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Webinar on Learning Unlearning
- Janani Murali

October 22, 2020

Learning- Unlearning are loaded words, but are processes that most students of art need to understand as lifelong processes to invest in. What is unlearning? Do learning and unlearning form distinct phases of a learning curve? Does unlearning necessarily mean disruption of something previously learnt? Does unlearning happen consciously or is it an organic process of growth? Is there such a thing as unlearning too soon? How do these processes find context in current times and within the purview of practice amongst dancers today? Questions abound when a topic such as this is the focus of discussion. Several and more of these questions found space for deliberation at a webinar put together by Kumudha Chandrasekaran and Shreya Nagarajan Singh Arts Development Consultancy over the weekend of October 10-11, 2020.

Kumudha Chandrasekaran

Shreya Nagarajan Singh

Priyadarsini Govind

Madhu Nataraj

Umesh Shetty

Vidhya Subramanian

Aiming to address the WHY, WHAT and HOW of unlearning in dance, a context to the webinar was laid out with conversations with Priyadarsini Govind, Madhu Nataraj and Umesh Shetty; each of these reputed artistes bringing their valued opinion on the process of unlearning, what it is not, when to recognise the need for it and a perspective on how unlearning must be integral to the teaching-learning process. The webinar itself began with a session addressing the WHY of unlearning. Vidhya Subramanian and Sreelakshmy Govardhanan laid out moments from their journey that spelt out the reasons to unlearn. While it was technique that required unlearning and relearning at one level, unlearning also functioned for each of them at the level of approach towards the art and life, a growing understanding of themselves, and society around them. Pre-conceived notions of aesthetics, a need to reformat habituated movement and question internalised concepts of gender and caste were triggers to their process of unlearning.

Sreelakshmy Govardhanan

Shabari Rao

Masoom Parmar

Reiterating these through the lens of WHAT needed unlearning, were Shabari Rao and Masoom Parmar. Power structures that direct knowledge assimilation and dissemination, and ones own internalisation of such socio-political norms requires much unlearning. To have the voice to unlearn rigid frameworks that one may have been trained into also was presented as a vital part of what needed unlearning for a dancer. Tracing her years as a student with Priyadarsini Govind, Shweta Prachande enumerated a few instances that brought to light the need to go beyond practiced movement to a space of owning it and being able to touch the essence of movement itself.

Amidst questions surrounding the ease of unlearning to concepts of self, power, knowledge, tradition and more, participants were provided with a task to summarise, reflect and generate questions for a discussion the following day. Sanjukta Wagh and Karuna Sagari were roped in to deliberate on HOW to unlearn. While having very distinct journeys through learning-unlearning themselves, one of the things that appeared to be common between Sanjukta and Karuna was their need to identify with clarity the intent of their practice, performance and teaching. And it is this clarity that allows the dancer to choose experiences that will enrich the process and provide fertile ground to explore ones medium of expression.

Shweta Prachande

Sanjukta Wagh

Karuna Sagari

While speakers touched upon each of the aspects of Unlearning through personal anecdotal stories and experiences, the sessions were engaging and enriching for the participants because much resonance was felt in the concepts, ideas and notions that were openly discussed. If participants had questions entering Day 1, the discussion at the end of Day 2 made it evident that there were more questions now. In that the webinar has achieved its goal of inspiring and sparking off a series of conversations and introspection for each participant.

Janani Murali is a dancer, writer, biologist and ecoprenuer. She heads the performing ensemble at Padmalaya Dance Foundation, Bangalore, writes scripts for dance projects and provides voice-overs for dance-theatre projects.

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