On March 30, 2015 there was a lot of excitement at the beginning of class as the girls practiced their Bollywood dance while they waited for Emily. When she arrived, it didn’t take long for the girls to start asking questions about life as a Ballerina. There was never a dull moment during class. Emily introduced herself and answered the girls questions from what’s her favorite move to her favorite part about being a Ballerina. Some girls asked if she had ever had an injury, what dancers do if they mess up during a performance and how male ballerinas are able to lift female ballerinas. Emily then demonstrated some Ballet moves and explained the reason why she enjoyed Ballet was because of how expressive she could be.
After an initial Q&A, this happened…
Emily passes around a special pair of Ballet Pointe shoes
“I was 13 years old when I got my first pair of pointe shoes. They are special to me because dancing in pointe shoes is unlike anything else on earth – you are quite literally standing on the tips of your toes using shoes specially designed to help you do that. It feels like you are floating, rising above everything else, flying, spinning with the greatest ease. I also enjoy the additional challenge pointe shoes present the ballet dancer, everything becomes slightly harder and additional strength is required in the ankles and feet to allow the ballet dancer to rise all the way up on to the tips of your toes!”
We watch a short video of her performing in “Cocktail Hour: The Show”
then the whole class joins her in learning different Ballet moves
At the end of class the girls performed their Bollywood performance for Emily.
She didn’t leave without a lot of thank yous, more questions and hugs.
Quotes that INSPIRE Emily
“In life, as in dance, grace glides on blistered feet” -Alice Abrams
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e.e. cummings
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” -Anonymous
Dance to Unite Team ( Jenae, Galit, Emily, Vaishali and Tal)
I want to start off by apologizing for not posting Part 2 before the new year! One of my goals for 2015 is to post consistently.
RECAP: In the last post I wrote mostly about exploring my Ghanaian identity and how I traveled to a Ghanaian restaurant in the Bronx in order to bring a cultural dish (Waakye) to one of Dance to Unite’s Teacher’s Workshops.
Fast Forward to Part 2:
In regards to other cultural dishes, this also happened…
I am in LOVE with the combination of Dance and Food Culture
Galit began the workshop by explaining what impacted her to start Dance to Unite. She shared a video showing a 2012 performance at the world famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City, of four of her students, all African-American girls, dancing to an Israeli song called “Mi’Ma’amakim (Out Of The Depths)” by The Idan Raichel Project.
After that, she covered a lot of topics including how to facilitate Circle Talk, especially when students bring up conversations around difficult topics revolved around concepts like unity, culture, acceptance and respect. I can’t tell you how scared I was in the beginnig of my teaching assistant experience, to co-facilitate Circle Talk. Somewhere in my mind, I thought the teachers would do most of the talking, but I realized I had to contribute to the conversation too. I was scared I was going to say something wrong or unclear, but it helps that the teachers I work with encourage me to help them facilitate Circle Talk. I can’t tell you how scared I was of interacting with children too. Last summer, before joining Dance to Unite, I avoided working with children at all costs because I didn’t want to make mistakes and embarrass myself some sort of way. It’s so funny to me, and startling, that I have now decided to be a teacher.
Dancing and Circle Talk are like little uniquely carved keys that open up a world of possibility.
I like tracing my decisions to their origins and a couple of months ago I considered going into Physical or Occupational Therapy. Before that, I wanted to be a Journalist (still may write) and before that a Publicist and before that…well you get the picture. I have grown so much as a teaching assistant with Dance to Unite. I have overcome fears and feel settled and peaceful in pursuing a teaching career.
At the end of the workshop, we also heard from Melissa Lauradin, a creative artist and designer who supports Dance to Unite and also created this great video bio of DtU.
Two months ago I thought about taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes. I found Ajna Dance on the internet and as I clicked “book now”, excitement coursed through my veins because, not only would it be my first dance experience after a long dance hiatus, I would also be exposed to two cultural dances I knew nothing about.
I can’t remember when I started having a strong interest in India. The various ceremonies (like Indian weddings), celebrations like Holi, Mehendi and fashion have always been beautiful to me. One of the first countries I want to travel to (as I have not gone abroad since I went to Costa Rica at eight) is India, alongside Morocco, Cuba, Mexico, Uganda and Burma or (Myanmar)! The whole time I was exploring India somehow it never dawned on me to research different Indian dances. At the start of my dance adventure I YouTubed Bhangra and found Bhangra Empire, a dance troupe based out of California. I was floored by the mixture of Bhangra music and hip-hop (not to mention the amount of energy it took to dance for eight minutes straight). Then I found myself YouTubing Bollywood dance video clips and found Bride and Prejudice. I love the clip below:
I like when the women kick their hips out and the men jump back or go whoaa!
