Monthly Archives: July 2012

I’ve Been Going GAGA Lately

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Three Reasons I’m Going Gaga:

1. If I had to describe myself in one word, I would say, I’m going gaga. Okay, that’s 3 words depending on how you count. It’s somewhat normal for me to feel confused and pensive about stuff that no one else around me seems to care about. Right now though it’s coming at me on a whole other level. It’s like an avalanche of stuff: a new career-opportunity (writing for media), graduate school plans, and lots of creative ideas. I’m grateful for all this, but it also makes my head spin. And on top of it, I cut my hair short which complicates my identity as a Bharata Natyam dancer further. It was admittedly a weak identification already, only ironically high-lighted by something so external as my hair. What will I do at the few upcoming performances I have? I don’t know… I wish I could dance without wearing any make-up, jewelry, or elaborate costuming. Western dancers do it all the time, so it’s really nothing radical. Still, I haven’t quite been able to reconcile my desire for sparseness with the glamour of Bharata Natyam.

2. Gaga Dance: After my dance-workshop with Leela akka, I flew straight into University of Florida’s dance intensive for my first experience of Gaga dance. I had no idea what Gaga was but trusted my friends in the dance department who all said I would LOVE it, and they were right.

In the words of Ohad Naharin, the creator of Gaga, “Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self awareness through your body. Gaga elevates instinctive motion, links conscious and subconscious movement. Gaga is an experience of freedom and pleasure. In a simple way, a pleasant place, comfortable close, accompanied by music, every person with himself and others.”

Here is a great article from The New York Times that explains why its called Gaga and more: “Twisting the Body and Mind.”

3. Discovering Lady Gaga: If you’re like most people, when you hear the word “gaga” now you immediately think of pop-sensation Lady Gaga and her crazy antics. As the above article points out though, Gaga dance is not related to Lady Gaga and was indeed created before. Still, I can’t write a whole thing about gaga without saying a few words about the Lady herself. And this is so because I recently discovered that Lady GaGa is one helluva singer and a talented artist. If you want to see for yourself, check out her song “Speechless”. What I love most about her performance here is that she is so calm and unhurried. Also, in watching some interviews with her, I was surprised by her spiritual streak, her unusual thoughts about rebirth, and actually that she makes intelligent choices about everything that makes her gaga.

I wish I had the intelligence and spunk to embrace my inner gaga, but I suppose I’m in the process of self-acceptance.

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Being in the Association of one of Bharata Natyam’s Loveliest Dancers: Leela Samson

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Last weekend I attended a Bharata Natyam dance workshop in Maryland with renowned dancer Leela Samson. As usual, I was the only white person among the 20 participants. I did feel a tad self-conscious, but hey, there is no guarantee that I’d be less so if my skin-color was different! I do admit that I have a strong tendency to feel self-conscious in new environments, and I had not been in this traditional setting in a while; I wasn’t sure how I would do.

Since I graduated from Kalakshetra in 2007, I’ve felt torn about the purpose of dance, and specifically my purpose. If I look at my actions and thoughts since I left India, I jumped of the traditional Bharata Natyam bandwagon quite soon. Really, I remember being in my last year at Kalakshetra and questioning the point of me striving to be such a good Bharata Natyam dancer. Even if I didn’t formulate this exact thought, my question was about finding myself in the dance. Where am I in all this? And with it, a feeling that I was not to be found in the reproduction of perfect steps or dances. When I came back to U.S., I felt aimless. I just couldn’t get excited about performing my traditional dance pieces.

