A DANCE TEACHER'S DIARY
by Padma Chebrolu, Cultural Centre of India, Ohio
Teaching dance has always has been my passion. It is very hard for me to imagine my life without dancing. I started learning dance when I was three years old. For some reason, I could not walk until I was two.
In the early 90's I moved to the U.S. and started going to graduate school. Most Indians, who moved to other countries, care about their culture. As I started performing in U.S, people started asking me for lessons. This is when I realized teaching dance in the U.S is very different from teaching in India.
In India, most teachers often get a very homogeneous group of students, compared to the students in US. It was a lot of fun and extremely challenging. Some of the students were Caucasian and some were African-Americans. They not only learned the dance but also Indian culture, religion, history, and customs. Those who had already studied ballet or modern dance could master the technique without much difficulty. But they struggled with abhinaya (facial expressions). In a way, these students went through a transformation of the soul to truly bring the emotion of the song to the audiences.
Then there are other students, who are already touched by the spirituality of our culture. They have studied our Indian culture, possibly traveled to India and experimented with wearing a sari or cooking an Indian meal. Some of them practice yoga and some meditate. Dance, as a way to worship god and a path to spirituality brings about a truly meaningful experience to these students. They do not worry about perfecting the art form or performing it. They learn the dance just for self-fulfillment and immerse themselves in joy.
Some students were of Indian background but they grew up in the U.S. They could not relate to the concept of guru-sishya (student) relationship. It was hard for them to understand the songs and bhakti bhava (devotion) in the poetry. Mastering the posture, aramandi or ardhamandala (knee bend position) takes longer. They struggle with focusing on this art form when it is not mainstream culture. These students understand that this is a great way to learn about their roots, religion, art and history. As time goes by, they unconsciously attach themselves to the art. They start absorbing and internalizing the art form. These students have tremendous encouragement from their parents and family. Some of the parents, when they see their children performing, they come and hug me with tears of joy in their eyes.
As a teacher, I face many day-to-day issues and situations. I have to remember to look at the big picture. I think of the joy this art form brought to my life. It can have the same creative influence in others. This art form has a higher purpose as these dance styles have time-tested charm, intellectuality and elegance to them. In a small way, I'm contributing to that higher purpose.