What they don’t tell you about Odissi
In this episode, I will explain the first step to get ready for your Odissi dance lesson. Let me share with you one of the ways you can wear a Sari to practice with, which I learned from my beloved teacher Allison Mulroy.
Almost everyone will find this a bit difficult, so be patient with yourself. I hope you will decide to take some Odissi classes from a qualified teacher, and they will show you how to wear a Sari. There are many ways to wear a Sari for Odissi dance, so don’t worry if they have a different method that one I explain here. And please feel free to share your experience by commenting on this episode.
Well… have you seen those beautiful Indian women wrapped in their precious Saris with sinuous and elegant shapes? Forget about wearing a Sari for Odissi and feeling as charming as the women that you have seen before. At first, you are going to feel more like a muppet show character with giant pampers on, while you are working hard and smiling, pretending it is easy for really you.
Once you overcome this first step, you can start to feel the enchantment and tranquility fo this beautiful and fascinating art. Don’t give up!
How to get ready for Odissi in 7 steps
What do you need?
- Half sleeve Choli
- Long leggings
- Safety pins
Caution: Choli and leggings must cover your arms and legs. You should not go to study wearing shorts and a short sleeve top. This would be disrespectful to your teacher and to the culture of Indian Dance to which the Odissi belongs. It may seem like an obsolete concept, but it is required for discipline and cultural ethics.
Whatever your style is and whatever type of hair you have, keep it tidy. By doing so:
- You’ll avoid distracting yourself during the practice
- You’ll respect yourself and your companions while you are working close together
- You’ll help to make it easier for the whole class to see and focus on the teacher
- Your own movements will be more visible and the teacher can give you feedback more easily
How to tie your Sari
There is a traditional orientation for tying a Sari regardless of whether you are left handed or right handed. The shoulder should be covered on the left. In the pictures and video the shoulder is covered on the right. The video and the pictures for this episode are reversed, so you can follow them easily as if you are in front of the mirror.
Create the skirt
Find the front right corner of the Sari. Look carefully at the decoration which offers a point of reference.
Hold the corner with a safety pin or tuck it into the edge of the leggings at your right iliac crest. Imagine having trousers with pockets. It would be at the front pocket on the right.
Follow the decoration of the Sari, wrapping yourself in, creating the skirt. To do that, slide the edge of the Sari by positioning beginning on the right side where you have just tucked it in, then on across your belly, continuing to the left. Then continue around behind, until the fabric is to the right side again and you are back where you started.
Here you have finished the tour of your waistline and you find the edge of the Saree on the right again. Tuck in the Sari again in the same place to make a more secure hold for the base of the skirt.
Create the Pallu
Now we create a sort of tail, called the Pallu. It is the drape that will fall on your back, from your the left shoulder.
Follow the decoration of the Saree you just tucked in on your right hip and run the whole fabric all the way to the other end. Use the edge decoration as a reference to fold the short edge like an accordion. Pin it with a safety pin.
Continue the accordion fold up the length of the Sari for about a meter and pin it. You will need enough length to wrap yourself in the Pallu.
Bring the Pallu behind you starting on the right, then across the left, and bring it back to the right. Slide it in front of you, then pull it up from the right side, towards the left shoulder covering the chest.
Let’s take measure and adjust the Pallu
Place the Pallu on your left shoulder, and leave it behind like a sort of tail or cape hanging down from your shoulder. Slide it until it reaches the back of your knees.
Take the tail and continue to wrap it up, carrying the Pallu from your left shoulder on which it rests, diagonally down on your back, towards your right side. Then bring it in front of your navel. Slide the Pallu enough to be able to wrap yourself in it. Make sure you still have about 30 cm more hanging over the navel, to ensure your Sari does not lift above the navel while you are practicing Odissi.
Let’s work on the details
Now that you have correctly sized your Pallu, you can let it hang from your shoulder so you can be relaxed while you adjust the individual parts. If you prefer, you can also lay it on your right arm. Just don’t choke yourself.
Make sure you have enough fabric to cover your chest properly. Check the opening of Sari.
Now, following the embroidery, place the fabric along the torso as neatly as you can. Pull it tight enough that it will stay in place during the practice. Scroll along the embroidery until you reach the skirt.
As you may have noticed, you still have some excess of fabric around the skirt area. To finish the skirt, work the fabric with a zig-zag fold, holding the repeated folds against your belly. Always use the embroidery as a guideline. Make wide folds, about twice as wide as you made for the Pallu.
Now pin the block of folds with a big safety pin, and clamp it in the leggings to hold the whole thing. This is the famous Muppet moment. … especially if you are short and have a very long Sari. Flatten the folds as much as possible and wait for this to feel comfortable, possibly after a couple of years of practice… around the time you have lost hope, you will get used to it.
Now, as the salmon go up the stream, we go back through the embroidery of the skirt, starting from the left side, to stretch the fabric as much as possible, and tidy up all the upper part.
We arrange the edge going up from the left side, back towards the back, then coming around the right side to arrive once again in front.
We place the Sari on the chest to cover it and fix it to the Choli with a small safety pin on the left side where the bra line is.
Now we finish placing the Pallu. Take the tail that you left hanging along the back from the left shoulder and place it hanging down towards the right side as you did before to measure and adjust the length. Make sure the Pallu folds are still neat and tidy. Do not twist the Pallu like Fusilli Pasta.
Then bring the Pallu in front and place the edge in the leggings, at the navel or just to the left of it. You should get about 20 cm of fabric that is left to hang down along the left side. You could also slip it inside the skirt, if you advance a few centimeters. The point is that you need a few centimeters of Pallu to lock it to the skirt, so you can study without having the Sari go everywhere.
If necessary, rearrange and flatten the folds. Make the fabric flat where you can. It is important to keep the folds flat to reduce the volume of the Sari. You will be able to move better with it compacted, keeping the fabric under control and out of the way.
Now you are ready to jump into Odissi!
How did it go? Did you feel like disorderly spring roll made by an amateur spring roll roller, or did you succeed?
Learning to tie a Sari well takes time and practice and patience. A sense of humor won’t hurt either. Don’t be afraid to laugh happily at your awkward struggle. That was my secret to having fun learning this subtle, difficult and potentially frustrating art. Keep trying. It will come!
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