Dance and language seem to be among the oldest of organised forms of communication of living beings among themselves and with the divine cosmos. Since our human knowledge is limited to what we can decipher and construct, we can only imagine the �beginnings� of dance and its meaning to people. We construe our history based on the remnants of what we can find in terms of bones, artefacts, drawings, and words. The earliest literary and artistic depictions of dance that we have uncovered come from India and Sri Lanka, the Natya Shastra, which trace the roots of classical Indian dance through contemporary interpretation of Bharathanatyam.
Indian culture is fascinating in many ways. Agriculture and hierarchy seem to have developed on Indian plateaus thousands of years ago. Thus, the complexity of sought out solutions to civilise and cultivate nature, i.e. to oppress and control, are not the prerogatives of the �superior� killers who have colonised the world as they spread from Europe like a virus, spreading havoc in colonised lands, and kidnapping people and animals as slaves, exporting them to the �New World�. Oppression and extermination are at the basis of agriculture where some people give themselves the right to exploit and accumulate all living and non-living, space and time, tangible and the intangible as resources.
However, compared to present-day political and educational position, the Indian understanding of the place of humans in nature, culture, or the divine space is too complex to even try to touch here. Much of the understanding of what it means to be human in religious, secular or scientific texts, such as literacy, the invention of symbolic capital, accumulation of material capital and resources (e.g. food and agriculture) have been recorded in ancient India, Egypt, Maya, or Mesopotamia long before the era of Christ. Children’s literature and hence the didactic method that assumes that a child is to be �filled with the right kind of knowledge� and moulded according to a specific moral form has � contrary to the European conceited claims to having �invented children’s literature some 200 years ago� � already existed India and Mesopotamia thousands of years ago, for example, the Pancatantra, a collection of fables that were meant to raise a diligent, wise, and just prince to rule over the rest of the people. So, abuse has been invented long before the Greeks. And so was sexual extravagance and other civilised matters (Kamasutra, the horny gods and fertile goddesses have all existed before the orgies of the “Great Founding Greeks”, the fathers of the much prided western civilisation).
All this is to invite people to share the burden of culture and responsibility and to leave the freedom to the young to make their own sense of culture, cowardice, politics, social mischief, the values and the sins of music and dance. So, for me, approaching dance from an �unschooling� position entails taking into the account the complexity of the meaning and allowing the child to experience dance from a position of choice, as an active participant in the dialogue between humans, nature, and the divine and between children, history, and the future. All these dimensions altercate and harmonise synchronising harmony and revolutions in all of their contradictory emploi.
In my observation, the dragging of miserable, tired, and bored child-girls in ridiculous and actually obscene tutus to classes in �prestigious� ballet for the sake of �prestige� alone reveals some hidden perverse cultural agenda. It is completely different when a child chooses a sport or an art (be it ballet or walking in the woods) in order to actively participate in the construction and extraction of meaning, a precarious balance in the exchange between freewill that seeks to fly off into the future and the weight of ancestral past, of tradition.
In the summer of 2004, Liouba and I attended a performance of Indian Dance and met Mamata Niyogi-Nakra, the founder of Kala Bharati dance school in Montreal. Ljuba and her friend Mila, both 5 years old at the time, were mesmerised by the delicate movements and the presence of centuries of experience in the slightest of gestures. Mamata informed us of the arrival in August of Srikanth N, a dancer from India. Ljuba wanted to know what the dance meant and how the movements were executed. She began re-enacting what she had seen at the performance and so I thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to organise a meeting space between Montrealers and an artist from the East.
Srikanth and Mamata kindly agreed to offer a special 8 weeks seminar for homsechoolers (everyone was welcome, but the sessions were held on weekdays) with a sliding scale so that everyone could afford to attend. I expected to be greeted by a crowd of enthusiasts, since, how often do Quebecers get an opportunity to meet and learn from an artist living in a far away land, who was kind enough to accept their terms and reality? Usually �locals� encounter �immigrants� and create a space and pressure of expectation for the newcomers to prove flexibility and adaptability to local norms, which generally entails, at least, a symbolic renunciation of the self and the values or culture of the overseas. Immigrants and locals, both, play the game in which everyone pretends that the abandoned past of the immigrant is inferior and that the promises of the new �homeland� are politically, correctly superior, but of course we never really need to say it aloud. Here was an opportunity to meet with India on an equal basis and an opportunity to snatch a glimpse of the thousands of years of Indian civilisation presented in Srikanth’s generosity and dance.
Yet, and in spite of the sliding scale and the volunteer nature of agreed recompensation, few Canadians attended. Some said they had to do maths. Others didn’t bother to show up. Out of all the home-schoolers, Tallulah, Trixie Dumont’s daughter participated and two other families with day-care aged children. Still and regardless, Mamata and Srikanth agreed to carry out the workshop at Mamata’s home studio. So, those who made the time enjoyed the intimacy of a small group where parents and children danced together and learnt to express Indian meaning in dance: Mina � almost 3, Ljuba and Sasha � 5 �, Iliusha, Sasha’s little brother, 3 years of age, and Tallulah � 7.
The children showed great enthusiasm and never wanted to miss sessions. Ljuba even agreed to biking uphill for hours to make it to the workshops. Parents were welcome to participate, and so Eden and baby Darian joined Mina, Trixie and little Augie joined Tallulah, Lena and Artem alternated when brought Sasha and Iliusha to the dance and my Sasha and I never wanted to miss once to join our dear little girl in this activity that opened a door to a whole different world of meaning, music, narrative, and dance.
Layla AbdelRahim, October 2006
At the end of the seminar, together with Srikanth, the group gave a presentation at the Kala Bharati school.
The film was shot on a camera, still, it gives a taste of movement in Indian space.
And always with fond memories of Srikanth and Mamata.
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