While in school as a kid, I used to grind my teeth to memorize who invented what. Sometimes, me and my classmates would rant and say “Why did this person invent this? Look we have to study about it now!” Hilarious as it sounds it was indeed hard for me, then to remember dates and events from the history textbooks. Partly, I would blame the method of teaching, where the historical event was made impersonal to me and so I did not feel the connection. Thus, the grumbling ensued.
However, in the case of dance, students are taught choreography that are majorly passed down from guru to shishya/student. Do the student indeed realize the enormous responsibility handed over to them? Yes and no. I have heard and seen in dance classes in USA and in India, where the history behind the song/poet/choreography is rarely taught. Many students concentrate over technique that they do not know on whose shoulders they stand!
Yes, Dance history matters and the dancers are incomplete without it!
Almost all BN dancers connect the current dance form to 2000BC and to the canonical texts. This knowledge is so presumed these days that every student parrots the same answer. This is good and bad. Not may gurus/teachers incorporate the history of what the student is learning. They might ask “Why?” and I would counter it with “Why not?”. Aren’t the current dancers breathing and living the choreography created even before they were born??? Think about it.
An article published in Dance Studio Life talks about how dance history can be made relevant to dancers and make the dance and its history more personal.
a pressing issue in today’s dance education: the precedence of teaching technique over history and theory, and the subsequent emphasis on physical mastery above contextual understanding. Students who know next to nothing about the history of a ballet they have spent countless hours rehearsing are only one example of this artificial separation between theory and practice.
I totally agree with the writer for the following.
A lack of attention to history and scholarship inside the dance studio sanctions a degree of critical disengagement by many dancers that ultimately undermines the status of the art form. It creates a training ground that exists in a vacuum, so to speak, its students sequestered from information that could help them become more mature, thoughtful, discerning artists.
Ultimately, the students get a sense of humility and as it is pointed out they are empowered.
As students focus on choreography and technique, it’s important that they realize that the new work they are performing is not original or unique to this present moment, but rather a composite product of many years of innovation, a single link in a long chain forged over time. Appreciating this can engender something powerful in young dancers: a simultaneous sense of humility and empowerment that comes from more deeply understanding the context in which they train.
So, how to start having dance history sessions in your schedule? Some tips from the article are:
- Make the students comfortable and get them fully engaged when they are mentally and physically alert.
- “have students write for a few minutes before offering their opinions, or let them discuss their thoughts in groups of two or three before sharing them with the class.”
- Don’t start with “Back then” or “In those days”. This creates more disconnect between them and the dance history. Rather, pinpoint something that’s happening now and bring in the connection.
- This one is brilliant! ““Dance Charades” requires each student to choose and perfect an iconic pose that captures the essence of a work or artist in the dance canon. “
- “Email students a YouTube playlist that you’ll reference throughout the week, or book group tickets to a professional dance performance and end class 10 minutes early the next day to talk about it.“
Apart from these, for Indian classical dance there are some more that can be added to the above.
- Encourage students to read the Dance History column by Ashish Mohan Khokar that features every month in the Narthaki portal.
- There are other blogs/websites that chronicle dance history. Following them is a good idea! 😉
- Invite a historian/scholar to give small talks that would encourage student’s curiosity. In USA, there are historians and archivists in your area who can be a great resource to start with general dance history.
- Dance History Trivia Night – A great way to have fun with Dance history.
- Introduce the students to the dancers of the past and ignite their curiosity to make them find some new info to the shared with the class, next time they meet.
- For those in India, have a group trip to a temple and make the students identify the dance poses, the hasta mudras in the sculptures.
Read the full article in Dance Studio Life here.