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Student Experience in World Dance Program
Student Experience in World Dance Program Rohini Dandavate, Ph.D September 15, 2001
Universities in the United States of America (U.S.) are increasingly seeking to help students develop cultural sensitivities by offering courses that allow students to understand diverse cultures through the arts. It is observed that the ability to grasp meaning and interpret diverse cultural beliefs and practices can be initiated through the experience of dance movement and the other streams of the arts. World dance Programs in departments of dance in universities like the Ohio State University (OSU), Denison University, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the Wesleyan University in Connecticut to name a few, provide courses that combine theory and practice of diverse cultural artistic expressions, offering opportunities for performance, movement studies, dance theory and arts pedagogy. Practicing artists and scholars from nonwestern countries are invited to teach. The world arts and cultures concentration emphasize cultural studies through visual and performance arts and the dynamics of creativity in global perspective. This paper presents and discusses the observations of a study conducted to understand the student experience of learning Odissi dance, an Indian classical dance form in one of the colleges in the U.S.
Background The Association of American Colleges and Universities has drawn initiatives to ensure that every undergraduate student experiences a relevant and challenging general education curriculum. The General Education Curriculum (GEC) is a set of requirements for all students pursuing undergraduate studies. It is an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum that both complements and supports the students’ preparation in their field of specialization and helps students maximize their individual potential. Students develop understanding, appreciation, and acceptance of multiple “ways of knowing” (i.e., artistic, literary, philosophical, historical, scientific) through the acquisition, organization, and analysis of specific bodies of knowledge. They are encouraged to acquire aesthetic and appreciative faculties, to explore and test their own values and ethical frameworks, and to demonstrate sensitivity to diverse perspectives and cultures. Under the purview of the GEC initiative, a college in Ohio offered two courses in Odissi dance to undergraduate students as a part of the World Dance Program, in the Department of Dance for a period of 15 weeks. The parameter of the World Dance Program is “to expose students forms beyond American Modern dance and Ballet Students. Because knowledge is culturally contextualized, we believe the body and its physical practices serve as indicators of cultural identity. To this end it is vital to study not only the physical practice (which is described as technique class), but also to study the analytical practice which is represented in academic lectures, discussions and adherence to mainstream theories and methodologies”. In sync with this objective, one of the courses offered students the experience of the Odissi technique. The second course led students to investigate the historical, aesthetic, religious, social, political, economic and ecological foundations and accomplishments of Indian culture through its dance forms, both classical and folk. The investigation occurred alongside the study and experience of the Odissi dance technique.
Participant Information There were 14 students in the Technique Course and 8 in the Honors Course. All the 14 students from the technique class and 5 students from the honors class participated in the assessment. From the group of nineteen students, two were dance majors while three had dance as a minor. The non-dance majors chose to enroll for these courses to fulfill the General Education Curriculum requirement. The students who had enrolled for these courses had varied hobbies and interests like playing both outdoors & in-doors games, practicing music, learning other dance forms, participating in community involvement activities & helping in after school activities for school children, travel, photography, reading and writing. The non-Indian students opted to take the Odissi courses to learn about India and its other dance styles, to try something different and unique, for fitness purposes and to broaden their horizons of information and to understand their own physical abilities and limitations. The Indian students wanted to learn more about India and its dance forms. Method of Research: Each student was given a scrapbook to record feelings and thoughts at different times during the course of fifteen weeks of training. The idea was to observe the progression of the student experience of learning Odissi and analyze its impact on their thinking, feelings, and change they observed in themselves at the end of the 15 weeks, on the completion of the course. Findings Curiosity about a different culture was a primary driver in students for selecting this course. According to Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized authority on brain development, curiosity is the fuel for development. The process of development as he describes begins by being curious and progresses in the following manner:
curiosity more exploration exploration
This diagram illustrates how curiosity motivates exploration, which in turn leads to discovery. Discovering something new gives pleasure and so the human mind aspires to repeat the experience. Repetition aids in gaining mastery of new skills, raising confidence, and self esteem. High self esteem of oneself provides a sense of security and this propels further exploration. I chose to use Dr Perry’s model to explain the findings of the study because the responses of the students fell in line with this process. Responses in the scrapbook indicated that majority of the students enrolled in these courses because they were curious to learn about a different culture. This trait can be attributed to the changing demographics of America. American communities are becoming more and more multicultural. In classrooms, neighborhoods, workplaces we find a wide variety of cultural representation and people are curious to know about different cultural practices. It was also observed that though these courses were offered in the department of dance, majority of the students who enrolled were non-dance students. They came from varied fields of study namely Social Sciences, Humanities, Formal Sciences, Profession and Applied Sciences. The students were curious about another culture, its philosophy and the psychology. Most of the students reported that
they did not see a direct connection with their major/minor program of study but were looking for broadening their cultural understanding through the study of Odissi dance. The desire to know something different inspired students to participate. The other commonly cited reason for taking this course was to fulfill their General Education/Honors/Elective requirement. The GEC provides a foundation for professional success. Courses offered under GEC are designed to aid students in learning to think critically, make rational decisions, and communicate effectively. These skills support their ability to acquire, evaluate, and use the specific knowledge in their field of specialization and also ensure that they will be adaptable and flexible in changing circumstances in their careers. In the process of learning Odissi students got the opportunity to think about their own values and perspectives while comparing it to the Indian values and practices. They learned to use their bodies differently, which also revealed their limitations and abilities. The desire to explore led to developing appreciation for the Indian culture. Most of the students noted in their scrapbooks that they were overwhelmed and confused at the end of the first class and yet decided to continue learning. By the seventh week, students felt challenged and frustrated by the complexity of learning the new style yet they tried hard to keep up. By the end of the course almost all felt pretty good about themselves and about what they learned. This comfort level towards the end of the class showed that repetitive lessons helped them master the skill. Like Dr Perry suggests regular rehearsals led to mastery. Acquiring proficiency in the novel skill of Odissi dance raised their confidence level and self esteem. Students wrote that “Overall the value derived from this experience was the ability to understand and accept the unfamiliar”. Most students said they would be less hesitant in seeking unfamiliar experiences from other cultures in future. While students experienced the technique of Odissi and learned to recognize and interpret cultural meanings and symbolism, the
instructor received the opportunity to understand the needs of the students in the western world and teach while being sensitive to their curiosities and learning styles. This response briefly and aptly describes the experience of learning Odissi. She wrote: “ The Odissi course experience has influenced me on several levels. First, it gave me a window into another culture. Secondly, it taught me to be more in tune with my body and attentive to my movements with a focus on being graceful. Third, I will be more empathetic toward people who are struggling to learn something new because I struggled. I will try to think out varying my teaching style when I instruct people on any subject matter”. 17 of the 19 students felt their personal objectives were met and offering these courses at regular intervals will help build upon this experience. They also expressed that fifteen weeks, the time allotted was not enough. References: Source: http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/curiosity.htm#bio
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