Special Guest Ballerina Visits Bollywood/Kathak Class

1397389_409454665846170_8539383243999551167_oSpecial guest artist and professional Ballerina, Emily Anton, joins Circle Talk in Vaishali’s Bollywood and Kathak class.

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Emily is a part of Ballets with a Twist dance company.

>>>Learn more about Emily and her experiences by checking out her blog!<<<

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

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“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”

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then the whole class joins her in learning different Ballet moves

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Port de Bras

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.

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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)

Dance to unite team ( Jenae, emily, Simone, Vaishali and Tal)

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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Bollywood, Bhangra and Kathak

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!

Galit (taking the photo), Vaishali and I with a group of middle school girls excited about Dance to Unite and learning Kathak!
Galit (taking the photo), Vaishali and I with a group of middle school girls excited about Dance to Unite and learning Kathak! (Source: dancetounite.org)

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.

I’m now on twitter 🙂

What is…

Bollywood:

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:

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: 

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.

( Source: http://bollywooddancemania.com/dance.htm and http://www.kathak.org/site/kathak/section.php?id=4176)