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The Doctor Dancer

Back to Issue | December 2020

A Balancing Act

“…Oh, so you are an actual doctor too ?”

  “…Well, yes..”

“…like a male nurse? Homeopathy?…An Ayurvedic doctor maybe?”

“No. I am a general practitioner of Allopathy.”

 

“Oh, so what dance do you do?”

“Bharatanatyam.”

“Oh in your spare time right? Good hobby…”

“(With a smile) No, dance is way more than a hobby for me.”

“So, do you also do western dance? Why don’t you try doing a reality show? Is this what you do for a living? There must be a lot of money you are making.”

And the conversations go on…

The truth is – I do whatever I need to do to remain sane and happy. Let me explain. I am sure a lot of doctor-dancers, as I call them, would be able to relate to what I am about to say. For that matter, anyone with a dual passion/profession will be able to resonate with what I’m going to say. 

Yes, we stride two boats. It is not that one leg is in each boat, and the boats are drifting away from each other. We steer them both with a delicate and challenging balancing act.

My story is simple – I need to dance in order to stay sane and to function as a proper citizen and doctor. That we do this doesn’t mean it isn’t demanding and challenging. To serve, to try and heal or be the conduit for healing grace is a purpose larger than the self. It is humbling and gratifying, but it is also terrifying and draining. But we do it because while it puts dual pressure on us, it also gives us dual pleasure. But there is constant work and no space or time for unnecessary irritants – we choose our battles, relationships, and conversations carefully. 

Both these aspects of me have never been mutually exclusive. I tend to seamlessly slide into between these two roles. I have had to do a hundred meter sprint to reach rehearsal or class, and then rush from there directly to the clinic or vice versa. My bag always contains work and dance clothes. There are times when I have to take important work calls during a class or rehearsal. And there are instances at work, wherein my head the choreography or the music from rehearsal/class is running steady.

As a dancer, working with different dance companies comes with it’s own set of requirements. Each choreographer has a distinctive way of approaching dance. For me, it is always a learning curve. My experiences with working for the Ameya Repertory (under my Guru Chitra Dasarathy) and Vyuti Dance Company (Aranyani Bhargav) are very starkly different in the challenges they present to me, and the learning I have taken away from them. I have toured with both the companies – Morocco, Senegal, Malawi, and several stages around India. I am grateful, to say the least. 

So what are my most significant learnings from this experience of duality in my dance and work?

From my experience, dance is as much a science as medicine is. Both require a knowledge of the human body, an understanding of the human mind, and practice. Also common to both are basic skills like body awareness and alignment – soushtavam is a concept well addressed in the Natyashastra, recognizing improper dance techniques and rectifying them, working on the core areas of the body/specific weaker muscle groups are things we need to know something about both as doctors and dancers. As dancers, we additionally need to know scientific methods of warming up and stretching before and after dancing. 

Nutrition is also important – for dance, pre and post class/rehearsals, and generally for your overall health and wellbeing. A well-balanced approach. 

Third, immediate injury management concerns me as a dancer and a doctor too. Injury prevention is best. If it has happened, how to manage it better. And God forbid if it is grave – the knowledge to rehabilitate well. I learnt and advise that patience is a virtue well-exercised here. 

Injuries are an unfortunate part of the journey of many dancers. As much as we despise it, we realize we need to be better equipped at handling it. Gone are the days when injury spelt doom or the end of dancing for good, as are the days of the advice “Rest, take painkillers and you’ll be fine”. As practitioners and teachers of dance – let us realize we need to get past older schools of thought – it is not ok to power through an injury, it is not ok to be propagating the wrong technique – accepting the limits of the human body and working around it is much wiser. Tune in to the body’s wisdom…listen carefully.

My background in medicine is often useful in helping my fellow dance classmates or company dancers with their immediate medical concerns. I am usually the unofficial team Doctor on the rehearsal floor, on tour, and even otherwise. I am affectionately called Dr. Vyuti. Almost everyone at Vyuti has reached out to me at some point or another for medical advice or help. I try to give back to dance with medicine, everything that dance has given to me. 

At the end of the day, dance has made me a better person and doctor, and medicine has made me a better dancer – my story is of course constantly evolving, but it is my lifelong pursuit.

Dr. Tony Aloysius Pius

Dr. Tony Pius is a graduate from St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore. He has trained in Contemporary Dance at Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts and Mixed Media. Currently under the tutelage of Guru Chitra Dasarathy, he also holds an MFA in Bharatanatyam from Sastra University. Tony performs as a soloist and has been an active member of Vyuti Dance Company and Ameya Repertory. Instagram: @piuspossible

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