We began this blog with the history of classical dance (a little bit of fantasy and reality depending on the imagination of the reader). Then we went on to the various aspects of dance mainly theoretical. Now I am coming to the visual aspect of Mohiniyattam the Adavus i.e. the basic steps of Mohiniyattam along with exercises.
The very first lessons we learn in school are the alphabets before we form words which in turn form sentences. Similarly Adavus are the first lessons we learn in a dance class. It has been said in Mohiniyattam , there were only 8 to 9 Adavus. Mohiniyattam maestro,Late Smt.Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma was instrumental in adding various Adavus and categorised them under different names leading up to nearly 30 Adavus .These Adavus are divided into 5 according to the Chollu.
Before one starts a class, a dancer(whether a student, teacher or performer) always begin with the Namaskaram:-
Artiste doing a Namaskaram
There are various guidelines to be followed by a Mohiniyattam dancer before she starts to learn.
- There should be ONLY be a 2 finger gap between the heels and hence should form a V-shape and the front part should raised slightly. (Please note that from here I shall be referring to Smt,Kalaynikutty Amma as Amma). Amma has composed a small verse on the posture in Malayalam:-
- She must be familiar with the 5 basic postures or Mandalams in Mohiniyattam .
- SAMAM-Head is steady. Eyes are steady . Body is straight and legs are placed together.
- KALMANDALAM - Feet are kept 2 fingers apart in v-shape. Knees should be bent slightly.(Kal means a quarter)
- ARAMANDALAM - The body should go a little more lower from Kalmandalam where the knees and thighs come in the line, making the thighs parallel to the floor. (Ara means half)
- MUKALMANDALAM - When the body goes little more lower than Mukalmandalam.(Mukal means three-quarters)
- MUZHUMANDALAM - When the dancer sits down fully on her raised toes.(Muzhu means full)
Artiste showing the 5 Mandalams or Postures
Mohiniyattam is a dance form which is very fluid and graceful. Lasya is the main component . Aramandala is the main posture. A dancer need strength in her legs esecially the knees and thighs to be able to sustain the posture. Hence for the body to become more graceful and strong we have exercises which gives strength to the thighs and knees .
1. Body moving like the letter U
2. Body circling diagonally
3. Body moving like number 8 - horizontally
Here the dancer is facing front with her legs apart slightly. She moving her body from the centre in sitting position and stretches herself to one side and comes back to sitting position and continues the same action on the other side. Hence making it like drawing the number 8 with her body. This exercises helps the body more flexible and gives strength to the thighs and waist.
4. Moving body from heel to toe and toe to heel
Here the dancer has kept one leg in front . She sits on the back leg which is flat with the front foot on the toes and then moves to the front leg with her back leg on the heels. Please note ; Never put your body weight on the leg which is not the ground fully flat i.e either when the back foot is on the heels or front foot is on the toes. The body weight should always be on the leg which is on the ground completely flat. This exercise helps in giving strength to the thighs.
5. Meyyadavu - Circling the body from the waist
Here the dancer is sitting down half way with her hand in front of her with palms facing down. The torso moves in a circle from front to back to front. This is done from right to left and left to right. This is a very important exercise as it gives flexibility to the torso to move gracefully and also keep the body in control. It also gives strength to the legs. Meyyadavu is also known an Chuzhippu.
HEAD & NECK EXERCISES
Now we gone on to do the head exercises. Head and neck exercises are done to make the neck more flexible and reduce stiffness. There are plenty of circumstances in Mohiniyattam which involves the movement of the neck. These exercises:-
- Head moving in circular motion - from right to left and vice versa
- Head moves from one side to another
- Head moves up and down
- Head moves in semi circular movement
- Head drops from one side to another
- Head and neck moves back and forth like a pigeon
The movements of the eyes have an integral part in expressing the Rasas . Skilled movements of eyeballs are developed by practicing eye exercises.It should be noted that neck should be kept straight and ONLY the eyes should move. These eye exercises can done different speeds :-
- Eyes moving in circular motion - from right to left and vice versa.
- Eyes moving up and down
- Eyes moving side to side
- Eyes moving like X
The dancer should palm her eyes after these exercises for a few minutes.
Hand movements in dance are important for Anga Abhinaya. Hand exercises are practiced to give strength to the hand muscles as well the wrists and also make them more graceful like the flow of water.
These are the exercises a Mohiniyattam dancer follows during her practice sessions. They can vary according one's individuality and body.