Dance as swabhava

Swabhava denotes an intrinsic expression that is choiceless in its existence in oneself. By this I mean that one did not choose necessarily to have this seed space in oneself, it is as if it was there and just rose to one’s awareness. And once you become aware of the seed, it is impossible to ignore it.

My guru believed that for a person for whom dance becomes their being, it is always a swabhava. The flowering of this swabhava does not correspond to the natural order of things—it could happen more quickly than it does for others, the talent is magnificent in comparison to others or that it is beyond expectations in relation to the work invested in the activity. He would also point out that being a dancer required many things beyond one’s control—a stage presence, charisma and a supportive family. Therefore, in his view, if all of these came together, then it was the sacred duty of that dancer to serve the artform. The swabhava then becomes the swadharma.

Swadharma is the expression of the swabhava. It is that activity through which, if we are blest to become aware of it, we overcome our selfhood and serve the universe. The choicelessness of this trajectory of swabhava and swadharma is what facilitates the erasing of doership, the ‘I’ position. It is as if the dance is happening through you and you have no claim to its expression. Just like the flute in Krishna’s hands, we are only the instrument for the music/dance to come into being.

The surrender to choicelessness happens also through the dance form—codified and structured, complex constellations of movement, narratives of archetypes—all demanding departure from one’s personal history, story, prejudices and even feelings. We are cautioned not to extrapolate personal experiences to understand the Rasas or feeling constellations of dance theatre. The form is everything—just like the Mandalas and the meticulously detailed sculptures of the old, the form is the Brahman. A paradox because the Brahman is not form, but the language of dance, passed down through generations, from and through gurus who experienced (felt) Brahman, holds the Brahman space. This is why it is so important to become apprenticed to teachers who have this experience and who can pass on the form that can facilitate the Brahman experience.

Swabhava and swadharma are not outcomes of exerting choice or willpower. They are endowed on us, the jeeva, as our means of transcending our limited selfhood. We are very fortunate if they rise to our awareness and even more fortunate if we can find a teacher to bring them into flower.

Padma Menon