The fact that I have chosen to audit the classes of two other Professors gave me the opportunity to observe a true graduate american classroom. But before I discuss class, I must share some stories of how getting to school was so interesting. As someone who has always driven a car in India I chose to not do that here and instead explore the city on public transport, at least for now. And that turned out to be a great idea as today, after just two weeks of living here, I can firmly say that I know my way around. The traveler in me has always done that every time I traveled on work, performance tours anywhere.
Instances that touched my heart: One day, when I didn’t know which bus to take and was going in circles around the same area for half hour, a young girl came forward to walk me through the route all the way to my school. I was touched by how much patience she had. Another day, I was at a Mexican fast food joint. I ordered my food and sat down to eat. I wanted a drink, so I walked up to the counter half way through eating and asked for a small drink, the guy gave it to me and refused to take money for it. Instead he said “enjoy your meal, you shouldn’t have to juggle with change (coins) while eating”. On the buses and trains there are designated areas/ seats for wheelchairs and senior citizens. If that is heartening, I was so touched by how every one, I mean everyone is tuned to the idea of getting up to offer a seat to a senior citizen or to help a handicapped person. It comes naturally to all here. There is a general feeling of altruism in the air. The other thing I noticed was how patriotism and the sense of “belonging” is wide spread. One day on the bus a homeless man got on and refused to pay the ticket money. The driver, was arguing with him and making him understand that he can’t ride the bus for free everyday. The argument kept getting louder. Suddenly one of the ladies travelling on the bus, pulled out a dollar and offered to pay for the homeless man. She did so partially to stop the noise, but here is what she said, “The driver simply does not have to go through this with someone. Also this is a man in my country who is homeless, I have to take care of him”. Putting aside serious arguments about socialism and capitalism etc, this act of pure belonging left me thinking.
I must also mention how the first two days until I figured out my bus routes and got my quarterly passes in place, the bus drivers kept refusing to take money from me every time I was on a wrong bus!
Moments of happiness: One day as I was on a bus and an elderly man walked in. The bus was crowded, therefore I got up and offered my seat to him. He was so touched and the others on the bus gave me a very warm smile, as if to give me a pat on the back. I am sure these little acts of warmth happen in India as well but for me to observe it in people up close here was heart warming.
The scary side: This is another side of the country that can’t be denied. It exists just as it does everywhere else. I walk on Santa Monica promenade and I was to enter a store. Right then, a man ran across trying to mug an elderly lady in front of me. Lets just say I was second in line. But as luck would have it, he ran away and the lady and me were saved! It is also particularly interesting to me how all my Indian friends in the US are warning me about robbery, theft, rape and other crimes at the hostel (a temporary accommodation for me). Turns out, all the people who have come in so far have not been anything but awesome. As nationals of various other countries, it is funny how they are always asking me if India is all about rape, crime and theft. It has been an interesting week where I have realised I am representing more of my country and culture than I would have thought. I am everyday sermonizing about the beauty, safety, and goodness of India. I have friends from Sweden, Austria, Norway, France, England, Spain, Australia, Poland all in a couple of weeks!
Work in campus: On Wednesday last, I had to give a lecture on “introduction to Bharatanatyam as Sadir” to the world dance students in Bridgewaters College, MA. Being in LA, I did that via skype. I come half way across the world to this country and still have to skype because places here are just as far between. I woke up at 4 am, went on a bus at 5 am to school and opened a studio to start my lecture at 6 am (9 am eastern). It was an exhilarating experience because, I felt that my work was transcending time and space. Listening to Punnagavarali and Kambhoji on my ipod as I cross the uber cool village town and santa monica, is an experience altogether that makes me smile everyday.
Classes: There were things that left me a bit amused as far as the class culture goes. Things like the students coming late to class or walking midway out of a class for a bathroom break, drinking and eating in class etc. The thing that amused me most was how some students were sprawled across the floor, rolling like a child in bed while listening and responding to the lecture (I found it totally cute)! I was smiling and enjoying this new atmosphere. But I guess by negating the unwanted formalities in the process of a classroom, they are trying to win the undivided attention of the pupil. I recall how my grandfather always while teaching would encourage us to eat first and sit to study on a full stomach. He argued “when food is on your mind or on a plate in front of you, nothing else mattered”. So true, I’d say.
The focused discussions, the pre- class readings, the presentations give a rounded scope for students to provoke thought. I must add here with some pride that in my classes/ lectures at Univs, back in India I always managed this same pattern. I had discussions, viewings, films and open book exams at the University of Madras! can you believe! I think the department found me sacrilegious and the students found me refreshing and challenging all at once.
Anyways, I will be writing separate papers on my work here in terms of dance history discussions, the biographies of individual artistes (both their work ad their personal life and choices) having profound influence on the history of dance and the augmentation of newer genres. I was very pleased to know that my argument that political and social history had a very telling impact on the course of art and vice- versa is the approach to dance history in the west too. I will discuss the common political and economic platforms that were shared by Eastern and Western art history in my next blogs. I will leave you all with a few interesting quotes by Doris Humphery and such venerated choreographers.
“The ending is 40% of the dance”
“Symmetry is killing”
“All dances are too long”
My personal favourite for a long time now is of course this quote by Isadora Duncan
“If I could say it, I wouldn’t have to dance it”
Since, I can only say all this, and don’t/can’t dance it, this blog in its asymmetrical fashion of writing, knowing it is too long but also hoping that the ending was worth it, Im signing off:-)
Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh
Eastern Attic meets its counterpart