Having said all this, it felt incredibly nice to be in a class with Leela Akka. It was good to be in a Bharata Natyam class period. Above that, I’ve always felt refreshed hearing Leela Akka’s perspective on dance. She shared very openly and honestly about the state of Bharata Natyam today and how it risks loosing its audience completely. One of the reasons for this is that we’ve lost its universal symbolism and reduced it to specifics. We’ve processed and cooked and baked it so much that now we are saying to people “Don’t come to this temple. You wouldn’t understand.”  Other details I enjoyed was hearing Leela akka say her famous phrase (famous to me and my classmate Vincent at least): “It’s not on.” When she doesn’t agree with a certain thing, she says this, “That’s not on.”  🙂

The funny thing is I already knew the dance she taught (as much as one knows a dance one hasn’t touched in over 5 years). I danced this in 2007 at my 4th year kutcheri performance at Kalakshetra, but I honestly never gave it a thought since. In general, I had a very mixed up time at this performance, my first real experience of how paralyzing stage-fright can be. When I watched the video recently, I was amazed that my inner conflict didn’t show:

Re-learning the dance in 2012, I was actually glad that I had a prior idea of it because this allowed me to go deeper. I wasn’t worrying about memorizing new phrases. Instead I could concentrate on receiving Leela Akka’s deep interpretation of the lyrics and to absorb her love for it. This felt so right, to focus on the depth beneath the intricate layers of footwork and mudras.

In an intimate setting like this, I think the desire for feedback is natural. Though Leela akka was generous with her encouragement to the group, she made personal comments to only one or two, saying they were natural and should consider being professional. I was okay with not receiving specific feedback; I’m learning to depend more on my own discernment. Still, it is a challenge for me to rely on myself when I’m in the presence of someone whose opinion really matters. So that was a good exercise for me, but hearing from others that I was ‘athletic’ and ‘poised’ surely helped. It was an invaluable experience to dance in front of other dancers and Leela Akka. I really wanted to dance confidently without being self-conscious, and I more or less accomplished that goal. It felt great to work within the traditional form and feel how my body was still with it. And here it is:

Embracing New Ways of Being through Performing

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Last weekend, Vis and I headed to Nova Scotia just for one day to perform at the first annual Berwick Yoga festival. This was the first time that Vish and I traveled to perform as a duo, and I was surprisingly calm and centered. One the one hand, I knew that Vish can pull out a killer kirtan from his vast bag of magical tunes. On the other, I can’t quite say the same for myself. I’m a moody performer, or sensitive, shy – i’m not quite sure how to describe it. When I am in the groove, I can be free and on-fire, rising and falling with the waves of energy around me. My problem is that I’m not always in the groove when I’m supposed to be. My inner machinations get jammed up and I’m more like a stiff robot. At least that’s how I feel. And often it’s when I most need to be on my game that I’m not. So I don’t have full confidence in my ability to show up for the show-down (I really should not be calling a kirtan a show-down! But I suppose it sort-off illustrates my mind-set or how I’m approaching it sadly) Recently, however, I’ve felt a change within where I want to grow beyond my limitations. I’m inspired from many directions to change. One of them was seeing Revati, Gaura Vani’s 7-year old daughter, sing:

If Revati has the courage to simply sing, why can I not have this courage?
So yes, there is a growing willingness on my part to simply go for it.

Still when I heard from the organizers at Berwick that the participants were new to everything Yoga and still timid about opening their hearts, I felt my alarms go off. It became less easy to take deep breaths and the fear that I had awaited took its chance to slink in. What if they would fear the kirtan and judge us? What if they would feel uncomfortable? What if they would close off from me and remain unresponsive? Questions like these began to pelt me and my calm dissipated just as we arrived at the festival. It was taking place at the United Church’s summer camp in Berwick and the significance of that struck me in a different light now that my breath had less room in my body. But I tried my best to respond to the warm and friendly greetings by each of the organizers who went out of their way to make sure we had all we needed. Their friendliness did much to put me at ease, but I continued to be nervous about our evening performance. It was a strange nervousness because I knew that we could and would perform well. What I was nervous about I can’t quite say, only that I couldn’t talk myself out of it.

The most beautiful occurrence for me was the beginning of our offering. I was waiting outside for my ‘dramatic dance entrance’ and Vis was singing the invocation prayers acapella with flute in between each verse. He held the space in an unhurried way simply allowing his strong voice and the prayer to be enough. It was so beautiful.

Soon after I had my ‘tadaa!’ moment with our Bells & Bols dance, and our evening was in full-swing.

