Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Conclusion Part 3...

I had left Toronto back in July...and when I had returned to Edmonton, I had the sense that the my time at MDO was life-changing for me. And it has been. I found myself to be a new person with new ways of looking at things...

As the new dance season started back at home in early September (I run a dance company in Edmonton), and my responsibilities piled up on me, I felt myself often turning back into the old, somewhat tunnel-visioned person who only sees work work work! And the good thing is that I am often catching myself reverting back into old habits, so then I try to take a few deep breaths and let go of those old feelings, and re-iterate positive things to myself that Joanna Di had influenced me to say.

When things get a bit hard, I remind myself often, "Everything is the way its meant to be." And I become thankful at that moment, of everything I am blessed with, and tears come to me, and I know that God will never give me more than I can handle. And if I seem to be handling a lot, then God knows how strong I am, and all the things I go through, are meant to make me stronger and remind me of my own strength.

I am looking over my notes right now, that I had written on my last few days in Toronto back in July. Here are some of my notes:
  • Taking time to recognize & encourage students in front of their peers -- Joanna Di does this very well. She also critiques in front of peers which is nerve-wracking, but a very important part of the learning process. I hope to be critiqued more often, and picked on more often...because I myself say to my students that I am hardest on my best dancers, therefore, if Joanna Di isn't picking on me more often, that must mean I'm not doing well enough to deserve her critique yet! Joanna Di always has a positive approach to teaching and I appreciate that.

  • Unity/Community - I had gone back to Edmonton and raved to everyone around me of the wonderful feelings I felt being so warmly welcomed into the MDO and TTE community. Never before had I ever felt this warmly welcomed by another dance studio. It was eye-opening. I hate the crabs-in-a-bucket culture amongst dance companies...I am a strong believer that good collaborations and affiliations can do wonders to boost the arts and their promoters...two heads are often better than one when it comes to planning and executing projects.

  • I had heard someone say that this is a vast ocean (arts ocean) and we should know that we are part of beautiful a thought...

  • Old Style Ways (Tradition) have their place in the arts, and we must know our roots. I have always believed this, but struggled on how to get the young-ones of today in North America to understand the evolution and influences of Indian dance culture. I often complain about the instant gratification society that we live in, and how North Americans, and maybe people all over the world, are trained to always find the easy method to doing something... unfortunately this has translated into dance as well... it seems many students don't want to do those hard things... Is it so rare to see kids who actually want to be challenged these days? I personally love challenge. Ha ha! My husband would agree; it seems I have never taken the easy path to anything in my life... hmmm...maybe I should re-think that strategy! Lol. BUT, the feeling of deep satisfaction that comes after having achieved something that was very hard to do is can only experience it...Old Traditional ways of learning dance have their place in today's modern world...

  • I had heard someone say we need to open ourselves to receiving and learning and at the same time do a reality check of where we are right now -- how true. I need to remind myself to do this more often! I want to be more open and receiving and always learning!

  • We need to find a balance of discipline and responsibility for the art form we are taking on...

  • There needs to be bonding opportunities between peers, students, and parents, teachers, and all these groups with the other groups. It creates community / unity! I am working on trying to create unity and community at SAAM and I know it's a work in progress, and probably always will be...
Many of my internal thinking patterns had changed during my one month long intensive Kathak training at MDO and when I went back home, I tried to hang on to my new patterns, and avoid falling into the old patterns...I did fall back into some, but I am aware of them, and I will continue to be positive. One thing I know that I have come away with is that I need to take care of me. If I can take care of me, I can take care of the rest. If I want to love dance, I have to dance! I have to practice! I have to continue learning. If I want good dancers at SAAM, I have to create ways of attracting good students and teaching in ways that helps to create good dancers. In fact, I can only control me, nothing else is in my control, so like my husband says, don't worry about the things I can't control. I can control my reaction and my actions. Like Sai Baba recommends, don't worry! Leave it to him, have faith! HAVE FAITH.

Thank you to all the people who helped me make this possible.

-Joanna De Souza
-Ritesh Das
-Melissa Das
-Elliot Digby
-Clover Digby
-The Edmonton Arts Council and the City of Edmonton
-My Family and Friends

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

...Namaskar: Conclusion Part 2

At the retreat a little more than a week ago, I also felt profoundly affected by something and it really disturbed my concentration -- thus messing up my footwork, lol.

