On December 6th, 2018, was day two of Dr. Swati Daithankar’s (Swati Tai) Bharatnatyam session at iTeach Ahilyadevi Holkar School, under the aegis of Baithak Foundation. This session was unique and lots of fun! The essence of the workshop was on the students learning the basic steps of the dance form.
I reached there with my daughter who is not yet five years old. Two students of Swati Tai were present. These two young ladies were to conduct the session, until Swati Tai was to arrive after a while. One of them took up the role of instructing students on the dance steps and movements they were to learn and actually do; while the other one herself danced and demonstrated the steps.
The workshop began with doing the namaskar. (When Swati Tai came in later on, she explained the significance of the namaskar; in which the dancer expresses her gratitude towards the earth on which s/he dances, to the Gods watching from above, to her Guru, and finally to the audience to awaits the performance). Next in line, came the adavus, which are the smallest and simplest dancing steps in Bharatnatyam.
It was great watching the school students, comprised of both girls and boys. They were all so into it, trying really hard to follow the steps and do a neat job. Classical dance isn’t easy! It is tough on the body and takes a lot of hard work and constant effort. These young folks were doing their best! You know, like they say, only once you attempt doing something, do you realize what goes into achieving a stature in that field…I am quite sure that when these students began dancing and danced for almost an entire hour, they must have thought about what it takes to become a good, serious dancer! That is the best way to learn to value something, isn’t it? Very cool….
Learning to maintain the basic posture and the warm up exercises that are to be done before beginning to dance, were two other important aspects that were covered in this workshop. These were followed by more adavus….
Then entered Swati Tai. She had just flown in from another town and came straight for the workshop. Gosh, she has this quality that when she is present in a space, interacting with the students, she simply lightens up the whole atmosphere. She comes across as someone who has a very pleasant demeanour, and a great sense of humor. Knowing that the children were experiencing strain and pain in their legs due to all the dancing they were doing, she said to them, “Today your legs will hurt. Tomorrow they will hurt more; and while going down the stairs you will remember me….” – such a sweet thing to say! Immediately everyone was laughing! It was a moment of joy! ☺
She expressed her appreciation with respect to the fact that even boys were showing interest. To get them interested further, she told the students that in fact Bharatnatyam is men’s dance, since its origins come from Lord Shiva. This point about men dancing is especially important because in society, classical dancing is mostly associated with girls and women, not boys or men.
Tai then took up abhinaya, i.e. facial expressions. This part was beautiful and so very special. She demonstrated some rasas, or emotions and encouraged all the girls and boys to emote through expressions. It was delightful to see this unfold. Expressing makes most people shy and uncomfortable. Tai shared that the core of expression lies in inner work; it isn’t hand gestures that one should worry too much about. She invited everyone to attempt expression by saying that only she was the person who was watching them express. I believe that must have put the children at some ease.
Finally, she came to the use of mudras , which are hand gestures. She took the examples of soochi and alapadm, two mudras, and showed how these two gestures may be employed to depict a variety of different things….
All in all, it was a action-packed hour. Everyone danced, sweated it out literally, and also got a taste of expression. It was a great experience for me. It is always nice to see facilitation of workshops because one learns so much from the entire experience. I was keenly watching and jotting down points in my notepad.