Nrityagram reaches out to DPS students 
by G Ulaganathan, Bangalore
Photos: Lalitha Venkat 
August 21, 2004   

Many of them are children of the rich and famous. They have lived only in cities like Delhi and they have never experienced life in a village. They would have hardly imagined that a 15-day stay at Nrityagram , the dance village created by Protima Gauri on the outskirts of Bangalore, will change their lives. They came with some reluctance and skepticism but went back fully charged and with hope and happiness. 

About  50 children studying in various schools run by the Delhi Public School Society  spent about a fortnight in Nrityagram at Hessarghatta last month.  They learnt various skills and exercises, yoga, meditation, music, dance, dance appreciation, etc and more importantly learnt about community life, which they had never experienced before.  Says Jyotsna of Delhi Public School, Ranchi, “It was a different kind of life for me. We lived like one large family here and the place is like heaven.” 

Almost every one echoed her words. For Aparna of class 7 from DPS, Delhi, “it was a dream come true. Though there is discipline in our schools, here I learnt what is self discipline.” 

The children, mostly girls, had a regular schedule - A brisk walk around the campus early in the morning  then small chores like sweeping (many of them were handling a broom for the first time),  cleaning the rooms, washing , simple breakfast in the community kitchen followed by yoga for an hour, breathing exercises, dance--broth practical and theory, art, colouring, etc, and by dusk, it was time for campfire and chat sessions. 

Says Lynne Fernandez, managing trustee of Nrityagram,  “this camp taught them what living with nature is all about. Some of them found it difficult to adjust in the beginning but later everyone got so used to living in huts they found it to be a world of bliss. When the camp ended, many were reluctant to return. The idea was to teach `holistic lifestyle’ focused on dance and to teach them to appreciate classical arts. There were quite a few students who had basic knowledge about dance and they could clear so many of their doubts with our dancers. What we wanted to impress upon them was that dance can be an alternative profession, not necessarily be only a hobby.” 

This project, when Lynne proposed to Mr. Narendra Kumar, chairman of the DPS society, got an instant response and the students along with a few teachers came and lived in Nrityagram for more than two weeks. 

In a way, this is an extension of the summer workshop conducted by Nrityagram every year. This workshop focuses on basic training in Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak. The daily routine includes jogging, pranayama, and the theoretical aspects of these styles. The children were exposed to various styles of dance - though some of them have learnt one or two styles- and they were made to understand how the basics are the same  for the Indian classical dances. 

Says Sreya De, a student of DPS, Vindhya Nagar in Madhya Pradesh, “ I am an ordinary student but love to dance. We lived in a cozy cottage here and ate simple delicious meals. With a lot of greenery around and plenty of open space, I tried some gardening as well. We had a tight schedule every day. Chirping birds and small pet animals kept us company. Life away from the city is really beautiful and I would love to come back for my next holidays.” 

The interest shown by students has now inspired Lynne and her team to plan short, advanced workshops for students who are interested in making dance as a career. “The aim is to identify and hone talent and students from class 4 to class 8 will be included. After they complete their plus 2 from DPS, they can come undergo training for a period of 5 to 7 years. It will be in two parts - A small group will be selected and they will come here every summer for a workshop and a syllabus will be formulated for this group. They will stay here for a period of 15 to 20 days and we may take about 40 students. They will be charged a fee of Rs.100 per day, which will take care of their food and accommodation. 

“There will also be a workshop conducted annually in Delhi for those students who cannot come to Bangalore. For them, the fees will be Rs.50 per day,” she adds. These workshops will begin from next year. The DPS has also planned to include dance and dance appreciation as part of the curriculum and it will be followed by all schools of the DPS society (about 100 schools all over the country), Eventually students will appear for exams conducted by the Akhil Bharatiya Gandharv Mahavidyalaya.

G Ulaganathan is the news editor of Deccan Herald, Bangalore.