Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Appreciating the Arts - Kathak

At a recent event, I did my first ever talk.  I spoke a bit about myself, Kathak and the challenges of teaching Kathak in Edmonton. I also performed a short Kathak Tarana.

There was an old man, of Punjabi Heritage, probably about 70+ years old,  he comes up to me afterwards. He says, I want to ask you something. I said ok.

He said, "At most gatherings, when people come, and get together, if they are watching a dance, the dance is primarily for entertainment. Can you tell me what I was I supposed to enjoy about your dance? All I saw maybe was a little bit of expression. Otherwise, I did not see anything I could enjoy..."

In my talk, I had discussed how many of the great original Kathak dancers are male, and how our Guru-ji, Pandit Chitresh Das, is a man. He is the creator of Kathak Yoga. This old man, went on to say something about boys dancing...

He says "Now, you talked about boys dancing. I don't know about boys dancing. When a girl dances there is something to enjoy, because you know...when a boy dances...er, hum." .. he gestured in way that I could only understand was him trying to say boys shouldn't be dancing...

He continued to ask me explicitly and in front of a few onlookers, "What is the audience supposed to enjoy about that?" (that being reference to the Kathak performance I did earlier).

Feeling a bit odd, and slightly insulted, I tried to say something to the effect of "Well Kathak has a lot of technical elements and the dancer must train hard to learn about the technicalities of complex footwork patterns---" He cuts me off and says in a condescending tone, "Do you think these people here have any technical training? NOOOO. So tell me, what are we supposed to enjoy?"


I explained, "I think you should look to see if the dancer is enjoying herself. If the dancer is enjoying herself, that should translate forward to the audience. I think that if you didn't enjoy the performance, and you are trying to ask me what you should enjoy, perhaps you should get educated about the dance form, and learn what is involved in Kathak; it takes years of practice, and can be very complex. Maybe once you understand the complexity of the dance form, you might be able to appreciate it."

He nodded, as if he understood, and walked away.

Interesting huh?

Has the South Asian community become so desensitised by hip shaking Bollywood item numbers, that they no longer see the value in the ancient art forms of India?

It astonishes me every time I see or hear an Indian cringe at the thought or sight of Classical dance. I understand Classical dancing is not everyone's cup of tea; but there is no reason to put it down! You might learn  to turn the light bulb, and lift your legs to a Bhangra song in a couple dance lessons, but a Classical dancer can take more than a year to get just her basic footwork pattern ingrained in her.  And I can say this because I have learned and taught both Bhangra and Bollywood. They are much easier to learn & to teach for several reasons; primarily in relation to the nature of the music itself, and the freestyle nature of patterns/choreography; there are no set rules.

It astonishes me for many reasons. One of the things that fires me up is that, Indians, in the past, have discriminated against me. I remember meeting a friend of a friend, he was of Punjabi descent; a Canadian born Indian though, thus it shocked me, when he asked me where I was born, and I told him Fiji, and he said very condescendingly, "OH, you're one of those."  I was floored! In 2013, you'd think that a Canadian born young south Asian would be more accepting of diversity. I remember having been discriminated against and that because I was from Fiji, elder people assumed I didn't know Hindi. I could confidently say, your kid doesn't know Hindi man, but I can speak, read and write it. What does your kid know? I could say that, but I never did, cause my momma taught me to be polite and respectful. I know where I'm from, which part of India I descend from, what my background is and who I am. That's all that matters.

So yes, it astonishes me when Indians are not educated about or even respectful of the ancient and beautiful arts that come from their Country. That's your country! You don't have to like the dance style, but you don't have any reason nor are you educated enough about the art form, to insult it, especially not to the artist who just took her time out to demonstrate the dance for you.

Regardless, if you don't enjoy the Classical arts, you don't need to bring your likes and dislikes to other people as if you are right and they are wrong, or try to persuade them that they are not worthy. It is extremely disrespectful in my opinion.

And just for the record, I trained for almost 70 hours on the Tarana, and I am still perfecting it; I am after all, an emerging Kathaka.

I am on a mission to educate and inform people of the beauty of the variety of South Asian Performing Arts across Canada.

Don't hate on your own heritage and history peeps...there is much more to Indian dancing than just Bollywood... if only you could open your eyes, heart and mind to see it...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Physical, Mental, and Emotional Capacity of Children is declining....PART 1

I am an artist. I am also a dance teacher. I have been teaching since 2001, but officially in my own studio since 2007. What I have noticed over the years is a significant decline in the physical, mental and emotional capacities of children. I have noticed this decline in an exponential pattern over the past 5 years. What used to take me 8 hours to teach, now takes me 16 hours to teach.

I have noticed a decline in physical stamina, dexterity, agility, strength and muscle tone. I have noticed slower mental processing of instructions and directions -- children seem to have to be consistently reminded of the same thing several times before it is understood and processed and then completed by their bodies. I have noticed slower decision making abilities. I have noticed a decrease in the ability to voice their honest emotions. I have noticed a decrease in emotional expression as dancers. I have noticed an exponential increase in fear of being wrong! This concerns me a lot. 