On the first night, and second day of the retreat, there sat in front of me 8 talented Tabla students / players. I was dancing and I was being accompanied by 8 LIVE TABLA PLAYERS?!!! Where else in the world does that happen? Perhaps in India...? Perhaps everywhere else the TTE goes in the world to spread the knowledge of Indian Classical Music. But for me, it was the first time ever dancing with live musicians and it was awe-inspiring. This thought kept repeating itself in my head as I tried to get myself to focus on the footwork. But I kept thinking, "wow, everyone here should feel SO thankful." MDO and TTE is very lucky to have these opportunities, to work together, to take advantage of what they have and to inspire others! Luck may have something to do with it, but also the hard work of Ritesh Dada and Joanna Di (and Melissa Di) have a lot to do with it.

Aside from the retreat, I gained a lot personally too.

Something that at first, felt very foreign and odd to me, but in the end I concluded was such a beautiful and yet simple thing was NAMASKAR. And I don't mean the Namaskar we do / say before we start dancing (although this is a beautiful way to start a dance practice too)...I mean that, whenever JoannaDi, Ritesh Dada and Melissa Di see someone/meet someone, they fold their hands in front of their heart and say Namaskar. According to what I know, saying Namaskar and gently tipping your head in humility to another person acknowledges the "Godliness" that resides in them. It acknowledges their presence, who they are, their potential, their greatness, and their beauty -- we are all creations of a higher power, and we acknowledge that power. I noticed that every time JoannaDi did it, she would gently close her eyes as she tipped her head forward to acknowledge a person. Which to me signifies she is really truly acknowledging you, and thanking you for your presence. It can make both the giver and receiver stop, and breathe, and feel special and humbled at the same time...It is a traditional Hindu practice actually, but this didn't stop the Muslim or non-Hindu students from doing it; these artists whom I was surrounded by for 1 month, have amazing, loving, caring and splendid. Just because you do Namaskar doesn't make you a Hindu. But acknowledging a person in a loving way does make you human! Saying Salaam, according Arabic or Islamic tradition, (from my knowledge) works similarly -- really truly giving respect and acknowledging the person in front of you. I did see JoannaDi say Salaam when/if she was saying it to someone she knew who were of that faith.

So my point...

As the month went by, I found that saying Namaskar was very grounding for me. It brought all the floating energy about me together, all of a sudden centring itself inside of me, even if for a brief moment. The more I did it, the more natural it became. I was raised to say Namaste or Ram-Ram since my childhood, so this was not a new concept to me. But doing it this particular way, knowing that every time I did, centering myself and paying respect to the person in front me, was a bit more special. As I left Toronto last week, I felt as if the practice of saying Namaskar in this way brought me down to earth each time, and I decided that I need to see God in everyone around me; I needed to see goodness, greatness, love and splendour. In fact, I was so deeply affected by this Namaskar, that even at the airport and when I got home I was inadvertently saying Namaskar to my closest friends and family.

An incident: I have a lovely 5 year old niece. She is my first TRUE LOVE in this lifetime. She is temperamental and very sensitive, but to me the most beautiful thing I have in my life. Anyway, she had slept over at my place last week, and we had a great day. But in the middle of the day, she and I had bit of tiff, and I ended up shouting at her. Before she left that evening, we did make up and we both said sorry to each other. BUT later that evening, I felt such remorse for shouting at her that I cried uncontrollably and told my husband that I should have seen God inside her, and when I shouted at her, I wasn't seeing God inside her at that time. I felt very bad...

That's one of the things I gained personally in my month long journey with JoannaDi, MDO and TTE.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Days 25 - 30 & then some...Everything is the way it's meant to be!

As my journey was coming to an end in Toronto last week, I felt as if I didn't know what to write. I wasn't sure how to wind things fact, I am not sure this blog can be concluded with any justice to the amount I have gained in the last month. So, I thought I would let my mind simmer and settle for a few days after my return to Edmonton with the hopes that something solid would come to me. The only solid thing that came to me was that, this was very much probably, the best month of my life.

