Come Let’s Shake a Leg!
Recently, two medical students in Kerala - Naveen K Razak and Janaki Omkumar - turned celebrities with their 30-second Instagram video of dancing to Boney M's ‘Rasputin’ song. If a 30 seconds video can go viral within hours, that means dance strikes a chord with people emotionally and aesthetically. This makes it ideal to use as a medium for learning.
But, for many years, the arts integration in education is suffering in India from several myths, misconceptions and problems. For schools, dance is accepted only as an extracurricular activity, never as part of the regular curriculum. Parents send their children to learn dance or music at their young age. Yet as the child grows, most parents take their children away from them, saying it is not an ideal career option. And even some students feel less confident to take up a full-time career in dance or music. In this article, five dancers specialised in five different dance forms explain why dance should be a part of normal school life.
“In India, we don’t see dance as a subject like physics or maths. The values of different disciplines in education are not treated equally. It’s high time we got this issue addressed. Now, some CBSE schools have integrated arts into their curriculum. But we are not able to offer sufficient job opportunities in arts. The life of artists is the same in any part of the world. It is never smooth. There is barely any job for dancers in our current system. I think that is the major reason why our parents are reluctant to allow their children to pursue careers in arts,” says Sriradha Paul, a professional Odissi dancer from Kolkata, with experience of more than 20 years. She has also experience in Indian contemporary dance and performative storytelling. In addition to this, she is an empanelled Odissi dance artist at International Council for Cultural Relations and Graded Artist at Doordarshan Kendra. Currently, she is pursuing her international master’s in dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage under Erasmus Mundus Joint master’s degree (EMJMD) at The University of Roehampton, London, United Kingdom.
Sriradha continues, “I think schools can make some changes. Field research for culture studies is already part of our curriculum. The best way to study the culture or socio-economic status of an area or community is through dance. When students research a community/folk dance, they will be able to learn deeply. There are interesting factors like: why are they dancing, what are the costumes, why aren’t they using the same costumes for daily life or other dance forms etc. We can study economics, human behaviour, food behaviour or any subject through dance. It can be linked so easily and it is the easiest way to reach people. Even social issues like body shaming, racism and climate change can be communicated through this non-verbal communication. Dance doesn’t require any language to reach hearts. Our education system has to accept dance at the same level as science or humanities. We can bring a marking system for dance subject that will be added to a student’s total marks. This will give an equal role for dance as a subject.”
“India is a subcontinent that has diverse dance forms and costumes. Our students should learn and research about our beautiful culture. In addition to this, the scope of work opportunities in the arts sector also needs a revival. It has to be more decentralised,” concludes Sriradha.
Saranya Mohan Rahul, Bharatanatyam Dancer at Taal Dance Studio, Kuwait, says, “I would recommend dance to be taught in schools as it helps children to gain the ability of how to coordinate and cooperate with others and discipline of doing things the way it has to be done. Dance engages students in the artistic processes of creating, performing and critical analysis. These processes require students to read symbol systems, use critical thinking skills, excel in nonverbal reasoning and communication, exchange ideas, work cooperatively and collaboratively with others, and interact within a multicultural society. Through dance, children can gain a multitude of important developments; sensory and spatial awareness, coordination, concentration and mobility. Utilizing dance in academics also helps children develop skills that are necessary for learning such as creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration.”
“I respect our educational system though I have always felt that we are focusing only on skilled workers. And some of the kids cannot excel in it as it’s not their trade. Irrespective of their interest, we insist the kids fit into the pre-designed syllabus. There are only a few universities in India that provide professional-level training and certification in art forms. I strongly recommend that the art forms should be included in the syllabus just like other subjects. It will trigger the conscience of our children that art forms or being an artist is also a profession. The entertainment world is vastly growing and it brings up infinite possibilities. I also feel that it can help them in many other aspects like, physical and mental health”, says, Rincy Martin, a senior Bollywood choreographer, trainer, and founder member of Jazz Rockers Institute in the Middle East. Brought with her 8 years’ classical dancing experience and 12 years of Bollywood dance training and performing, she specializes in on-stage performance choreography and training.
“Our society misleads the children that only academic excellence will buy you the bread. As a successful person in this career, I always wanted to pass this awareness among society and I believe that we should do it from the grass-roots level. We, as an institute took the initiative to provide the art forms as part of the school curriculum with a discrete wing called Jazz Onboard in UAE. We found it very effective and it helped us to grow as an industry pioneer.”