I watched my first Bollywood film last month on Netflix called Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. I LOVED IT. The dancing, music and colors. I enjoyed the storyline and characters and at the end I was just like, “WOW…thank God I learned about this at 23”. I clearly need to explore Netflix more.
And to top it all off, I’m assisting another Dance to Unite class with Vaishali, who will be teaching 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls Bollywood and Kathak at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn! We had our first class last week!
The first class was filled with high energy, lots of smiles and anticipation for the upcoming months. Dance to Unite worked with this school last year so a lot of the girls are familiar with the organization. At the beginning of the class Galit asked alumni girls to explain to the new students the mission of Dance to Unite, and then Galit introduced Vaishali. The girls had a chance to ask her questions about her background. Then Vaishali taught everyone how to pronounce Kathak and explained its meaning–“to tell a story”. She continued explaining how it was expressed in temples before it became entertainment in the high courts. She told the class a story using her hands and head, then she asked some of the girls to tell their own stories.
If you have read this far (haha), I encourage you to try it out and tell a family member or friend your own story through movement.
Bollywood is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry in India. Bollywood Dancing is one of the hottest dances around! It is the foundation of every great Indian Bollywood Film. The dances are a fusion of traditional and classical Indian dances with the influence of some jazz, hip-hop and modern dance. Timing and Rhythm, energy, and sharp controlled expressive movements are the important elements of Bollywood Dancing!
Bhangra is the most widespread of Indian folk dances worldwide, and has influenced popular music and dance, including Bollywood styles, more than any other folk dance. In turn, Bhangra has been influenced by fusion with genres like hip-hop. It was originally performed only by men, but these days women perform it too.
Kathak is among the six major classical dances of India and one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning “the art of storytelling.” It is also synonymous with the community of artists known as Kathakas whose hereditary profession it was to narrate history while entertaining.
I had a terribly stuffy nose and I despise stuffy noses. But of course, I hardly noticed during the class and plus Mehrnoush bought me Cranberry juice which was so kind. During Circle Talk, we talked about the second concept of the “13 Steps to Unity”–Culture. Mehrnoush asked the girls what did culture mean to them and some said traditions, customs, what people share in common. Then we all went around and talked about our backgrounds; where are families are from, what kind of music we listen to and the food we eat. Many of the girls were either African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican or both.
Mehrnoush explained she was born and raised in Iran until she and her family moved to Germany. I think it’s pretty cool she speaks Farsi, German and English and knows a little bit of Spanish! The group leader spoke about being African-American and eating Soul Food. I loved hearing all the stories about food, because I like learning about different food cultures and the history behind the food culture (for example, for school I did a short powerpoint on street food from different Latin American countries and I learned that Peru has a lot of Japanese influence).
When it was my turn I was a bit hesitant. “Should I acknowledge my other identity?” I asked myself, “because...” I continued, “I don’t have to, no one would ever know”. But before I could analyze more, (and that sounds like me, over analyzing until I’m like “wait, what was I thinking about”) I started speaking. “I’m half African-American and half Ghanaian. My father lives in Ghana and yeah. And I have a good friend who is Guyanese and I love going to her house because it is so different from mine”. “There, I did it.” I thought. The irony of the whole thing is that as Circle Talk continued, Mehrnoush explained how it is more than okay to embrace who we are and to be open to other people and their cultures. I listened and thought about embracing my Ghanaian heritage which I know nothing about. It is something to think about.
In a flash it was time to start dancing. The girls took their places, Mehrnoush put on the music and we began to warm-up.
Cultural diversity is no mistake.
BIODIVERSITY (Merriam-Webster dictionary): the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment.
Diversity is all around us, whether human beings and their diverse personalities, animals and plants. I celebrate cultural diversity, I celebrate the extrovert and introvert, I celebrate that there are giraffes, peacocks, polar bears and not just one lonesome animal roaming the earth. I celebrate Blue Spruce and Aspen trees, red roses, Hibiscus flowers, I celebrate all the diversity we still don’t know about.
The world is so vast with diversity and at the center of it all is life. Yay for that.
