Ten thirty in the morning. Berlin, Mauerpark. I’m walking alone, accompanied by the sound of the bells inside one of the heavy bags that I am carrying, as I walk in this clear-skied, sunny day. The air is very clean, the whole city around is still quiet and asleep. It’s Sunday. The jugglers and circus people in the amphitheater look at me with a mix of suspicion and curiosity and indifference. Someone tries to dissuade me, telling me that most of the spaces are already occupied by other street artists, and the spot I am heading for will definitely be too close to the hip hop dancers. Their powerful speakers will prevent the people from hearing my music coming through my small, cheap speaker. I have just bought it at Arcade, with my hands, heart and wallet full of hope and good intentions. In all these conversations, I’m dressed like a classical Indian dancer, with makeup, jewels and a shiny colorful saree costume. My fingertips and toes are coloured red and I have put a few drops of jasmine essence on my neck.
Two hours later. I’m sweating and dancing and dancing and dancing and the sky with its big fluffy white clouds seems to be smiling at me, and so do the groups of different people who keep stopping and gathering around the wooden, improvised platform, next to a beautiful big tree that gifts me with some nice shade in this hot, August Sunday. One old man sits exactly in front of where I am pointing with my dances. He will be there for at least two hours, with smiling dreamy eyes, all absorbed by the stories I am telling with my Bharatanatyam pieces. One story is about Krishna, the infinitely charming blue God that plays the flute, favourite of many Indians, and Arjun, one is about Ganesha, the elephant God, two are about Shiva, the God of the Cosmic dance which created the whole Universe.
This old man will come to me, after patiently waiting for me to stop speaking with the other people who passed by and stopped, curious about this very symbolic Indian classical theater-dance, and he will give me a ten euro bill. The most generous spectator of the day; I am touched by his generosity and his enthusiasm and sincere deep interest in what I shared through my dance. After one week, the following Sunday, he will come back and again sit for almost three hours, following with those sweet dreamy eyes the entire dance, even when it’s repeating. Then he will come to me and this time he will give me twenty euros and will tell me that he returned to Berlin from somewhere else just in order to see me dance again. And all this because he loves this dance, because when he was around thirty-five he took a Bharatanatyam dance class and could not continue because of his knees, otherwise he would have been so happy to deepen his knowledge of this art form. His name is Nicolas.
I’ve been dancing for two hours and a half, I realize that my feet are hurting from the hard, continuous stamping and beating with the big heavy anklets full of bells, the “ghungroos”. But during the dance I was somewhere else, was transcending all the physical fatigue and pain. And what made me the happiest, is that, from the words that the precious casual audience shares with me, I can feel that they were also lead somewhere else. They could dream and travel far with the dances and the stories told. This is Rasa, the essence and aim of the Art, for the ancient Indian culture. To reach the souls of the people who are involved in the performance as spectators, to create a soul connection with them, to touch their hearts and mind and transmit all the passion, love and gratitude that you felt during the making of your Art. And this very direct and spontaneous contact with the people and their stories is what gave me back a lot, in street dancing. You are not on a stage, you really are with the people, same level, common horizon, generous human sharing.
Then Kanishka arrives, he’s Indian, but lives in Berlin, he has two sweet children and a very nice smiling German wife. He is a musician. He comes to me and suggests that we collaborate, he had been looking for a Bharatanatyam dancer for some time here in Berlin. So connections happen, new shared dreams can start. Then comes Sonia, she is so beautiful and full of light, with a kid on her shoulders, eyes like almonds and a smooth shiny skin like golden honey. She tells me that she was enchanted, like in a spell. She really loved the presence and the focus she could find in me during the dance, that being totally centered and into the flux of the dances, as if nothing else existed anymore, no daily problems, no worries, no city traffic, no fear. Just presence in the moment. She is half Srilankan and half French. She also loves to dance and she is searching, travelling with her child as a nomadic single mother, looking for a Home and also looking for herself. We drink a glass of juice together after I finish the dance, with her baby girl running around us happily. Then Stephanie, she wants to learn this dance and she’ll ask me if I can teach her. And then full families of Indians, that feel so happy, amazed and grateful to see their traditional dance being performed in a park in Berlin. This they tell me and they are really full of joy in their hearts, and so am I.
Another story is the one of me dancing in front of the Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn station, one of the most “hardcore”, roughest metro stations of Berlin. I was always biking through the city traffic to reach my destination, already all dressed up and with all the bags on my shoulders, containing a small statue of Shiva Nataraja, the speakers, part of the costume, the anklets, a towel for the sweat and a cardboard sign with information about the dance written on it. The other bikers were smiling at the traffic lights. When I danced there, at Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn, I was surrounded by dirty cement and smelly asphalt, cigarette butts, broken glass, homeless people and alcoholics, drug dealers and similar urban characters. Once they even arrested a pusher while I was dancing a Pushpanjali (a sort of flowery offering through dance, very gentle and joyful). The police put him into handcuffs while I kept jumping and smiling. I could see the Hindu characters I was dancing about in the tall modern buildings around. Then a Russian girl told me “I love you” just as she was passing by, and that made me so happy, and then there was the time I got robbed. Yes, I got robbed, while I was dancing. Think of that: stealing from a street artist. Nothing worse, I suppose. I had noticed that someone had generously left two five-euro bills in the middle of tons of five or two cent, bronze coins. But then a thin tall guy came and pretending to put more money, he took them. I saw it and I felt it as it was happening but I did not want to stop the dance. So I tried to convince myself that it was not possible, I hadn’t seen well. I like to trust human beings. I really do. But the money was gone and I felt hurt. Of course not for the money. But then a Persian lady comes and she lifts again my mood and soul, and we start to speak Farsi. She works as Security there at the station and she is so happy to see some Beauty and some Art in such a fucked up grey context. She says it’s like colourful flowers growing in the middle of the cement.
I could mention so many other beautiful souls and stories, that came to me through the street dancing. The tabla player, the homeless man, the belly-dancer, the father with the sweet eyes, who kept coming and coming with his kids, never with their mother, maybe because they were no longer together, maybe because she was no more. I really felt he wanted to tell me something but was too shy. I could feel his loving eyes on me while I was dancing.
Then the Autumn came, and so did the cold, and I could no longer dance in the streets. And then Covid came again and us artists are now only able to dream about working with our Art, about sharing it with the people. But Dance is always there, in the blood, in the veins, in each cell.