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Amna Mawaz Khan is a classical dancer who specialises in Bharatanatyam. She began training at 11 with renowned dancer Indu Mitha, and trained with her for 11 years. Since then, she has been performing and teaching dance for six years and is also a leftwing political worker.

Ms Khan is currently studying contemporary dance in London. Dawn spoke to her about her efforts to preserve classical dance in the country and pass the art on to others.

Q: What drew you to classical dance?

A: Classical dance is a form of expression, like poetry. In poetry, a poet uses his/her words to express their thoughts. And, in dance, the dancer also expressed her/his feelings and thoughts through movements of their body. I wanted to learn the art of dancing, and at Ms Indu Mitha’s school I found that the dance is an art to express myself.

It is a common perception that dance is for entertainment, but dance is a form through which you can present social issues and human feelings. I recently performed dances on Kishwar Naheed’s Hum Gunahgar Aurtein and Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib’s poetry. I also performed on issues pertaining to women.

Q: Why did you choose Bharatanatyam instead of Kathak?

A: In the Indian subcontinent, Bharatanatyam belonged to the south and Kathak belonged to the northern parts of India. In the centuries old Bharatanatyam, stories are narrated with movement and music, and one can easily tell stories and express issues.

Q: What is the future of classical dance in Pakistan?

A: Extremists have tried to stop classical dance in the past. But, after the arrival of social media, people broke barriers and spoke up against extremism in society. Still, there are many people in the country who do not understand the need to revive our cultural heritage and the centuries old dances and music of the region.

However, the younger generations want to learn classical dance and many have contacted dancers for this purpose. I teach many people in Islamabad. It is clear that the future of classical music and dance in the country is very bright.

Q: What is the difference between classical dance and modern dance?

A: Classical dance is a real form of dance, but the Bollywood style of dancing is not more than an exercise. In classical dance, there is a message, a story and feelings but in modern days dance, it is an exercise.

Learning classical dance is a long process, and time consuming, because you have to catch the taal correctly while correctly moving your arms and legs. The new generation is more talented and they understand the basics of dance without any difficulties. The basic thing is interest: if you take an interest, it will be easy to learn difficult things as well.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2017