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Pursuits and Passions

Children and Dance



In India, dance is everywhere from Bollywood movies to wedding baraat processions, and poses immortalised in sculptures in the Sun Temple at Konark to MF Hussains paintings in art galleries. It is an art form that has not just moved humans; legends have it that Vishnu became Mohini to entice the Asuras with Mohiniyattam, and Lord Siva is known for his dancing skills as Nataraja. With such hoary associations, it is not surprising that dance tops the list of pursuits that parents want for their children especially if the child is so inclined.

Image Courtesy: Kshetra Academy, Malaysia

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Pursuits and Passions The influence of dance on a child

If there is one thing that practitioners and children agree on, it is that being involved in dance results in immense confidence. Across exponents of various forms, this seems to hold true it may have to do with being the cynosure of many eyes from a young age. All dancers we interacted with radiated self-assuredness and a feeling of selfcontainment that was impressive. At a physical level, dance is an excellent way to achieve and maintain fitness; very few exercise routines can boast of the same benefits with respect to coordination, strength and endurance. Poise and grace are, of course, the icing on the cake! Emotionally, dancing helps by making children aware of their own feelings and motivations, and those of others, while also offering a structured channel of self expression. The various stories that form the narratives of dances expose the child to life experiences and perspectives that may not come his/her way otherwise.

Children and Dance

What dance can do for the child Teens Speak

Adarsh Chokkalingam 17-year-old pursuing Contemporary Western Dance for the last eight years

Well, I became really popular in school because of dance! I made lots of friends because of dance classes and rehearsals. I also felt my fitness levels improved considerably dance helped improve my performance in rowing and basketball.

Lakshmi Sekhar 18-year-old pursuing Bharatanatyam for the last 11 years

I think dancing has helped me be more confident on stage. Learning dance has also helped me find my roots it has made me appreciate music, art, language better. I think I have also learnt the value of discipline and commitment.

Learning Quotient
The important quality of sticking to a task until it is done. In dance, the child has to continue practice until a step or a dance sequence is mastered.

Exercises, yoga and rigorous practice are part of the training in ballet and Indian classical forms. These can be quite strenuous and need single-minded focus.

Allied arts
Since dance is a performance art, as the child progresses to advanced levels, she will gain an understanding of music composition and delivery, costume design, photography, acoustics and even stage design! Adarsh above vouches for the wide range of knowledge he has acquired in preparing for and participating in stage shows.

Life skills
Dance gives children the ability to set goals, design work plans and be able to work in a team.

Knowledge of a culture
Dance is a visual form of culture. The child gets to be a part of a culture when she performs. When a child learns dance, she learns to respect that culture, says Apsara Ram Gopal, a senior Bharatanatyam exponent.

Social skills
There is always an opportunity to meet, talk to and interact with a variety of people.

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Pursuits and Passions The process of becoming a dancer

When to begin
Children as young as three or four years old can start by moving their bodies in rhythm to the music. They can participate in dance without being a part of the formal classroom structure. Contemporary dance classes admit children as young as two and a half years - do read contemporary dancer Manikandan Thirumoorthys (of Temple Dance Company) interview to understand his experiences with such young children. Formal training in classical dance forms usually begins by the age of six, as children attain the recommended level of physical growth by that time. Comprehension skills are also somewhat more developed, attention span is better, and they are able to focus for the duration of the dance class.

Children and Dance

Experience of Dance Teens Speak

Initially dance was just fun; there was all the dressing up and the make up and the compliments - all these were very nice! As I grew older, it was very satisfying when my teacher explained the meaning and symbolism in dance. Gheetha Arumugam

22-year old pursuing Bharatanatyam for the last 16 years

I felt dance to be a part of me a wonderful way to express myself, a constructive activity, a channel for my creativity. Ramya Mallya

20-year-old pursuing ballet for the last 10 years

Which form to choose - classical versus modern, Indian versus Western?

Most Indian parents place a premium on classical styles, be it Western ballet or Indian Odissi. Our experts concur. I believe that pursuing a classical dance form gives you physical and mental discipline. If you learn ballet, for example, you will have to avoid junk food. Classical forms also give the child the ability to adapt once you are comfortable with classical, you can perform freestyle, contemporary and other forms with ease, says Manikandan. Ramya Mallya, an accomplished classical ballet dancer, has been part of a commercial dance company that does hip hop, contemporary and Bollywood styles. Flexibility and good postures are the outcomes of her ballet training which have helped in every dance form that she has pursued, she opines. What about the penchant for traditional Indian dances be it Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak or Mohiniyattam? Purists swear by Indian classical, in which a child learns to coordinate body movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions, in an almost unconscious fashion. Again, most exponents of classical forms we spoke to also valued the concepts of humility and respect for the teacher that are still upheld in these forms. This ethos resonates well with Indian parents, who are also more familiar with Indian music, to which Indian classical dance forms are performed. All these factors may enhance the comfort levels with Indian classical forms. That said, it is really about the childs inclinations parents could do well to learn a thing or two about Western Classical dance and music too! With increased globalisation, learning a Western art form may be useful for todays youngsters. Sandhya Manoj, an Odissi expert, feels that contemporary dance demands flexibility of the whole body and that youngsters can benefit from training in both classical and contemporary dance forms.