This sounds odd, even to me. I have lived in India twice for several months and experienced its wonder. I have spent 3 weeks flitting about Europe. I had an amazing time in Acting School. I spent 1 month in a yoga ashram in Mumbai connecting with myself. I had a month long of wedding celebrations, and so many other experiences in my life...but this past experience gave me more than I ever could have imagined in a consecutive 30 day period, and so, I have a strong feeling that it will take at least a few months for the lessons I've learned to seep into my bones and become conscious realisations. Thus, my conclusion may be segmented further past today's entry.

Let's start with the MDO School of Kathak and Toronto Tabla Ensemble's first annual retreat. People, including JoannaDi have asked me what I had expected when I was coming to Toronto. I said I had absolutely no expectations, truly. The same goes for the retreat. But the retreat was a real treat (bad pun). The first night, thanks to Shezheen, I got to truly learn the long lineage of the Kathak and Tabla from which our gurus JoannaDi and Ritesh Dada have been groomed. It was awe inspiring to know that I was in the same room with these exceptional teachers whose backgrounds are so rich. It was so humbling to know where what I was learning was coming from.

It also occurred to me that night how everything is the way it's meant to be! I was explaining this to Dada. Two years ago, a student from my dance company had asked about Kathak examinations. And so I looked it up online. The only places I found were in India (obviously) and in California. The ones in California were being conducted in connection with the Channdam School of Kathak. As I explored the website of this formidable institution based in California, I was first shocked, and then I was happy this place existed in North America. Then I was momentarily envious that we did not have this calibre of a school in Canada. I wiped that envy out of my mind, and simply accepted the truth. I signed up for their monthly email newsletter / announcements that day. And for the past 2 years I have been getting the company's emails showcasing spectacular looking programs and classes being conducted in the USA...I would get these emails, and admire them...and then, accept the truth, and delete them. I had no idea that God was working in his mysterious ways to connect me with this amazing company and spectacular Guru Dada (Pandit Chitresh Das). Last year, when I Googled 'Kathak dance teachers in Toronto', I found a few. I had emailed them and gotten 2 responses. One was from JoannaDi. I looked her up further and found that she was trained by Pandit Chitresh Das. I didn't think much of it then, except that, "how cool!" The school looked great, so the teacher must be pretty good too. I was intrigued by the fact that she did not look like she was of South Asian descent in her pictures...that also made me more confident (ask me why another time...). As I sat there that first night of the retreat, I realised that I was meant to be here! This all started 2 years ago, with a simple Google search (God bless Google). All the little choices I made brought me to where I was at that moment, sitting amongst these amazing artists. I had so much to be thankful for!

....To be continued....

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 24: I got it! Yay!

Today, I did not have classes with Joanna Di. Instead I've spent about 12 hours doing work related to my business adventures. Yay! Got some important stuff done.

But then in-between I practiced a bit and since I was alone in the basement, I just danced without expectation, and by George, I got it! I worked on a section of a piece Joanna Di is teaching me right now, and I had absolutely no expectations from my practice session, I just let myself do the steps, and I got through the section. Yay!

I still have about 6 other sections to get through in terms of memorization and internalising the rhythmic pattern so that I can dance to it...and then I have to do it according to the correct speeds. But I am excited about it now!

I am even more excited to say that I am booked to perform in Vernon BC in November for a Classical dance show and I will be performing the piece Joanna Di has taught me. Yay!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 23: To quit or not to quit...that is the question.

The last 23 days, minus 3 spent with my husband (so 20 days), have filled my head with so much Classical and Kathak material that I cannot even begin to explain to you.

The past few days have weighed down on me harder than expected...I have questioned my motives for being here, for wanting to continue my studies in Kathak, and what the possible end results might be from all this. I still don't have all the answers -- and maybe I am not supposed to, but every time the thought of quitting comes to my head, I hear Joanna Di's voice in my head, saying "Right at the moment, when you want the most to just absolutely give up and quit...that's when you need Kathak the most, that's when you need the discipline, that's when you need to practice, and keep's this little bump in the road, and that discipline to keep going will bring you over that bump..."

So I didn't quit. I, at times, felt like an idiot fumbling around, messing up my left heel spins, missing the transitions between footwork sequences... I have often felt frustrated in the past few weeks, and I am not sure if my frustration is good or bad.

