AKAAR 2021 by  Anujeet Panesar 


The buzz, the adrenaline, the melodic sound of multiple sets of ghungroo, the chatter, the microscopic particles of hairspray lingering in the air, the kaleidoscope of makeup palettes. These are the elements of pre-performance dressing room prep to which I have become accustomed over the time I have been learning kathak. Then, the quiet that starts to come over the dancers as we make our way backstage, eyes frantically adjusting to the dark whilst also trying to keep centred, becoming acutely aware of the presence of the audience waiting just beyond. What happens to the experience of performance when these components are removed? What becomes of the performer who cannot see their audience, whose stage can be their garden, living room, kitchen, and whose audience may be watching any time of day, anywhere in the world, in their pyjamas?


Personally, whilst preparing for the Akaar online dance festival during the pandemic in 2021, my performative instincts were heightened. I could not rely on the usual rituals, comforting in their familiarity. After a year of living in leggings and hoodies, seeing myself in the mirror with all the accoutrements felt like seeing an old friend, to whom I gave a massive metaphorical hug. However the nerves remained intense despite the familiar environment of my conservatory. Who would see this, was I doing justice to my teacher and my art in presenting something which would be digitally preserved with flaws intact, forevermore? Why could I not find the right camera angle, when was the light streaming in going to be of the right quality for the recording? I became technician, sound engineer, video editor, dance critic. 


At some point, my anxieties were quelled once I realised I may not be alone with this jumble of concerns, feelings and questions. When I watched others’ recordings of their own contribution to the festival, I could see unbridled joy at reclaiming the spaces which had trapped us, by turning them into stages. I could see faces excited to perform with the thrill of a virtual audience. For a few moments, the daily challenges and imperfections of our lockdown lives did not matter any more. My dance reached people who know of my longstanding relationship with kathak but have never seen me perform before, including family in India. Their comments and feedback surprised and uplifted me, reaffirming why kathak has been an anchor throughout my life. Ironically, the physical detachment left me feeling more connected to my audience than ever. Alongside the manifold benefits of dance, this was the year it helped an analogue loving, digital technophobe to find and create new meaning amidst uncertainty.




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A NEW VIRTUAL WORLD 

Online Dance Classes with Sonia Sabri Company

by Aakanksha Rawat

Sonia Sabri Company shifted all their classes online at the very first lockdown in March 2020 and has been delivering classes to all their students virtually ever since. With the world of dance coming to a stop to as we know it, if it weren’t for these online classes I would have really struggled to find my groundings. Not only did they give me something to focus on but also provided me with a way of temporarily forgetting about the chaos going on  outside.


This new virtual interaction has definitely been a blessing in disguise. Not only has the company managed to continue forward with their existing students but also gained many new students from across the globe.

 Alongside these classes we had some brilliant opportunities to meet and learn from some incredible international artists in the form of workshops, which otherwise would have been difficult to accommodate. Being able to connect with people on a global stage from the comfort of our homes has definitely opened up a new world of opportunities.


Sonia Sabri Company constantly made sure their students feel a sense of achievement and belonging in this dance community. The company has been very proudly spotlighting their student’s achievements across their social media pages. Being a part of this community and looking out for each other has supported my emotional and mental health massively.


Although I do miss being in the studio and cannot wait to dance in a proper studio again, I am really grateful to these virtual platforms and would love to carry on with these even when the world returns to normality. 

The sheer reach and exposure of technology has had a huge impact not only on the company but also on students and participants who otherwise could not have been part of our classes and workshops.

I look forward to all my classes and eagerly wait to join workshops organised by Sonia Sabri Company. They are definitely the highlight of my day! 


This experience has also enriched my dance journey. My dance teacher, Sonia Sabri asked me to send an entry for an online series by Gen Next, a discussion and support forum for Indian Classical dancers which came into existence during the lockdown. With the help, support and blessings of my teacher I was able to feature in their ‘Glimpses of the Future’ series. 

Alongside this, I have also been given the opportunity to lead a company class and dance workshops for young children under Sonia’s guidance and monitoring which is really helping me grow and learn as a dance student.

I feel extremely blessed to be a part of such a diverse and renowned company and cannot wait to see what the future holds for us, regardless of the uncertainties, and hope that we all emerge stronger and more connected. 



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