Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXV No. 16, December 1-15, 2015
Teaching parents to dance
If you have lived long enough in this Charitable Chennai as it is referred to in a well known Tamil hymn, chances are that you would have received more than your fair share of invitations to dance debuts. The Man from Madras Musings, who has been around for quite a while, gets them by the ton. That measure of weight is the mot juste, for the invitations ‘soliciting’ MMM’s presence are getting weightier by the day. And they are also getting larger in dimension, as a consequence of which chez MMM may have to soon invest in a larger mailbox.
They all follow a standard pattern – a glossy cover depicting the child in several dance postures followed by a page or two describing the greatness of the guru (all very deserving no doubt, but MMM, on reading them, often gets the feeling that it is the guru who is giving a debut performance), and then several pages describing the various stages of the evening’s programme. A few lines are then devoted to the retinue of accompanists who will be part of the ensemble. This may be the debut performance but also printed are several testimonials to the young girl’s capabilities, all of which will make you wonder as to whether all established names in the field will need to retire once this debutante takes to the stage. Not that retirement ever happens in this art form. There are some grandparents still pirouetting about, or at least that is what they think they are doing.
On getting these invitations MMM, after a shudder or two, has them destroyed before his good lady manages to see them. She does have a tendency to take these missives seriously and lug MMM around to attend. But he is not uniformly lucky and so there are occasions when, bending to her will, he has tagged along to witness these jamborees. Those of you who know MMM well will vouch for the fact that he weighs his words before speaking them and when he says jamboree, he means a jamboree and nothing else but.
You would be forgiven into thinking you have wandered into a wedding when you step into these debut performances. The event is usually held at one of the best auditoriums in the city. The entire family and friends’ circle of the parents are invited and everyone is in their finery. MMM is informed by sources that dance gurus generally refuse to attend any debut unless cameramen are pressed into service. There are videographers and photographers galore, the latter tripping over the wires and cables that the former brings along. There are speeches by chief guests in praise of the guru and, in the absence of any material for eulogy on the debutante, some predictions on the bright future the child is certain to enjoy. The guru then praises himself/herself and throws in some desultory words about the student. Also praised are the parents who are, after all, shelling out the cash.
The child then begins her performance interspersed with announcements and explanatory notes by the guru. The audience, none of whom is in anyway connected with the dance, is in a continuous state of flux, some leaving with return gifts, others coming in and greeting the parents while many others are in animated discussion on the state of the stock market. A few like MMM sit there silently praying for an early release. MMM is also informed by several in the know that a small but select group, guru included, are usually invited to a dinner at a five star hotel after the dance. After all this, the child usually gives up dancing and focuses on becoming something else. But MMM believes that the many lakhs spent on the debut keep the wheels of the economy moving.
The Man from Madras Musings is not certain about children who take to the stage to sing, dance or perform on instruments, but their parents are certainly a talented lot – at least as far as public relations are concerned. Marketing as a technique is perhaps best learnt from these people and it is a wonder that the renowned management institutes of our country have not yet roped in these professionals to share their skills with aspiring students.
The hard sell usually begins with what is known in our city as the resume, the ‘e’ at the end being silent. Going through these, you will realise that there are certain stock phrases in all art-related curriculum vitae. You cannot go far wrong by throwing in for good measure terms such as ‘tender age’ (this can be anything from one to twenty), ‘lotus feet’, ‘benign grace’, ‘musical family’, ‘soul-stirring’, ‘yeoman service’, ‘power-packed’ ‘deliverance’ (yes), ‘ethereal’, ‘myriad hues’ and, of course, ‘performed in India and abroad.’
Having put this together, the parents get it printed in outsize glossy art paper/board and then set about prowling. This is when people like MMM are particularly vulnerable. They get these dossiers thrust at them through email, snail mail, Facebook and other such media, apart from the most dangerous – personal mail. The last named means a visit by the pushy parent in person, armed with dossier and dragging the reluctant child along. After the initial pourparlers, as MMM believes the expression is, the bio data is produced and in case MMM does not read through it carefully, or at least with the appearance of doing so, certain sections will be declaimed loudly, with accompanying gestures. The child will then be asked to sing/play the instrument/dance, all of which will usually be done with great reluctance on his/her part. The child would probably be happier playing a game or browsing the worldwide web. At the end of the performance, MMM will usually mouth a few standard expressions. Immediately thereafter, the parent will furnish a list of concerts that the child is giving in the near future and beseech MMM to attend at least one. While the tone of the voice will be entreating, you need to just look up and see the eyes, which will have an entirely different message – turn up or else…, They will be saying.
To some readers the above passage may appear somewhat heartless and MMM can see several sagely telling themselves that these days nothing happens without due publicity and so what is wrong with what these parents do. MMM must also add here that not all parents of child artistes do this. But it may be far better to let the child do what it wants and have it perform once in while, thereby taking the pressure off a little. That way, the art remains fresh and the young ‘un approaches it with no trepidation. If the child wants to eventually turn professional, and if it has the talent, what can stop the success that will inevitably follow? In that case, why is all this direct marketing necessary?
The Man from Madras Musings has had many mentors and one of these, who used to write under the pen name of ‘Caviare’, passed on recently. His speciality was pointing out gaffes in music publications and writing, which he regularly highlighted in a column titled ‘Gaffes and Gobbledegook’. He would have been amused to know that MMM recently received an artiste’s CV that described her as a ‘Platform Singer’.