Call it Zen wisdom. In The Next Karate Kid, when a nervous Julie Pierce (Hilary Swank) wishes that she had courage like her karate teacher Mr Miyagi (Noriyuki Morita), the little old fella says,”I wish I had a chocolate bar along with almonds.” And when a frown appears on Hilary’s face when she sees a bunch of monks shaking their bodies to the rhythm on the dance floor, he says, “Never trust a spiritual leader who cannot dance.” He then goes on to tell how her how to use ears, nose and skin to create poetry of the feet even when your eyes are shut. In Japan, they see dance as an extension of meditation.
Mention Mr Miyagi to Masako Sato and she just smiles as she puts dollops of kohl around her dark brown eyes. Masako’s hands move along with the elegance of a Kathak dancer as she works on her eyes, paints her nails red, fixes a silvery dot on her forehead, ties huge ghungroos on her ankles and carefully wraps a silk scarf on her head. Then she moves to the stage, and as Dil cheez kya hai aap meri jaan lijiye flows from the soundbox, Masako’s feet interpret the magic of Khayyam’s immortal Umrao Jaan composition. From a distance, Masako looks like a dancer born and brought up in the traditions of the Lucknow g harana. From up close, she looks like a woman who dances to be herself.
Masako holds a Master’s degree in engineering. Ten years ago, she lived in Tokyo, working in the corporate headquarters of Toshiba and learning Flamenco and classical ballet. A trip to India and an accidental visit to the Kathak Mahotsav in 1996 changed her life. “I wanted to learn a dance that takes me close to God,” she says. “I felt Kathak was like meditation and I decided to learn it.” For the next ten years, she learnt from Birju Maharaj how to move her hands, feet and eyes in rhythm along with the tabla and ghungroos . Back in Tokyo now, she teaches Kathak to small Japanese boys and girls who swirl, swing and hop to strange sounds of tata thai at her academy.
Kaori Mizuno likewise likes to dance, but she moves her feet and body to be out of herself. She calls herself a Bollywood dancer. As A R Rahman’s Rang de basanti blasts on the stage, this 20-year-old Japanese girl turns into a Punjabi kudi . She ties a green dupatta around her yellow salwar suit, throws back her hair and breaks into a Bollywood dance. She is joined by 20 more dancers, all Japanese boys and girls dressed in colourful Indian dresses. Their hands and feet and heads move in a perfect rhythm, just like the dancers in Rang de basanti . Only it’s more beautiful and more powerful than the original.
Kaori and her friends have actually learnt Bollywood dancing from Hindi films DVDs. They find it “fantastic and beautiful”. “The fact that you can dance anywhere, even on a road, is beautiful. It’s like dancing in your heart,” says Kaori who has actually been learning Bollywood dancing for two years. “The songs touch your soul,” she says, placing her hand on her heart and closing her eyes.
None of them know Hindi, but nothing is lost in translation here. They internalise the beats of the music, the rhythm of the feet, the movement of the eyes and the passion of the voices and raise it to a meditative level. Spinning on their little feet at Masako’s academy, called Tokyo gharana by some people, girls often close their eyes like a dervish. along with their eyes shut, the Bollywood dancers stand in a circle around a CD player, soaking in the music along with their ears and skin. Like Mr Miyagi, they seem to have actually cracked the mystique of Indian dance—classical and filmi. That’s why they reveal its mystery along with such beauty and elegance.