Radhe-Govinda bhajan:

Final kirtan:

With all humility, the evening was a real success. I can honestly say that time has never disappeared so quickly for me in a concert before. I could not believe two hours had gone by. Everyone showered us with love and appreciation through continuous applause and joyful faces.

I never imagined this would be my life. But it felt so satisfying that Vish and I could really pull-off an entire show by ourselves. With gratitude to the open-hearted audience and to the warm friendliness that I now think of as Nova Scotian 🙂

Day 30 – Taking a Break

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Today was my last day in Panama City and also the ¨last¨ day of this Dance Challenge. But I have a lot of dancing and movement up ahead of me this month:

July 6-8 Yoga Festival in Nova Scotia, Canada

July 8 -12 Kripalu in upstate NY with Shiva Rea for a Yoga Immersion

13 – 16 Workshop with Leela Samson in D.C.

17- 29 Dance Intensive at University of Florida

So today I decided to just chiiiiiill.

 

 

Day 29 – Who are my Creative Influences?

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When asked to list my creative influences recently, I was stumped. Partially because I haven’t quite claimed my creativity, but there is another reason. I’ve been living in a box, it seems like. Only recently have I started peeking out, all the while feeling like a “bad girl” for doing so. What a familiar experience. This is somewhat thematic of my life; my curiosity and questions strikes me as ungrateful, or the first step in a dangerous downward spiral. Thankfully, I’m growing out of that small-thinkingness. But because of my limited thinking, I didn’t really absorb many things I saw during my training into my own being. I somehow thought I couldn’t learn by watching. I had to sweat and strive to learn, that was the only way for me: Hard work = Dance. This must have been the operating principle during my years of training. In that sense, I can see that I was a donkey kind-off student! Hard-working, moving forward, but only going where I was guided, no where else. Maybe I’m being hard on myself in retrospect, but I do feel that I was quite self-limiting

I regret, for example, never meeting Chandralekha, whose ideas resonate with me and startle me with their directness and clarity. I regret that I was not aware enough to seek her out. In the last four years of her life, she was but walking distance from me at Kalakshetra. Only after her passing away in 2007 did I happen to visit Chandralekha’s place as it’s called. Even then, I only had a vague notion that Chandralekha was some type of rebel-dancer. Being a die-hard conformist at the time, I was mostly scared of her or anyone like her. I suspect that I will be in this question considering my creative influences for a while, but I am inspired by Chandralekha’s rebellion and her discoveries.

About her:

Interview:

One of her final choreographies, a daringly sensual yet sparse dance called “Sharira” – Body:

PS: oh yes, my Dance-Challenge report 😛 Though my right leg was strangely buzzing, I did a number of adavus and Hindolam thillana in my class with Gayatri.

Day 28 – Hours to Myself

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Today I’m very pleased with myself and thankful to have 4 hours to myself. I still sort of marvel at the fact that I can wake up and decide ‘today I will dance’ and then I do it! I’ve spent far too much time thinking instead of doing, so I still surprise myself with my doings 🙂

By the way, The Mayapuris album rocks for work-outs (believe it or not, I’ve never used it for this before)! I warmed up to the soft yet emotional ‘Ramachandra’ and then I went right into action with ‘Conundrum’

I’m happy with this improv, and I see a new maturity here in my improving

Next, just for fun, here is my ‘Shiva Shiva’ work-out. Join me if you dare 🙂

Finally, I have a few thoughts on my relationship to Bharata Natyam. Sometimes BN feels like a close intimate friend. But suddenly it will feel like it totally belongs to others and I’m laying a dubious claim to it. There are rules about for example dress that I don’t abide by or understand. I wonder if ‘those who know’ would be offended by my casual attire here.

It’s dawning on me that I haven’t trusted my dance-skills. Even if beautiful and good now, I’ve been afraid of loosing it, afraid of not being able to do it anymore. In other words, not a dependable skill. This explains a lot about my discomfort with compliments. I just haven’t known with certainty if I will be able to live up that again. What pressure! I’m not saying I’m free of it, but I do feel a blooming joy when I dance and when I acknowledge my own skills. Why is it so difficult to say ‘yes I’m an excellent dancer’? I simply do not feel comfortable saying such things in any area of my life, and I marvel at most Americans easy way of saying ‘I’m awesome!’ Lord, this proves I’m not American ya’ll!

