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What are we doing?
- Sangeetha Shyam, Indonesia

March 10, 2007

As I browse the Internet for articles based on dance pedagogy, I get unsolicited mails for Viagra for the nth time, even in a relatively remote place like Bandung, Indonesia. The messengers for this Divine Fulfillment Agent are spilling all over the place, even in our own Narthaki Discussion Board. While I delete this mail summoning all my energy that is left after hours of study, I glance upon this bit of information on the Council for the Indian School certificate Exams (ICSE), supposedly one of the elite education boards in India.

By the way, I did work at implementing a Bharatanatyam study for students of grades 1- 6, in an International school affiliated to the ICSE Board and they did not even opt to show me any kind of prescribed syllabus. Were they aware of it or not, I am not sure! But apart from the initial discussion with the principal of the school, who promised all the help and an honorarium and whom I never got to meet when I later joined as he had already quit at that point, there was absolutely no briefing whatsoever. But even in that one meaningful meeting, I was told to prepare for a "nice item" at the end of the Academic year for the school's Annual Day! Probably in most International schools, the principal also doubles up as marketing executive and it's cool to say, "We offer Bharatanatyam within the framework of our curriculum." So I was left to research, formulate and implement and train students in my own curriculum. I must remember to copyright that. Things like that can be sold today!!! But anyway, this is how my original sojourn into the World of Bharatanatyam pedagogy actually made its arangetram (a solo debut, with nobody to literally assist) some years ago.

The ICSE syllabus for performing arts for classes 9 and 10, states noble aims and objectives. For Indian dance, any of the major classical dance forms may be chosen as the field of study (by the way do schools have so many teachers employed? What a job market that should be!!!) Their dance syllabus is strictly divided into Practical and Theory Parts, 100 marks for each. Great so far!!!! They have a well defined syllabus and marking process established complete with external and internal examiners. The fact that the practical portion of the syllabus is filled with theoretical stuff like, Hastas, Bedhas, understanding of Navarasas (?!!!) etc., can be excused since we all know that from time immemorial (it is 15 years since I last went to a school) we in India believe in teaching Moral Science with text books and exams too! Can you believe we grade people's (kids text based, spoon fed) morals? Oh! By the way, Moral Science classes are meant for major subject teachers to usurp to finish their portions. I remember the photo finish between my Math and Biology teacher arriving to ask my pretty Moral Science teacher, who would gladly relinquish her right to anybody who asked for it first. What happened to the Moral Science teacher happened to me too! But I unwillingly relinquished periods even to the 2nd grade because they had Math portions to complete...

Oh God! What a scatterbrain I am! Coming back to the ICSE Indian Dance Syllabus, the course work does not emphasize on creativity, review, self-exploration and appreciation. All for the precious 2 years the kids put into their Indian Dance study periods.

It was at this juncture (do you remember I am still in the process of googling for articles related to Bharatanatyam pedagogy, structure, curriculum etc) I come upon this mysterious http:

This is an Education Resource Guide for Theatre Direct Canada's "Beneath the Banyan Tree" - a supposedly enriching experience for kids of grades 7/8 in Canada. What kind of a person would get so side tracked as to read this web page you might ask. But then, it was one name that caught my eye - 'Lata Pada' the choreographer for this project. I am really amazed at the totality, relevance, the multi-subject integration (with Social Studies, Arts, Language Arts, Mathematics and Science, I am not joking!) and the pre, post and during performance activities suggested in conjunction with this project. Not only does this project enhance self expression, but there is a section that gives a pretty vivid elucidation of the principles of Bharatanatyam. All this is in a day's workshop!

Now I glance upon the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, the South Asian faculty's Dance Syllabus and graded Examination Patterns. More amazement on my side!!! I need to mail them - my mental note.

I have already spent hours on the computer, reading everything from Chitra Sundaram's views on Padma Subrahmanyam's reconstruction of the Karanas to the latest Alagappa Performing Arts Academy's online Bharatanatyam Course offering. I am elated that Bharatanatyam is finally gaining grounds (at least in my hard drive). It's the most that a Bharatanatyam crazy person like me can get to the real art scene from here (you remember the God (Bharatanatyam) forsaken place? - Bandung Indonesia, that's right!). While I search for more ways to fructify the time my students put into their Bharatanatyam classes as credits for entrance into universities, I wistfully wonder if the efforts to introduce Arts in Indian schools will ever take a more meaningful approach.

Sangeetha Shyam is a practitioner (and missionary) of Bharatanatyam, currently residing in Indonesia.

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