Image Courtesy: Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, Bangalore

Image Courtesy: Shona Dee Academy of Dance, Bangalore

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Pursuits and Passions

Children and Dance

Choosing the teacher/school

Parents must do some research before choosing a teacher or dance school that suits their needs as well as their childs. There are varying styles within a dance form Bharatanatyam has the Kalakshetra and Kalamandalam styles, for example. So, just to know that your child is learning Bharatanatyam may not be enough. If you dont know which style, it is like saying My child goes to school, but I dont know what second language is taught there, quips Sandhya Manoj.

to walk the tightrope of keeping involvement alive while not pushing the child. Ramya Nagaraj, Kathak exponent and Assistant Director at the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, has been trained in the pedagogy of dance for children how to teach dance in a way that the children like. She shares her experiences on how teachers deal with disinterest, On a day when the class seems to be uncooperative, we play games we ask the children to do ve different movements/ gestures and then a freeze/pose. These could be kathak or contemporary movements. Or, we ask them to act out a mythological character of their choice, or something from the scientic world like the Big bang theory. Having played the role of instructor for two years now, Adarsh Chokkalingam understands very well the challenges in dealing with young children and feels that at age eight, children more or less settle into their natural interests. No more coaxing may be needed, in class at least.

Dance in Education The Natya Institute works closely with Aditi Mallya International School, Bangalore in using dance as a medium to teach. Teachers identify the topics perceived as difficult, and these are presented to the children in the form of dance. For example, Kathak has many intricate permutations and children find it a relief to explore algebra through dance. The temples in Belur and Halebid were recreated by children in dance form they actually encapsulated the empire in one act in a dance performance and made learning history more interesting!

What to expect - see-sawing interest levels

In very young children (3-8 years), moods and motivations vary greatly. One day, they may be the picture of co-operation and interest, and on another, they may be reluctant and hold back. A lot of patience is needed in dealing with children of this age, and the parent has

What to insist on - Rigour

In classical forms such as ballet or Odissi, practice is considered essential and is insisted upon. This may be tough, especially in the initial years when the foundation is being laid the child does not really perform an entire dance, but only bits and pieces. Repetition of these steps may be construed tiring by the child and this is when the parent has to be at her persuasive best. In traditional dance, when the child starts learning, its not easy. Its like a jigsaw puzzle, the child learns different steps which are the individual pieces and then she puts it together. And that putting together comes much later. In Bharatanatyam for example, you begin by learning different adavus. Later, when you learn a jathiswaram, you see how they are put together, explains Apsara Ram Gopal.

Focus before expanding the repertoire

It is recommended that your child sticks to one form for some time before learning another dance form. Your child will need a good grounding in one form of dance. If one wants to learn more than one dance form, then Bharatanatyam with Kathak or Odissi with Kathak or Kuchipudi with Kathak may be advisable. Pursuing Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi along with Odissi will lead to confusion, as the two dance forms movements and postures are intrinsically different in structure.
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Image Courtesy: Temple Dance Company, Chennai

Pursuits and Passions

Parents Speak
Dr. Pramila Mallya
Teacher and mother of two girls who have been ballet dancers through their school years

Children and Dance

Dance and teen angst

Psychologically, dance was a good outlet for all the stress they went through as teenagers. It was a healthy outlet for pent up energy too.

Artist and Caterer and mother of Lakshmi Sekhar

Rekha Sekhar

My role in her dance journey

I support her by shuttling her for classes, helping with make up and getting ready and pushing her for practice, making sure she does her aramandi properly.

Navamani Krishnan

Home maker and mother of Gheetha Arumugam

Dance and Indian roots

In this time of globalisation, it is very easy to be swayed by the prevailing pop culture. By pursuing a traditional form of dance, there is a conscious and continuous influence of a cultural tradition.

