Allure of traditional dances | Daily News

Allure of traditional dances

In all the world there is no instrument as extraordinary as the human body. There is no instrument as powerful as the human body. No other animal on this earth can make such a boast – that they have such a body. Only the human can. Every culture throughout history has had its own form of dance. That is why dance is something unique. In fact, it is only the human who can perform such a complex expression of identity – which is dance. The Daily News visited SUDARSHI - Institute of Sinhala Culture to meet up with dance teacher Buddhika Prabath Abeysiriwardene, to discuss the form of dance he teaches.

These days the youth are highly influenced by the West when it comes to movies, songs and dance. Abeysiriwardene went onto explain that now the Sri Lankan youth are more interested in foreign dance forms that they encounter when they listen to foreign songs and watch foreign movies. For example, if you take the American boy band NSYNC (you can watch their music videos on YouTube), their songs include dance moves that are very popular amongst Sri Lankan youth. The group is one of the best-selling boy bands. Their album sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

“Now the youth is influenced by these foreign trends. These trends have now come into our culture. I am sad that most of the youth of Sri Lanka today do not value and do not understand the importance of our local dance. So what I and others like me are trying to do is to help our youth understand the beauty of our local dance forms. We are trying to tell these children that these local dance forms are beneficial to them. Our children must know that they should be proud of their cultural roots. That is what we are trying to do. We want to hand down this tradition to the next generation of youth in Sri Lanka,” explained Abeysiriwardene.

It is possible that the attraction to these modern trends is partly due to the fact that foreign music is deeply seductive. In other words, like it or not, our local dance forms are now having to compete with Western music. e.g. the soothing music of Nanda Malini vs the British Rock band Coldplay.

In addition to Sudharshi Hall where Abeysiriwardene teaches dance, he also teaches at De La Salle College as the dance instructor. Sudarshi Hall is a place that is frequently used by Sinhala artistes who are drawn to their vocation, which is dance. “I teach up country dance and drumming. In Sri Lanka as you know, the dancing forms are Low-country, Sabaragamuwa, and Upcountry. So all these dance forms are being taught in schools in Sri Lanka by dance instructors. However, I must say that within the limited time frame in schools it is difficult to really master these forms of dance. I know this as a dance school instructor. If you take any dance form, in order for the child to master this dance form, you need time and commitment over a lengthy period,” said Abeysiriwardene.

No doubt this is the value of learning these dance forms at places like Sudharshi. More than being theoretical, dance is something practical.

“This is why I say that dance involves extensive training. It requires sacrifice and hard work. If you take the art of traditional Sri Lankan dancing, I fear that it is in danger of becoming redundant. In other words, I fear that we might lose it. It is in danger of fading away. Low-country, Sabaragamuwa, and Upcountry are unique to Sri Lanka. It is this uniqueness I fear we are going to lose. I am not saying that change is wrong. I am not saying that innovations are wrong. But we must not lose our Sri Lankan identity,” explained Abeysiriwardene.

He had his education at Presidents College Kotte. There he was more inclined towards art from a very young age. There, a beloved teacher told him that he should focus more on dance. That set him on the path to dance.

“There is great potential for traditional dance in Sri Lanka. We must protect and preserve this. Today, the problem is that we are giving too much priority to modern trends. I am not saying that modern trends are wrong. Modern trends are important to dance. But I think that these local dance forms also carry with them a system of values. You need to learn local dance forms while imbibing this system of values. But I think there still are children who are passionate about local dance and are serious about learning it and taking it forward. So the good news is that traditional dance in Sri Lanka has its protectors when it comes to future generations.”

He has a message for the youth. And that is to properly study local dance forms. The youth need to be educated about local dance forms. They must experience the joy that these local dance forms bring. They need to be able to swim in the sea of dance, says Abeysiriwardene. You need to get the full benefits that local dance forms bring. Become creators of your own. Create your own group of followers and students. Pass down these local dance forms.

“There is a future for local dance in Sri Lanka. Wherever you go in the world, if you see a performance of our local dance, you know that it is Sri Lankan. We can be proud of this. This is our Sri Lankan culture. We can be proud of the fact that this is OURS. Our pride. I lament that some of our peoples’ hearts do not swell with happiness and pride when they see our dance forms.”


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