The Adventure is Only Beginning

I have been a Teacher’s Assistant for four months now. I can’t believe I’m actually assisting in a Bollywood and Kathak and Bellydance class. Before joining Dance to Unite I had no idea about either of these dance styles. Last August I had the opportunity to attend Claude Stein’s “Natural Singer” for five days at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It was a  workshop for people who a) wanted to sing more because of pure enjoyment b) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of singing (even if they weren’t singing in front of people) and c) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of performing in front of crowds (me!) whether they were amateur or professional singer-songwriters. It was at Omega, during break time when dance sessions were offered, that I found myself in a dance studio, consumed by Bellydance music (I didn’t know from what country), tying a bright orange, pure white or red chiffon hip scarf around my waist. The teacher, with such a stunning presence, directed us to move our hips in a figure eight shape. We moved our arms slowly like the movements of a serpent and danced with colorful veils. Some sessions we danced with traditional golden Thai fingernails. I was sold on it all, I wanted to learn more about Bellydance and Thai dance. I thought it was so funny that two months later I would learn my first volunteer experience with Dance to Unite would be helping Nooshi with Bellydance.

I recently learned about Fifi Abdou, an Egyptian Bellydancer and actress. 

I’m also researching more about different kinds of music that Belly dancers use. I really like the late Warda Al Jazairia, an Algerian and Lebanese singer born in France. 

In November I joined Vaishali’s class and like I said in another post, at the same time I was taking a Bollywood and Bhangra class with Ajna Dance. Then I started a new job working with Teaching Artists and my first assignment was assisting a Bhangra class for third, fourth and fifth graders in the Bronx. It was taught by a professional dancer trained in Odissi, a classical Indian dance. I have gained so much exposure to Indian culture and dance, but there is so much more that I want to learn and understand.

Nava Durga- Odissi

Odissi Dance “Sthayee” by Rahul Acharya at the International Odissi Festival (2006)

Mini Class Update 

In both classes we have covered the following steps from Dance to Unite’s “13 Steps to Unity”; Dance to Unite’s mission, culture, unity, acceptance and respect. The last time I posted a class update, I wrote about how the students and teachers shared their backgrounds and cultures during Circle Talk. In the two classes after that concept, we talked about unity. It was interesting to hear the students talk about their experiences regarding division between different cultures and races/ethnicities and their thoughts on what perpetuates lack of unity among people of different backgrounds. One student described a friendship that was ruined because of differences and felt it was stupid. Another explained how people don’t take time to get to know each other on a personal or/and cultural level. Others spoke about the unfairness of overgeneralizing a people and held a discussion on why people are grouped together as being this (negative) and that (negative) instead of being viewed as an individual responsible for their own actions. We  continued by asking the students how they could embody unity in their lives.

“Just say hi to someone who is different than you,” one girl said.

“Dancing with others who are different is unity,” said another. 

In Nooshi’s class, (which by the way, another volunteer Katrina has joined us!) we talked about acceptance, including everything from accepting other people’s differences, to other people’s opinions, accepting ourselves and annoying mothers who just don’t understand.  When we talked about respect a lot of the conversation turned toward (cyber)bullying, how to prevent oneself from bullying, how to respond to it and seeing things from another person’s perspective. There are really opinionated girls and others who do not share their thoughts (next class we’re going to encourage them to share).

Sometimes Circle Talk runs over a bit because we are having such a great conversation. We are like archaeologists, excavating and examining not only deep issues, but most importantly solutions (Dance to Unite emphasizes the positive) through personal stories, and returning to the surface shining a light on positive responses, attitudes and behaviors we are capable of doing when the going gets tough. And boy, these conversations can sometimes be a little tough. Many children and teenagers know what’s going on in the world, they know about racism, sexism, isms ect. And what I find in these two classes is that the kids bring up real world issues that they face directly or happen to others. I like this because the students learn how the 13 Steps to Unity can be applied to real world situations (look out for a future post on the 13 Steps to Unity and the complexity and simplicity of fostering cross-cultural relationships/communities).

I’m also starting to feel more comfortable about discussing DtU’s concepts knowing I have work to do on myself. I don’t think spreading positive messages is exclusive to perfect people (who are qualified because they are perfect)…because perfect people don’t exist. Just as a regular teacher learns while she or he is teaching,  Dance to Unite teachers can learn more about themselves regarding the 13 Steps to Unity. I just want to say this because positive messages will be buried-six feet-under messages if the sentiment is that perfect people should spread unity, acceptance and peace. I understand walking the walk and talking to talk. However, we all learned how to walk and we all learned how to talk, it’s a process.

Dance to Unite provides a broader horizon of options on how to show up in the world. To me, underlying each concept is power and in every class we are teaching kids all the different (super)powers they have; uniting with different people, and respecting themselves and others. And then after all that, we dance!

Kathak choreography in the beginning in Vaishali’s class

Tying our colorful chiffon hip scarves in Nooshi’s class and starting with a warm-up

Sometimes classes are challenging because the students are talking too much, not listening, not feeling motivated to participate or come in late. But that’s just a part of the ups and downs of class. Learning how to deal with those challenges are learning lessons for the teachers and I.

Stay tuned for more posts about finding appropriate Hip-Hop songs for kids, more classes at Cumbe, my secret dream to be a Bellydancer performer and my first attempt at choreography!

Mondays at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn

Bollywood and Kathak with Vaishali 

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Thursdays at Entrada Academy in the Bronx

Bellydance with Mehrnoush

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