The India Journals of a Dancer
We are a group of ten students, who are doing an India immersion program between the University of Michigan and the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement in Mysore to learn music, dance and yoga. The students on this trip, are all from the University of Michigan, and there is one Professor from the UM School of Music, Theater and Dance. As per the immersion program, the students can study an instrument, voice, or dance, and all will practice yoga.
Here is a page from my India journal:
Throughout this trip I am realizing I will never fully fit into one culture. I was able to pass with the 40 rupee ticket (for Indians) instead of the 100 rupee ticket (for foreigners) at the Mysore Palace– probably my biggest achievement yet.
However, I came here with the intent to dance, and to become a mindful person.
The usual schedule of our day is: yoga at 6 am, breakfast at 7:30, lessons, lunch, more lessons, and then group activities until dinner or after dinner. My lessons, and the mridangam lessons are after lunch meaning we have a whole morning free for “journal-ing and meditation.”
Ideally that is what we should be doing, but such a slowed-down period is something many of us are not used to. In the states, we are often overbooked with things to do. People in our group have a variety of majors: jazz piano with ecology, violin performance with communications, performing arts technology, cognitive science, screen arts and cultures, art and design, swirled with a percussion major. Everyone has brought a different view of life with them but also a constantly aroused mentality.
This group of 10 tops off with a Professor, who has been coming to India for over 30 years, and converted to Hinduism from an extremely religious background.
We have been in Mysore for a week now and are all beginning to open ourselves up to each other.
Our group dynamic comprises of playfulness and support. Gus has come up with a “hashtag wall,” in which we say hashtags ironically. The most popular are #chutney for the steaming idlis and crispy dosas made by the hostel, and #ahimsa, said after swatting away bulging mosquitoes. There is also a running joke that Rebecca needs to get married on this trip because she is the old age of 23. Being in a new country and culture also makes way for vulnerability, but our group has been upbeat about nourishing each other with support.
I am amazed at everyone’s personality. We are all such different people but we are able to connect over deep thoughts. Mysore coffee in the morning or mangoes at lunch beckon questions like “are the body and mind one, or separate?”
Coming to India without really knowing much about the culture or atmosphere is a large jump from the US, and I feel very thankful and refreshed because everyone has been so accepting of insightful about the culture and Hinduism, too. Our curriculum is set up so, that, we be introspective as well. Yesterday, we visited Chamundi Hills, a church, and passed through the Meena Bazaar which was in preparation with Ramadan items. Seeing the three together in the same city is proof that people, if they believe in humanity, can live side by side in peace. It is saddening to know that there is still discrimination not just in India but also back home. Here, everyone is still Indian no matter what faith they follow. And at home, people are still American no matter what ethnicity they are.
Lessons are difficult and bring out frustration in new ways because of such a vulnerable environment. Having learned Bharatanatyam for around 15 years, I think I have an easier time because I have skipped that learning curve period. However, I came here to achieve a deeper understanding of Bharatanatyam and what it means to be a well-rounded dancer. My guru introduced me to others as a foreigner, but “Indian-based.” She runs classes similar to home, beginning with adavus. But she makes every student perform the dances by themselves in front of the others alone, and the other students sing the pieces and put the talam. She has been describing all the aspects of a complete dancer to me, and we are going through basics of theory together.
I am barely sufficient in half of these, but I am committed to becoming proficient in all, and that satisfies my passion requirement.
India has an openness that is elusive in the states. The idea that we are all one with the universe and we are part of our environment can be seen simply in an auditorium. Every concert we have been to has kept the doors open to the streets, so the car horns are part of the music itself. People ambling in and out of a the veena performance in the temple we went to, carried on with their prayers without even acknowledging the sitting audience. Cows sit in the middle of the road and monkeys are unafraid to steal our food. It is that oneness that can really change our mindsets about the way we live and how our actions will affect something– anything.
Looking at the week forward, many of us are ready to dive into whatever comes next despite any difficulties in our lessons and our lives. We are ready to engage in conversation about spiritualness that are stimulated by our environment, and are ready to modify our minds.