I’m always the person who has a low cellphone battery when I need my cellphone the most. However on this day, I didn’t find myself waiting for Galit in the Lower East Side with a red bar. No…I found myself on the corner of West 14th with a dead cellphone in my bag, nervously pacing back and forth wondering if Galit and I would have a hard time finding each other. We planned to meet in the LES and take the 5 train to the Bronx together. BUT, since my phone was dead I could not call or text her, so there I was feeling naked without my phone.
I don’t know why I worried so much, (like that quote “worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere”) Galit and I found each other and hopped on the 5 train going uptown. When we got off the train we met up with Merhnoush and excitedly walked over to the school. We met with the principal (who is very enthusiastic about the program) and the group leader who will also help us with the class. Then we went into the hallway and for the first time, saw the faces of the girls we would be working with until June of next year. We went to the second floor and stood in front of a classroom door anxiously waiting for someone to come with the keys to open it. Once the door was open, the magic began. I saw that we would be teaching them in a dance studio. The room has so much space, shiny wooden floors and big mirrors that cover one wall.
Everyone put their belongings down, took off their shoes and sat in a circle. I can’t tell you what I was thinking from 4pm-5pm, all I know is that I was in the moment, and that’s a good thing! Galit introduced herself and explained the mission of Dance to Unite. Then she described the class outline which includes five to ten minutes of Circle Talk (when we talk about a concept from Dance to Unite’s 13 Steps to Unity) and then dancing.
After she spoke we all went around and said our names and then went right into a warm-up. I love stretching. I try to do it every morning right after I wake up. I want to say “hello knee, hello back, hello arms” instead of “hello internet, hello Facebook, hellooo Instagram”. But sometimes I can’t help myself and take a peak at social media first. Mehrnoush turned the music on and briefly taught the girls how to move their arms, hands and wrists, and how to move their torsos, “right, out, left, back…now put it together and…”
Some students were deeply focused, some looked around hesitant, shyly or as though embarrassed , others laughed and smiled. But they were all trying and seemed engulfed in the moment just as much as me! Mehrnoush started teaching the choreography and the girls caught on wonderfully! Before I knew it, it was time to go and I was like “already?!”The first class was a success! Can’t wait for the next one!
I’m currently reading a memoir called Wild by Cheryl Strayed, who takes the reader along the Pacific Crest Trail, as she describes her experience hiking it by herself in 1995. I’m taking my time with the book. I’m really taking in her story, studying her mindset as if it’s an artisanal piece with exquisite detail, and trying to reactivate my rusty imagination while she describes the highs and lows of being on the trail. I feel like embarking on this dance adventure (and documenting it via a blog) is like Cheryl’s first steps on the trail. I’m a little nervous, the twins, fear and self-doubt, are pulling me to the side, convincing me to analyze the decision more. “You haven’t danced for some time, why are you getting involved with it again?” “What if you can’t dance anymore?” “Just stick to learning dances you’re comfortable with”, “I don’t know if I will make a good teacher’s assistant?” “What if I don’t work well with the kids?” “Maybe I should wait awhile before I do something like this.” Hiking the PCT was a big decision for Cheryl, and in a way so is this dance adventure, because I am 1) getting involved with something I thought I would never do again (in any way) and 2) trying to get over my fear of being seen. Despite all her regrets and doubts, Cheryl knew in her heart the only way was forward, even if that meant facing the unknown and making mistakes. So I told the twins to kick rocks and let me do my thing. If I have second thoughts, struggle with something , stumble and fall, I’ll be like Cheryl on the trail, falling forward.
I tend to think about my life within the context of nature, landscapes and animals. I have an idea of this journey ahead of me since I have danced before, but I’m sure I will grow in unexpected ways as a volunteer and learn more about dance in general. My first steps were meeting the other teachers and teacher assistants at the Dance to Unite orientation in late September. I will assist Mehrnoush, who teaches belly dance to fifth and sixth graders at Entrada Academy in the Bronx (whoo belly dance!)
Well I technically just lied. I took my first few steps earlier this year when I found Dance to Unite on meetup, but I didn’t come back to it until around May or June. I contacted Galit Adani, the Founder and Executive Director, and from there we met once or twice. I found myself at a summer party fundraiser for the organization at Nirvana Lounge, where one of the new teachers, Vaishali Sinha performed an Indian classical dance called Kathak. It was beautiful. I loved her costume and the music and I was sitting with my friends, wishing I could see the performance all over again.
* heaves a heavy and thick “Once Upon a Time” television show-like book of “Simone’s Life” on the table, flips to the middle to a blank page…first class is October 2!! Stayed tuned*