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Pursuits and Passions

Children and Dance

Dance in Sync

Interview with Manikandan Thirumoorthy of Temple Dance Company Manikandan has been a professional dancer for about 10 years. He works closely with children, both teaching at schools and at Temple Dance Company. He is familiar with western dance forms (hip hop, jazz, tango), Tamil folk, freestyle and contemporary dance.
Please describe your work with children how young are they when they enrol? Children between 4 and 14 years come to my classes. The youngest so far have been two and a half to three year olds. With such very young children, I just let them watch the other children dance. Then, when I observe a child showing signs of interest, I ask the child to join in. I also ask the child to clap to the music; she then imbibes a sense of rhythm. Freestyle dancing is the next step. At around the age of seven, I start teaching specic styles like jazz and hip hop. Sometimes, even older children are withdrawn and do not join in willingly. They answer in monosyllables. After a class or two, they become comfortable with me. Till now, I have not come across a child who says I dont like dance class. So what is the magic in your approach? There is no magic. It is simple. I dont attempt to control them. I dont say, Stand here, dont go there. My only aim is that they should enjoy the class. They are not professionals, so I do not expect them to behave in that way! What are the biggest benefits of dance? Dance is a social activity; the children get a chance to mingle. This is why I do not encourage one on one classes. Learning dance in a group makes it easy for the child to learn they emulate better from someone their own size and age than someone much older, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall! Dance is a great way to express oneself. It is a good outlet for creativity. Sometimes I ask them to create a new step for a bit of music that I play. We also play games for example, when the music stops, I ask them to strike poses it could be animal poses. Children come up with new ideas that amaze me sometimes. Children also learn leadership skills I ask older children to teach young ones a few steps. They then understand how it is important to adopt the right approach, how to get things done without demanding or ordering. They also understand how difficult it is to teach! Lastly, children learn basic discipline. In my class there is loose structure so they have five minutes at the end of the class to talk about other things. They cannot interrupt when I am teaching a step, to tell me what happened at school. This basic discipline of when to do what is reinforced in dance. What should be the parents role? Do not force the child into any class though I do say that classical forms are very good, the teacher should be able to establish rapport with the child. Classical dance cannot be taught in a way similar to giving medicine to a child!

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Pursuits and Passions Dos and Donts for Parents

Children and Dance


Help your child balance academics with dance

Dance is a great way to relax and unwind. It provides the much needed break from studies. Instead of emphasising academics at the expense of dance, draw up schedules and help your child plan her day. My daughters have practised and attended classes even through their Board exams; ballet helped them perform better, as their minds got a muchneeded break, shares Dr. Pramila Mallya.

Provide exposure at home

Take your child to dance recitals, play dance music of all genres at home and narrate stories from legends and classics (both Indian and Western). These will form the perfect backdrop for your childs training in dance, and make the gruelling practice sessions bearable. She will also be able to better appreciate the narrative of the dances that she performs. Encourage older children to read books on dance. Watch outstanding dance sequences from movies (easily available on the internet) together. We have provided some suggestions in the Resources section.

Be a strong pillar of support

The more support there is from the home, the easier it is for the child, says Apsara Ram Gopal. Attend performances and if possible rehearsals and practice sessions. My parents did not discourage me when some rehearsals went up to midnight on some days, says Adarsh Chokkalingam. Be a source of constant encouragement. Make sure your child gets to classes and practice sessions on time. When you nd your child dejected about not being able to master a step or pose, cheer her on and urge her to practice.

Be involved and informed

It is important to know what your child is doing at class. Make sure you ask your child periodically what she is learning and if she is having fun. Ask the right questions and be well informed about upcoming recitals or practice sessions. This is especially important in the rst few years.

Manikandan Thirumoorthy


Apsara Ram Gopal The younger generation has so many distractions and there is so much peer pressure - it is not cool to do classical dance. Parents can counter this by ensuring that the home environment has classical music and dance too that it is not just one hour a week during dance class that they have this exposure.

While many parents take pride in saying that their toddler swings to Bollywood rhythms, how many say that their child sways to jazz? That is because movie tunes are everywhere. Parents should expose the child to a variety of music and dance forms at home.

Ramya Nagaraj


Sandhya Manoj Parents should take children to dance performances. Even if you are not familiar with the dance form, discuss the story or plot with your child. To start with, a young child may stay for about 20 minutes and then progress to longer durations.

Be it Bollywood or classical dance, parents should make sure that the children are enrolled in the right institute, that they get the right training. The teachers should be child friendly, the environment non-threatening and conducive to learning.

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Pursuits and Passions

Children and Dance


Be preoccupied with stage success
Not all children who pursue dance are given the lead role in the dance schools annual dance drama. In fact, a child who loves her dance class may have two left feet she may not be among her class top rated performers. Being involved in dance can lead your daughter to become a discerning member of the audience if not the star performer on stage. Some of our students go on to become singers, accompanying artistes, writers of scripts for dance dramas; the possibilities are endless, says Ramya Nagaraj.

