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November 2004

Dancing down the catwalk

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Standing: Jivatma (left) and Suryamayi, kneeling, Fanny Photo: AuroviciOn the 18th of September, Dilip Kapur hosted a Hidesign fashion show in his new hotel, ‘Le Dupleix' in Pondicherry . Top Indian models from Bombay and Delhi presented the Hidesign Autumn/Winter ‘04 leather wardrobe in front of a mixed (largely Aurovilian) crowd of enthusiastic onlookers. Slipped in between the different stages of the show (it was divided into ‘business', ‘travel', ‘party' ‘romance' and ‘leisure' wear) were four Auroville girls who – thanks to knowing Dilip as a teacher at their school and as a fellow Aurovilian – performed a dance routine suited to each section. Their dance was accompanied by whoops and smiles from watching friends and family. Three of the four had participated in the Hidedesign fashion show last year, but otherwise none had previous catwalk experience.
'How does it feel to dance in a fashion show? What are the professionals like? How does practical experience change one's view of modelling as a career choice?' – These were questions that crossed my mind as I watched this performance, and so I set out to elicit the experiences and opinions of the four young Aurovilian participants.
“Compared to last year, this time it was more professional,” says Hilde. “Last year there was such a difference between the models and us – we didn't know what to do, and just went up there and modelled and had fun; it was all quite relaxed. This year we did not model but danced. We were allowed to put our input into choreographing the dance pieces – for example we came up with the idea of flamenco moves – and although the choreographer didn't know about flamenco he said ‘Yeah okay, let's try it out', and it worked. In this way it was more stimulating for us – we were more involved, not just putting on some clothes and walking the ramp.”
"The manager of the models had told us that we were to set a kind of ambience for the show,” explained Fanny. “Saturday was the day of the performance. After a lot of waiting we suddenly heard ‘okay, get ready!' and we started to practice our dance, first alone, afterwards with the models. The show itself went by really fast, it felt like two minutes. It was a crazy scene, all that waiting around, and then suddenly full speed and chaotic.”
Modelling has a bad reputation in the sense that it often brings out some of the worst traits in people, such as vanity and arrogance. Was that also their experience? “Some of the models were very arrogant – you know, the kind of people who won't even look at you. But they were a minority, not all of them had that attitude,” remarks Suryamayi. Jivatma agrees: “Getting to know the people made me see that most of them are just like you and me, normal people doing modelling like they could be doing any other job. Most of the models were really nice, friendly and helpful – it didn't feel like ‘us and them'.” Adds Suryamayi: “Yes, and that made me realise how often we judge people by an image, and how untrue our judgments can be.”
Though for three of the four this was the second time they were on the catwalk, modelling as a profession is not the direction they want to go into. Says Hilde: “As a full-time profession I think modelling is a waste of time, there's nothing much behind it. You just walk along showing these clothes – in a way you're selling yourself. Well, it's meant to be for the clothes, but all the models have to have good bodies, don't they? Modelling could be nice as a job on the side.” “I found out modelling isn't such a big deal,” observes Fanny. “There were two or three of the top models of India in that show, and I saw that it's all in the attitude. You just have to practice how to look, how to be photogenic, and how to walk and keep your head up. I only found out afterwards that they were really famous models, and I found myself thinking ‘Is that all you have to do to be so famous?” Jivatma is happy with the experience. “Opportunities like this are windows into other worlds. If you're never given a chance, you keep imagining what it is like. For me this show has been really helpful. Before I thought I could go into modelling seriously, but now that I've had a little experience I view it in a different light. Modelling is a lot of stress for just showing some clothes. Also it isn't really a fixed job; you don't know when or where you will be working. You just move around from place to place, suddenly something comes up and you just have to do it.
“I do love performing, but the difference that I see between modelling and, for example, a dance piece is that modelling doesn't remain a challenge. In modelling, basically you go through the same role again and again. You'll refine it, but you're always refining the same role. Walking the ramp is something you just have to learn, there aren't many different aspects to it. In other art forms there is more space for creativity, and you bring more of yourself into the action. What I like about a show or a performance is the process gone through to get to the final result. At times it looks like it will never work, then you overcome the hurdles and accomplish the final thing: that's where the challenge and the satisfaction lies. To the actors in a play, the night of the actual performance is really a very small part of the whole experience: the real process of learning and effort goes into the rehearsals. What I saw with modelling was that the models didn't have a part in the growth process. They practiced an hour or so with us before the show, got ready, went on and off, and then that was it – on to the next show. I would miss the evolutionary stages, and the feeling that you're really a part of what you're doing, rather than just an instrument of it.”

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