If you are a dancer in India in your late 20’s or 30’s then you are the Indian dance-scene’s ‘Avenger’. Your special powers are; survival in poverty, and a taste for physical endurance, Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of. We have survived low pays, unruly students, daily body ache, unearthly rehearsal hours and constant yelling at home for taking this up. One of my village relatives has actually responded to my Father’s “Mumbai mein dance choreographer hai” (“she is a dance choreographer in Mumbai) with a … “accha toh.. bar baala hain??” (Oh so you mean she is a Bar-Dancer”!!) SERIOUSLY, I’m not kidding.
I began my dance career at Rs 3290 per month! But I loved dancing. It gave me a purpose, a sense of relief that all is not lost in this world. Instead of walking down the path that Barkha Dutt had chalked out for me, I went and told my parents one day- I want to be a dancer!! The shock on their face was nothing short of: –
To cut the long story short, I am a choreographer and recently I had a rebirth. When you’ve been doing something for 10 years, you tend to lose sight of a lot of the things that came to you naturally as a student. The excitement of learning something new & the single minded determination to just ‘be’ a dancer for the joy of it, gets lost in the pages of your dance history.
By the time you reach my age, you got men to marry, bills and employees to pay, houses to run etc. But then in the summer of 2016, I decided to finally do what I wanted to do when I was 23. I went to London to train in Modern dance. The Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance was the reason behind the deep re-connection I had with my 23-year-old self.
It taught me a lot, more that just dance, I learnt:-
1) Be open to new things, new people and new ideas
When it’s been a decade of being on your own, and doing things your own way, you tend to rely on your patterns. As a teacher you have so many students taking up your brain-space, that you end up spending all the time you are NOT a teacher, with a select few; those who are now included in your nice, cozy, comfort zone. At Laban, it seemed like this ‘zone’ of mine had increased ten-fold. The students, the teachers and everyone was so warm, that I found my body and my self, opening. I made so many new friends, I learnt so many new things about my self that I came back a new me. Tanushree 4.O When you go to a place where no one knows you, you can be who ever you want. This is when we find out who we truly are.
Fear of things can hold you back; fear of rejection, fear of the new, fear of failure etc. See, some people are born with an extrovert nature; they have had extrovert childhoods and being ‘cool’ comes easily to them. But some have to acquire it, and this was like re-acquiring it for me. It was a reminder that if you want something new to happen to you, you have to do something differently.
2) Organize your mind and arrive before time
These two may sound fairly unconnected from each other but in practice they are not. I use the word ‘organize’, because to a rebellious mind the word ‘discipline’ can leave a bad taste. It may attract unwarranted reluctance. Essentially, when we were being disciplined as kids, we were actually just learning to organize our minds and our lives. During the course of this program, I had a regimen that I loved. I Woke up at 6 am, took a bath, had breakfast, packed the lunch and then walked to the beautiful Creek-side building of Laban. Then 6 hours of training with a nice lunch shared in the green lawns or the warm and comfy corridors. Sometimes we had events, like a seminar, or a movie screening or a social, and then the 10 min walk back home. Around 7 pm I would cook and then eat dinner with a glass of wine in the beautiful balcony of my host admiring the London skyline.
A few emails and a shower later I was in bed ready to doze off at 10pm. Now anyone who knows me will not be able to read this excruciatingly long timetable without marvelling over the fact that I, WILLINGLY, woke up at 6 AM!!!! So wake up, and plan ahead!!!
Such regimented days, gave me the brightest of moods, fabulous classes, and 6 hours of full on dancing with not one moment of lethargy during the day. My mind and my body were organized (read disciplined) and I managed to absorb far more than I would have, had I been scattered. Which brings me to my third point.
3) Focused work
We all go through our daily lives, doing what we do, which is usually a lot, mindlessly. One cannot discredit multitasking at all. But the benefits of focusing exclusively on the task at hand cannot be overlooked.While I was engaged for this whole month in experiencing every lovely thing London had to offer, I had my one supreme goal always there to keep me grounded. DANCE. TRAIN. LEARN. GROW
That truly helped me in cutting out any clutter that could have distracted me. Mind you, I had fun too; met a lot of my friends who lived there, saw the city in all its glory, shopped, but my focus was never lost from sight. There was this energy inside me that kept me so attentive to my dance needs that I had realizations regarding my technique and my body in ways that I hadn’t in years. Laban made that very easy. All teachers gave such personalized feedback, and because I was so alert emotionally and physically it impacted me in a great way. So doing what you do with a laser-like focus towards the goal really helps in achieving it, as opposed to doing it day in-day out without really being present.
4) Get out of your own way
Yes believe it or not, we tend to get in our own way a lot. We have unreal expectations from ourselves & blame others for our failures. Many times we are unhappy with our flexibility, or elevation, or the number of pirouettes we do. We work harder than our bodies can take, stretch longer, compare ourselves to others and often not take rest (THE WORST!!). In the process, subconsciously, we set of a pattern for self-loathing where we are only good enough if we are better than our present selves. Well, like you can see, this is a loop!
You are who you are! Sometimes its best to know that rather than pushing for things, allowing is more fruitful. Trust me, you aren’t getting anything by forcing it out of yourself or others. Allow instead and watch the magic! Allow your leg to go higher, allow your feet to point more, allow your back to be released. Allow, ALLOW ALLOW!!
