to make more determined efforts to do so. The same holds true for PTV which should go through its archives and examine the shows aired during the mid-1970s, which featured the performances of top-ranking classical dance exponents. Such shows need to be revived so that dance can enter our lives once more instead of being cast away into the shadowy sidelines.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th, 2012.