Let your child quit easily

After the euphoria of the first few months, your childs excitement, involvement and interest may wane. Dont let her quit immediately; a little push until the child reaches some level of competence and comfort with the dance form is essential. This is because young children cannot make up their minds about whether they like a dance form or not. But remember that it should be a gentle push and not a forceful thrust. After you have reassured yourself that there is no major issue with the class schedules, teaching approach or environment, hang in there with your child until the phase passes.

Live vicariously through your child

You may have aspired to excel at Mohiniyattam, but your young child may be captivated by ballet instead. Do give in to your childs inclination. Some mothers are very ambitious for their children they force their children into dance to achieve all that they themselves could not that is not correct, says Ramya Nagaraj.

Place high stakes on your child

Just as you should encourage your child to pursue what she has undertaken, you should also remember that childhood is an age for exploration. Do expose the children to different pursuits and do not be crestfallen if they do not take to some of those. For example, Dr. Pramila and her spouse had also arranged for Carnatic music classes at home and Karate classes at school for their daughters. But their daughters found their passion in ballet and not these. If your child wants to try ballet, having seen the Barbie movies, or something else in the movies or television, do let her try, but keep your expectations in the realistic zone. In fact, I would advise you to buy expensive costumes and shoes only after she has continued ballet for about three months. cautions Shona DSa, noted ballet dancer and Founder of Shona Dee Academy of Dance. So do allow your child to explore dance as an art form, with no strings attached!

Shona D Sa
Ballet Some parents schedule outings and parties that clash with classes, they do not bring the children to concerts all these are de motivating factors for the interested child. Parents should be a pillar of support for their children.

Vatsala Sivadas
Bharatanatyam Parents should emphasise the importance of rigour. Some children may not be natural dancers, but they work hard and do better than the talented ones who are casual in their approach. It is all in the practice.

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Pursuits and Passions Myth versus Reality

Children and Dance

(with inputs from the experts)

If you stop dancing, you will gain weight This statement is true but not unique to dance. Any physical activity, if stopped after an extended period of time, will result in weight gain. A possible cause could be that food consumption remains at the same level as before, while activity levels drop. If your child stops dancing for any reason, you should ensure that she substitutes it with some other strenuous physical activity and also ensure that she eats healthy. Dance causes physical problems - knee injury, feet being turned out Some Indian classical dance forms do place stress on the knees. But warming up sufciently before practice, avoiding too much exertion, doing yoga and scheduling regular massages can help avoid knee injuries. Similarly, developing heightened body awareness will also help budding dancers avoid physical problems. Indian classical dance is only for girls Many famous forms of Indian dance - Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Odissi, Kathak - have reputed male dancers V.P. Dhananajayan, Raja Reddy, Uday Shankar, for example. Dance is only for good-looking people It is the grace and poise in the dance movements that make a performance beautiful. Any individual can become a beautiful dancer with enough practice and commitment. An impressive and expensive arangetram or ranga pravesha is essential Unfortunately, today the function has moved away from its original intent of being the rst public performance of a dancer to a platform for parents to outdo one another. Arangetram is just the beginning of a dancers journey, the rst milestone in her learning. Discerning parents have to reverse this trend by keeping to the spirit of this ritual and understanding that an arangetram is like any other celebration you can make it as simple or elaborate as you like. Western dance is easy, just bboying or hip hop A lot of prominence is given in school shows to bboying, which can be mastered in about six months, unlike jazz or contemporary, which require a lot of practice. Within Western dance forms, there are some that are more rigorous than others.

Understanding Bharatanatyam by Mrinalini Sarabhai Traditions of Indian Classical Dance by Mohan Khokar Amar Chitra Katha Books by Devdutt Patnaik World History of the Dance by Curt Sachs A book on the South Indian art form of Bharatanatyam A book on all the traditional art forms of India Stories from Indian Mythology and Indian History To understand Indian Mythology Style and socio-cultural significance of different dance cultures


(Sections of the movies where the dance performances are shown; entire movies may not be appropriate for young children.)
Step Up, Step Up 2 and Step Up 3 Shall We Dance Umrao Jaan (Hindi the 70s version) Devdas (Hindi the modern version) Shankarabharanam (Telugu) Swarnakamalam (Telugu) Street Dance Ballroom Dancing Kathak Kathak Bharatanatyam Bharatanatyam Saptapadi (Telugu) Sagara Sangamam (Telugu) Nache Mayuri (Hindi) Street Dance Black Swan Bharatanatyam Bharatanatyam Bharatanatyam Street Dance and Ballet Ballet

Samskriti documentary by Maya Rao Dances of Ecstasy a documentary

- With inputs from Divya Kolakada, 17 years, Selangor, Malaysia

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