Give yourself permission to be your higher self. Nothing can affect you unless you allow, good or bad, so allow the good. This is just a different mindset to approach things. TRY IT! If the next level is the only level, – NEWS FLASH: – YOU WILL NEVER GET THERE! YOU’LL NEVER BE AT PEACE. At Laban, I was noticed and loved not because I had my leg up to my ear; it was because I allowed my SELF to come out to shine. Often in the past I wanted more turns and better extensions, but this time I chose ME!! So basically more than ‘wanting’ Tanushree 4.O, I ‘allowed’ Tanushree 4.O
5) Gratitude for feedback is application
When I was 6, I was put into a Bharatnatyam dance class, and the very first day became the only day I went for it. The teacher was trying to fix my posture and bring out strength in my hands that I dint have. Each time I was given a correction, I felt singled out and embarrassed. Over the years I have, not only learnt as a teacher how to give feedback in a way that empowers the student, but as a student, my relationship with corrections has also evolved. At Laban, however, I made the ultimate realization. Saying thank you, each time you get personal feedback, can go a long way for a student, but the greatest way to say thank you to a teacher for her effort is applying the correction. That way you learn the most. In that very class, you get a physical sensation of how the right and the wrong way of doing it feels, and the change you make stays with you forever. At the same time, the teacher’s ecstasy in seeing this prompt response leads to many more corrections and eventually a beautiful bond between the two.
So for those weeks, the focus, and the attentiveness that was running through my veins was well utilized in making the changes I was being advised. Hence the Tanushree 4.0 was finally cast in Iron!
6) Ask questions, even if you are the only one asking
As we grow older, we get used finding answers ourselves. Having taught young kids, I can assure you that you cannot match the level of curiosity they posses. Its not that we are no longer curious, but we stop asking, we stop seeking. We are now in ‘telling’ mode. We have taken up the adult role of, ‘We know it’. At Laban, being a student again reminded me how beautiful being inquisitive feels. I had my hand up like Hermione Granger all the time, unlike her though, mine was always a question.
At first it felt odd. Most people were not asking. I could see them doing it wrong & looking confused. They would ask other students, but not the teacher. It took me 1 day to get over it. I was bubbling with queries, and I had very experienced master teachers there for me…why wouldn’t I ask? It would be like being with Buddha, and not asking him how to stay on the middle path! I had come a long way from home, to go back with doubts not cleared, with questions unasked. So fellow dancers (or not), ask away. Make sure you understand things, because, seeing and knowing doesn’t always lead to understanding. You don’t know how to do something ask? You dint understand the step ask? You don’t know which muscle to use to do it better? ASK!!! Teachers love it!
7) Healthy-eating goes a long way
Along with having an organized mind and regimented life, also track what you eat. Ensure that you leave home on a full stomach. If you eat a nice big breakfast, you will not only have the physical energy to sail you through up till lunch, but your mind will function better. You ‘break’ your over night ‘fast’ and your blood sugar levels normalize. Your energy levels and metabolism will be better, your focus will be sharper, and you are less likely to over eat during lunch. So, starting with a fruit, I had eggs and bacon and milk, every single day and it geared me up for the first 3 hours of dancing I had to do before lunch. Then a balanced lunch and a small snack of dates, raisin and chana (Indian Gram) between the last 2 classes and I felt like Hercules. My muscles were stronger & I was alert till the days end at 6. The 10 min walk home was a breeze! I Even had the energy to make dinner or go out shopping and hang out with friends for coffee!
8) Make notes, and re-read them often
It’s been decades since school, but I can never stop emphasizing on the power of writing things down. In the world of smart phones and tablets, I am a romantic. I have a work diary, a dance diary, and a personal diary. After each class, I made notes. The mental notes that I made during class, the feedback given, and the new movement learnt and understood, all went in it.
Once I wrote them down, somehow they were clearer to me and I remembered them the next day. As a result, I was able to start from where I left in the next class. Especially when you are going for small stints, workshops, summer intensives, and not year long courses, this small activity helps in bringing back with you all the fresh ideas and ways of moving you were introduced to. It’s like carrying your teachers back with you in your bag pack. When I read it today, I can remember their voices and examples and it brings back to me everything I learnt there. One advice: Don’t just write it, once your back, read and apply often. There was a small part, which I had written in a hurry, and made complete sense back then, but after 2 -3 months I could not remember why I wrote it. When you really want something – Write it down!
9) Know the history behind the physicality
When you learn an art form, the rush of the first experience can take you a long way, years even. But true knowledge lies in knowing the history of things. Why they began? When they began? What difficulties did those who brought forth the movement face? Modern dance has a rich history of masters, who broke tradition, sometimes to expose the society and sometimes to battle the so-called ‘ inadequacies’ in their bodies. Knowing your art’s origin helps you to connect with it at a deeper level. It makes your movement authentic, because the source gets defined. So when you learn something – go deep. This is the only way we can keep their legacy going forward and have our future generations know what caused the breaking of rules.
10) Trust your instincts
Your heart already knows what it wants. If you are silent enough you will be able to hear the dialogue that it is longing to have with you. When you feel that pull, when you sense the nudge, trust yourself. We as adults have started rationalising a lot. It may be a brilliant quality but when as kids we made friends or were uncomfortable with someone, we were more in tune with our instincts.
Learnt to follow your heart. Learn to listen to yourself. Do what YOU want to do. That is where happiness is. Make a habit of being loving to yourself. I had fears of leaving my company for that long a period. But, my team stepped up to the occasion and did a great job in my absence. Had I not listened to my inner most yearning, I would have been bereft of all these beautiful experiences and realizations that followed. Every now and then, be still and connect with yourself. Try to hear the voice inside. Mostly it’s a message from the universe, it’s a push towards growth. It’s your first step towards the future.