Monday, December 20, 2010

Back to School

I have kept myself fairly busy these last two weeks. About a month ago, my school Sardar Patel Vidyalaya (SPV) got in touch with me regarding ‘activity week’ – a week that brought back many memories – of being captain of my sports house, equalizing records and running relays, jumping across poles held high and into long pits, whizzing past the cheering crowds etc. When my teachers wanted to know if I would choreograph a dance piece for students of classes 8,9,10 and 11 to commemorate the 50th year of Activity week, I didn’t think twice and said yes. When I suggested that Kalaripayattu and Yoga would be interesting to explore, along with classical and contemporary styles, SPV was enthusiastic. I'd been given the go ahead and was told that there were about 30 students who had signed up.

Bharatanatyam section
On the first day, I met 'my students', and we just talked. Over the next few days, we became more familiar, 35 students became 55 students, the number of boys increased, and the piece started to take shape and transform. Within ten days, the students and I were ready. We put up a choreography that comprised of Bharatanatyam, Kalaripayattu, Yoga, Odissi, Kathak and Modern dance. The feedback for the performance was almost unanimously positive – the students loved it, teachers adored it, and parents were impressed by it.

The performance aside, teaching taught me that I love teaching! And from what my teachers tell me – I’m good at it! It was a strangely warm feeling that the same school in which I used to get in trouble and rebel against teachers was now the place where I was to discover that perhaps I am meant to teach as well.

I learnt about the students – they were talented and interested – a generation of confident young people who were keen to learn and explore. Yet they were not arrogant and conceited. Most of them listened, internalized what I taught them, asked questions, and when asked to choreograph bits, took up the challenge and displayed tremendous creative potential! It was exciting to see what they were capable of, without even knowing it!

Paromita Ma'am, once my English teacher, was full of praise
I learnt about some of my teachers – specially their patience, and how sturdy their voices must be - I lost my voice within 5 days of teaching!

When it came to teaching, I just followed my instincts, which told me that you cannot talk down to children; and that a teacher can never win over his/her students if he/she walks into a classroom demanding respect as if he/she should deserve it no matter what. Just as the students were expected to earn my respect, I also had to earn theirs.

That’s all I did, really. I didn’t assume that I should get instant respect, I realized I’d have to impress them and negotiate with them rather than give them ultimatums. I encouraged them to talk and question. They had a say, almost always. Of course, if things got out of control, I had the final word (and the one time I did unilaterally make a decision, one student inquired whether my democratic ways were giving in to authoritarianism – cheeky!), but I tried to let them know that their opinions mattered – because they did, and that their inputs were valuable – because they were! We worked together. It was funny to notice that my methods amused them (my impressions of them 'dancing lazily' always provoked laughter), and they quickly realized I wasn't intolerant to mischief (the boys who had identical phones as mine were constantly interchanging the phones to confuse me).
With two students and the talented young Mridangist, Manohar, an SPV student of class XI, who played live during the Kalaripayattu sections of the piece
But there were 'serious' moments too - scolding (although I was told by them that I didn’t scold them enough), sore legs (theirs), hoarse throats (mine) and blackmailing (I told them that my reputation was in their hands and that they had a responsibility towards me, just as I had a responsibility towards them!).

This is only half of my students, many were scattered, and I
was told that the boys had run off to get out of their salwars
as soon as the piece had gotten over!
What was really special was seeing the transformation in my students, some of whom had never danced (I had promised them that would not be a problem) – on day one, they were shy, awkward, giggly and distracted, and over the two weeks, I saw them transform into confident, fluid bodies. 

The transformation was evident in other ways too - They didn’t want me to yell at them to listen. Instead they were telling each other to keep quiet so that they could hear what I was saying! I heard some of the boys standing up to other boys who were teasing them about being 'in a dance'. They had taken my pep-talk about fighting gender stereotypes quite seriously! I saw the minds and bodies of the students trying to understand my demonstration of the difference between dancing ‘correctly’ and dancing ‘with feeling'. Ultimately, they were making the effort. Basically, it was no longer some ex-student's dance project. They had made the dance theirs. That transformation unfolding before my eyes made me ecstatic!

More happy faces after the performance. I still didn't manage
to get a group photograph of everyone in the dance piece.
The love and enthusiasm of the students made me feel that I had left my mark. To know that you made even a little difference to a lot of kids is an unexpectedly powerful feeling.

I had always thought teaching was something I’d do later on in life. But when I realized how much I’d loved it, how rewarding it had been for me, and how much my students said they gained from me, I realized I wanted to teach now, and I should. So, since I’ve been asked to conduct workshops there in April – SPV, I’ll be back soon.


  1. aranyani didi it was a hole lot of fun wid u and we <3 u

    (ur dance student)

  2. :) thank you so much, Mitali. I'm overwhelmed by the thank you card, and all the love from all of you :)