Aesthetics in education
...The role of classical dance
- Sandhya Kiran, Bangalore
e-mail: thekirans.rasika@gmail.com

January 4, 2009

(This article first appeared on MENTOR)

"Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery," said Martha Graham one of the world's most well known contemporary dancers.
"Dance is the most immediate and accessible of the arts because it involves your own body. When you learn to move your body on a note of music, it's exciting. You have taken control over your body, and by learning to do that, you discover that you can take charge of your own life." An expression by Jacques D' Amboise that is so poignant, that it sets you thinking.

How true and profound...
Yes, how true. Our dance contributes to what defines us as a nation, a generation, a gender, a person. Often we hear the saying - To understand the culture, study the dance. How could we omit something so profound from our education system?
The true object of education is to develop human personality in all its aspects. And man is not just his intellect alone. Nor is he just his body. He is a bundle of emotions and harnessing these emotions will play a vital part in his development as an individual.

The essentials...
Man can never be complete or balanced unless his emotions are trained and developed, and here comes the need for introducing classical dance in our educational curriculum.

Science is curiosity about life, art is wonder at life, philosophy is an attitude towards life, and religion is reverence for life. True culture includes all these aspects and a cultured man ought to show development along these four lines. A Chinese proverb says: "If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily," implying that attention should not be paid only on acquisition of food, drink and wealth, but also on the development of your aesthetic nature. Therefore it is only obvious that education in aesthetics is as essential if not more than mere intellectual or physical education.

Pure joy...
Indian classical dance has been unanimously considered as one of the most complete and comprehensive forms of dance in the world. Indian dance is an in-depth experience - physically, mentally and emotionally. We have been teaching classical dance for the last seventeen years, and from experience we have learnt that Indian classical dance in general and Bharatanatyam in particular (since we practice Bharatanatyam, we speak for this form of dance) is not merely a physical exertion of the body. After years of practicing Bharatanatyam, we have realized one simple truth - Dance is pure joy. Training in classical dance results in the blossoming of the mind, body and soul - a thorough development of the personality. Emotions are used effectively to exercise the mind and body, leading to a complete catharsis of pent up energies - positive or negative - further leading to a volcanic outburst of joy, that which can only be experienced, not written or spoken about. In dance education at its finest, students feel this magic or transcendence of dance.

Interweaving of skills...
Dance allows us to express, communicate and understand ideas and feelings in an engaging manner. The physical body, senses, feelings, emotions and mind of the dancer interweave. This complex inter-relationship makes dance a truly unique experience. With its enchanting immediacy and with explicit or symbolic messages, classical dance conveys values by telling truths, revealing perceptions and unveiling secrets.

Classical dance has been understood to stimulate several technical and non-technical skills that include the abilities to observe acutely, think spatially, to identify the essential components of a complex whole and to synthesize and communicate the results of one's thinking - visually, verbally and mathematically.

There is one burning question however. Does classical dance, with its traditional values, austere technique and sophisticated style, have a place in today's times? Do the youth of India relate to classical dance? With modernization and Westernization entirely taking over our lives, how can Indian classical dance find a place in the present day education system? To answer this question, I quote Guru V P Dhananjayan, one of the greatest exponents of Bharatanatyam that India has seen. "Tradition is not a stagnant pond. It is an ever flowing, ever-renewing river like the Ganga. These waters of today are not the waters of yesterday, yet it continues to be the same river, the same Ganga, changing in contours but changeless in spirit."

A resplendent identity...
It is heartening to see that Indian dance has seen so much change in the last few years. Keeping the embers of tradition alive, classical dance practitioners have experimented and improvised with the form giving it a comprehensive, innovative structure and a resplendent identity with a flavour of its own. Ideas are contemporary, choreography is challenging and the result is an intelligent, thinking dancer, with his feet firmly rooted in tradition but his wings spread out in the skies. Yes, this is the classical dance of today - timeless in spirit, yet contemporary in form.

The dance echo in schools...
Dance education in schools is important because it develops kinesthetic intelligence. This intelligence is echoed in other aspects of students' lives. Sometimes dance permits humans to express, communicate and understand ideas, feelings and emotions they could not say or understand in other ways. When students receive dance education, they accumulate information and learn ways of thinking that complement other subjects. Some students through exposure to dance in their schools, will go on to obtain pre-professional training needed to become successful dancers or to have dance related careers.

Dance education can be offered in a variety of methods. Students can get a brief taste of the dance forms by way of lecture-demonstrations or small, simple workshops. Else, elaborate capsules of sequentially rich programs may be offered through the year. In the curricular context, classical dance may be a subject on its own or a component within other subjects like Music, Social Studies, Literature or Language. It would be interesting to see how we could interweave dance into Science and Mathematics too.

Creating and performing dances is one critical component. But a majority of students will not go on to earn a living in dance. Therefore, a broad approach to dance instruction in schools allows students to absorb information according to their capabilities and levels of interest. This helps in generating a complete awareness about the dance form at the school level itself and in the long run, we are creating an informed and intelligent audience for our classical dance forms.

The National Spirit...
The need of the day is to create a true national spirit and what better manner to do that than by initiating young minds in the classical arts. The greatness or littleness of a nation is determined to a large extent on how the youth are trained. In the first place, they have to be cultured citizens. Each nation has a culture unique to itself, and the classical arts are a vibrant expression of this culture. Therefore, it would only be imperative that our youth be exposed and educated in our rich culture, so that they become channels of expression of our national spirit. The end product of this kind of education will be a cultured citizen, a confident and intelligent human being, a patron of the arts, a living, breathing storehouse of India's cultural heritage.

I sign off with a quote from the Natya Shastra, a treatise on Indian dance, music and drama that dates back to nearly two thousand years. The author Bharatha says:

Na Tath Gnaanam, Na Tath Shilpam,
Na Saa Vidyaa, Na Saa Kalaa,
Na Sow Yogo, Na Tath Karma,
Natyesmin Yannadrushyathe.

There is no wisdom or knowledge, no art, no craft, no device or action that is not found in Natya.


References
Partnering Dance and Education-Intelligent Moves for Changing Times, Judith Lynne Hanna
A Dancer on Dance, V P Dhananjayan


Kiran Subramanyam and Sandhya Kiran are leading Bharatanatyam exponents and practice and teach at their academy for dance, Rasika, at Bangalore. Sandhya Kiran writes her views on classical dance education in schools.