Joanna Di mentioned to us today that she had gotten to see a written syllabus for Kathak when she had visited India on one of her trips...she explained how that what she saw in this syllabus made her think "Who would want to teach this way?" She explained how the syllabus said that year 3 & 4 were the same except for a few extra head movements, and year 5 & 6 were the same except for a few other items...Joanna Di said she wants to expose us to the fantastic elements Kathak contains. She comes into the room and based on what energies we give her, she teaches us. She often throws us many challenging, and what would seem like Advanced styles of footwork and sequences. Certainly, referring to the method in which I have been taught in the past, much of what I have been exposed to here is advanced stylisation. But its great! Really, it is! She said to us today that she didn't expect us to get it overnight, but that a big part of being a teacher involves exploration and today she explored what we could do with saatgun tatkar (7th speed using Rupak taal).

Once again, this shows me that Joanna Di is not hesitant; she believes that if we, as dancers, really want to do it, we will do it...the issue is, how much do we believe in ourselves...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Days 18, 19, 20, 21, 22: Love, Mash Potatoe Brains, and Regression

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday enjoying a magnificent weekend with my husband. My husband Elliot Digby is the most caring and loving man I have ever met. This weekend, I had told myself I would practice...but I did not...come Sunday, I felt very guilty for missing my practices, and I could easily place the blame on family commitments and not having enough time, but that is never the case.

We can always find time in our day to do the things we need to. I could have woken up early to practice but instead I chose to sleep in and enjoy Elliot's company; I am more in love with my husband as each week goes I decided to let go, not stress, and enjoy a few hours with one of the people I love the most in the world!

Me & Elliot

Come Monday, my brain had become soft like mashed potatoes; it felt useless. I was blurry and seemed to have regressed; I had trouble doing even the most basic footwork! Wow.

I don't feel guilty you're thinking, huh? What? Why not? Well I had complete control over my actions, thus I can only endure the consequences of my choices. I decided to dedicate this past weekend to my husband and our marriage.

Today, Tuesday, was a bit better than yesterday. Although, sitting down and reciting with Joanna Di, those things which I should have recited over the weekend, was pretty embarrassing for me...I should have been much farther ahead by now with the particular composition she had given me...As I recited, in the slowest speeds, I felt like a small child having to learn my ABC's all over again...

(Joanna Di re-instilling in me basic footwork and movements...such a patient teacher!
The most patient!)

So, the moral of the story is...PRACTICE whenever and as much as you choose to. PRACTICE will only benefit you...and will only prevent regression and allow progression.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 17: Recitation

17 Days ago I had no idea how to find the tekha while listening to lehera only...In fact I didn't know the proper terms for lehera and tekha. Today, one of the most satisfying things I experienced was how just by listening, I knew where I was in the teen taal cycle of music. And I could match my foot work to the music properly; I practiced vilambit (slow) and madhya (medium) speeds of tatkar (footwork) and I was able to properly align myself with the tekha. I still need work on aligning myself to the music in the druth (fast) speed.

(our 1st and last class on Wednesday is writing down the phrases to the composition we just learned)

I worked all this out by reciting the tatkar bol and adjusting to fit the music. YAY! Who showed me how to do this? Joanna Di of course! On the first day that she tried to show me, I was like "What?" Now it makes sense. I am seeing how important recitation is! Recitation is actually what is going to let me dance -- in other words, I recite, I match my recitation to the tekha and/or lahera (lehera follows the tekha), once I am able to recite properly, and I know where each bol lands in the phrase I am going to dance to, I can then dance to it... It's quite an interesting interconnected process. This ain't no 8 count linear music...its cyclic. Kathak is the most interconnected dance art I have ever encountered; although I have been familiar with Kathak since childhood, I did not understand it's inner workings; and I am still only at the beginning...its extremely mental, mathematical, physically challenging, and involves great investment of emotion. Kathak can create agility of the mind, and physical awareness; I would urge parents to understand the importance of the performing arts...I find that many South Asian parents focus solely on academics, giving arts the last glance. But if you gave the arts a proper place in your children's lives (and your own life for that matter), you would find that a disciplined method of artistic expression will actually enhance and increase your child's academic abilities; not to mention their physical and emotional abilities.