A while back I went to this dance school for a visit. More than 20 years ago when it had opened it was one of the first formal dance schools in India with the traditions of a Gurukul. I had always desired to see the campus but clearly not enough to have gone on my own. So when my friend suggested we make a trip to the dance school I happily agreed and what was even better was that they let visitors watch the students rehearse.
Despite of a very early morning on a Saturday we faced traffic and honking but when we finally got out of the city we got to the part where the trees are greener and the soil is a deep red.
In the midst of nowhere, not even a proper road lies Nrityagram. The board outside tells you to not eat, drink, smoke or take pictures and be careful of their dogs.
The soil outside the school is very red like the blood literally toiled it or the feet of the dancers made it angry and red. It was really quiet and the parking lot indicated that we were the only visitors there. We were well in time to see the rehearsal / class and the first thing that strikes you besides the dance space which has a very large mirror on one side is that all women are so striking. All of them were in sarees for their rehearsal and each one of them looked very pretty but not delicate and while they looked demure they most certainly did not look like they cannot domineer if they wanted to.
We just sat down in a corner of the semi-open dance room and besides the two of us there weren’t any other people as part of the audience. Two girls approached us and asked us to sit on the mattress and when I told them we are good to sit on the floor they told us with some hesitation that as outsiders we are not meant to sit directly on the dance floor. It felt good to be told to respect the floor that serves as the sacred space for the dance.
The humdrum of giggles, laughter and chat came to a halt when the teacher walked in. The teacher was this tall, graceful lady with a prominent nose pin and eyes that could smile at you and warm up your day or would force you to think twice before you spoke. But this particular day she was just calm and warm.
One by one each of the students came and touched the teacher’s feet to take her blessings and offer their respect and gratitude for being with them on this journey.
The teacher began to tell them what the task was. She told them to think of one piece they wanted to perform and then she would tell them what to do next. The students, for several minutes thought and practised, some changed their mind, some were pretty sure of what they wanted to show and one of them just sat on the floor staring. One could not make out if she was thinking what she should do or she was just waiting for her body to lead her to the dance piece when her turn came.
And then after several minutes the teacher came back and one by one she called out their names and asked them to perform.
Now for someone like me who has never really learnt how to dance, sing or act it was fascinating to see this interaction of learning. After each student had done the piece they had thought of, she would close her eyes for few minutes and really think hard and then tell them, “Now do the same, but imagine if your wrists had eyes, and become aware of those wrists and with awareness of that part of your body, do the same thing all over again.” From some she asked them to lead with their chest, some their wrists, some from the side of the stomach, some from their pelvis, or the back of their neck and then when they would finish she would ask them if they felt any difference and if yes, what. Most of them felt that their movements became lighter, more fluid, that they felt they were breathing more, or moved more gracefully. It was delightful to see that even being part of the audience one could see how the awareness of the body part in each dancer changed their dance. It looked like all of them elevated their dance and in the process themselves for those few moments. They started to look more austere.
And each performance lead to a discussion by other students watching the performer and what they felt changed.
The whole interaction between the students and the teacher made me think of this beautiful journey of Learning. Learning with awareness, learning with experience, learning with being one with self but always conscious of the environment in which we perform.
Education and Learning are two different things. While both are a two way process, Education is the result of interaction between two people, but Learning is because of the interaction between our outer and inner self. Our outer self that observes and our inner self that contemplates and concludes. Education makes us vocal, whereas Learning quietens us down. Learning makes us more fluid. Learning makes us humble. Learning makes us graceful. Learning quietens the demons.