Hindolam Thillana:

If you watched both the freestyle and the BN, I’m curious to hear your thoughts about it. Personally I feel content after dancing and plan to enjoy the rest of my Sunday now.

Day 27 – Small Moments of Magic

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Lord what a day! It was just one of those days of synchronicity where I took a small step to go beyond my current limitations and the world around me just gave me thumbs up again and again.

All day I was aware of the Temple Dance workshop I was scheduled to facilitate at Akila Yoga. I dreaded and looked forward to this event, my first workshop on my own. I haven’t yet come to a place of comfort going around Panama by myself. I’m disoriented and self-conscious and vaguely reminded of my time in India with guys gawking at me in the street. So far, anyone I’ve talked to though, especially taxi drivers, are really helpful, even sweet, same goes for India (yes, I think most auto guys in India are very decent and friendly!). So I was eager to get to my destination asap and get inside the shelter of the yoga studio where the challenge of conducting a workshop waited for me.

Noticing my shaky nerves as I left Radhe’s safe house, I wondered to myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Why do I need to leave my safe place?’ but the answer was right there next to the question: to Grow, to Grow. Because I wanted to get to Akila yoga well ahead of the 6.30 starting time, I left Radhe’s at 5.10 sure that I would reach the studio around 5.30, since its less than 15 minutes away. But cab after cab zoomed by fully occupied, and I stood there in the street feeling very conspicuous in my body. Eventually there were three of us on the sidewalk waving at cabs, and I felt comforted that I wasn’t the only one. I was relieved to discover they both spoke English, which most people in Panama don’t. It turned out we were all going in the same direction too. Just as it started pouring, we finally got a cab and piled in together. In the taxi, the bubbly girl introduced herself and we started talking like we were old friends. It is not often in my travels that I make an instant friend like that!

But an hour later I was still in the taxi and only inching forward. It was Friday, payday, and rainy, Stephanie explained although it wasn’t usual for it to take this long to arrive. When I understood that I would be late for my own workshop, whatever nervousness I had just dissipated. It was very similar to my feeling last year at Panama’s televised Teleton when my ankle-bells burst and I had a long rope of bells dragging by my foot: my nervousness became supreme calm, a feeling of freedom to the tune of this: okay Lord, I did my best to make this a professional event, as I wish it to be. But now it’s out of my control because you have other plans, so I’m free!

So I sat in the back of the taxi with a smile, feeling the Lord’s hand in my life. Once I reached Akila, I felt so blessed to share my dance with a beautiful group of women, and I was touched by their eagerness to learn, their laughter, and warmheartedness. It was pure joy! And I know that I was able to feel so open-hearted myself because of my feeling that ‘this is in your hands now, Lord.’ The last thing I want is to be late for a workshop I’m conducting. How unprofessional! But my plans are so small, I’m simply waiting for God to step in and take over.

Day 26 – Grappling with Perfection

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Writing something everyday for this Challenge has begun to feel like a report: ‘Today I did such and such step.’ but who am I reporting to? That’s not the point surely. Many of my endeavors in life have subtly been motivated by a painful need to prove myself. But my motivation throughout this ‘challenge’ has been so much about making dance happen for me. I’ve been dancing with keen attention to my body and my feelings. I’m asking questions and listening for answers.

My personal practice is growing and thriving yet writing about it has grown stale; dancing and blogging are after all two separate pursuits. Perhaps I’m anticipating ‘my readers’ boredom or unsure of my purpose in reporting my daily pursuits here. Certainly I’ve felt a pressure to package my day and present it neatly. And I’m not a neat and perfect package, so why do I want to present that facade to the world? Why do I continue to expect ‘perfection’ from myself? I’m not a perfect dancer, writer, or person. I know this. But it seems that I have not yet fully forgiven myself for this.