Around three years ago, a request was filed with the government for the registration of a dance foundation. The word ‘dance’ raised many eyebrows and the applicant was forced to reconsider the name. The irony was unmistakable since dance was all the applicant ever wanted to learn, propagate and patronise. Yet she gave in to the abstract reasoning of those at the helm of affairs, and the Nighat Chaudhary Foundation saw the light of day.
Only last month has dancer Nighat’s namesake begun to operate. Talking to The Express Tribune, she pontificates how the art form is seen in bad light by the people. “Dance is looked down upon because it is associated with the culture of red light areas. People think all forms of dance are akin to mujra and fail to draw the line between the two. It is only when they see you perform are they forced to rethink,” she says.
Having learnt Western dance forms during her early years in London, Nighat acquired training in Kathak from Nahid Siddiqui during her teens and she hasn’t been able to get over Indian classical dance ever since. These are palpably the reasons why she decided to return home and redefine the way dance is seen locally. “The foundation aims to archive, preserve and document dance as much as possible, in order to help Pakistanis identify with their cultural roots.” Nighat feels it is accurate to state that the current scenario is deplorable. “We are in a cultural mess right now. The kids of today know more about the band One Direction than they do about local poetry.”
Kathak dancers perform at Alhamra
The foundation is undertaking several projects to change that. “We are currently working on a coffee table book – The Mountain Dancers of Pakistan – that will document the lives of mountain dancers from 1947 onwards. It is one way to preserve folk dance.”
Under the foundation’s auspices, Nighat has also established the Institute of Performing Arts in Lahore. “Theatre, acting and different forms of dance including classical, salsa and Bollywood are taught there.” Nighat feels the solution lies in standardisation. We are affiliated with a dance heritage board in the UK and we conduct examinations based on theory. This is important because nothing happens without a syllabus.” Although still moving with baby steps, she has all the plans to reach out to other cities through her foundation.
For Nighat, dance transcends modalities of entertainment and is a form of self-expression. “I do not call myself an entertainer. I am a messenger. A messenger of peace and love.” She says dance shifts control from the mind to the heart and that one cannot practice performing arts with the mind.
Fanning the flames of life
It is not surprising that the general lack of reverence for the art form in the country flusters her but she is determined to set things right by passing the mantle to her students. Many of her tutees use dance as a form of therapy. “The benefits of dance are plenty. It releases the brain’s happy hormone, serotonin, and balances the function between the right and left sides of the organ. It improves blood circulation big time, and makes the heart stronger, hair healthier and eyes shinier.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2015.
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