The fear of being wrong. Where does this come from? Some children I teach become immobilized in fear of being wrong -- saying the wrong thing or making a mistake... There seems to be a need for constant approval and praise. Yes praise is important, but so is making mistakes. Making mistakes is very important. If we don't make mistakes, we will never the get the feeling of achievement when we finally get it right! If you're a dancer, and you've been working on something for a while, not getting it right, and finally it clicks and you get it right, you shout "YES! I GOT IT." It's an awesome feeling -- trust me! The frustrating part as a teacher is the constant need for approval/praise and/or fear of making a mistake that has developed in society lately...What this leads to is very self-conscious, intimidated, unconfident children. It can also lead to ego...

Kids are constantly looking at other kids in the mirror or beside them to copy them because they don't want to be doing it wrong...of course if the kid beside them does the step wrong, they are going to do it wrong too. They are so afraid of being wrong, that they never fully commit to the dance steps, they are cautious, and not 100% present.

When a confident kid does the steps, he doesn't need to look at the students beside him. He just does the step. If he is wrong, the teacher will correct him. He does not take this as a bad thing. The teacher is doing her job by pointing out where he needs to fix himself so that he can improve his dancing skills. It is not a personal attack. He will become physically and mentally aware of his mistake thanks to his teacher's critique, he will process the change, focus,and try again. He still does not need to look in the mirror at the other kids, because he believes he can fix the mistake and get it right. When he does the step well, his teacher gives him praise, and he feels good inside, like he accomplished something. Teachers are not dumb. They can tell when a student has really tried to consciously fix their mistake, and this puts teachers at ease and increases their confidence in the student. On the converse, if the student were fearful, he would not process the directions because he is not fully present...he will continue to make the same mistakes because of the fear that is in his way.

FEAR. FEAR of making mistakes. Making mistakes is totally OKAY. Totally. The difference in being successful or failing is how we respond to the mistake and how we respond to any critique about the mistake. If we respond with FEAR, we will only continue to perpetuate fear and lose confidence. If we respond with acceptance and responsibility, we will process the information, and make a change so that we may correct the mistake.

FEAR. FEAR of making mistakes means our children will always take the easy road. They will never take risks for fear of failure. They will never live to their full potential. They will always have doubt in their minds when they make a decision. They will have a hard time staying present in the moment. They will always try to fit into the crowd and avoid standing out. They will rarely voice their honest opinion for fear of what others think. They may not stand up for what they believe in because others don't believe in it. And worst of all, they will quit or give up.

There is only so much a teacher can do if she is teaching a child for only 1 hour once per week. But the rest of the time, the people around them can encourage them to reduce fear and build confidence. Confidence doesn't come from being perfect all the time -- confidence comes by way of making mistakes and then fixing them -- it makes you feel stronger that you won't make the mistake next time because you know what to do now...

Constant need for approval/praise. I'm sure you've heard of the "no fail" rules some schools have adopted. What does this perpetuate? Well, in the long run it creates a complacent society. A group of people that don't really try hard, because, well, if you can't fail, why not.

There is saying "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"...The no fail rules of some schools means... not a lot. Because you don't need to work really hard to pass. I remember last year, I asked a group of students "Do you feel that you have the RIGHT  to perform on stage? Or do you feel that you EARN the privilege to perform on stage?"

....Can you guess how majority of them responded?

And what about honest genuine praise? I have heard some parents praise their kids like no tomorrow even after they stood on stage with no smile barely moving or doing the steps. "Oh my God! That was fantastic. So good! Too good! Too Good! You were beautiful my angel!" I get it, I know. To each parent, their child is their angel. I have an angel in my life too. But I care too much about her to ever set her up for failure in life by giving her over the top false praise if it wasn't earned...

On the other hand I have heard some parents say "That was really good sweetie. I liked your dance. Next, time though, I need you to smile more and put more energy into the steps. Could you do that?" --Kid #2 here will feel a sense of accomplishment, but will also know there is room for improvement, and so long as they know this is a good thing, this will increase their belief in themselves.

For Kid #1 on the other hand, it might go two ways if the parents do this all the time regardless of
how good or bad the student did:

1) Develop an EGO like no tomorrow so that if anyone even tries to critique them they will get defensive, and might even quit with the notion that "the teacher doesn't know what they're talking about" or "I don't like her" (simply because they tried to critique you to help you become a better dancer!!??)

2) Cry. They will cry and emotionally shut down anytime anyone tries to critique them. This child will lose the ability to feel strong and confident over time because they only used to being praised and they can't handle criticism. And if you're an adult reading this, you know there is an abundance of criticism in the world -- and if we don't prepare kids for it, they won't know how to handle it. The real world becomes tough for people who are not given the opportunity to handle constructive criticism.

...To be continued...

Food for thought: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201010/parenting-fear-failure-revisited