Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kathak Dance

    The day that I checked in to Parmarth Niketan Ashram I noticed that in addition to the regular meditation, Vipassina, and yoga classes they also offered “traditional Indian dance” classes. Even though I had just arrived and wanted to settle in I couldn’t resist the temptation to attend a dance class, let alone an Indian dance class, let alone a free, or at least inclusive, dance class. How exciting!!!
    So I arrived at 2pm ready to be amazed. There was a small group of us, maybe seven or eight of us, but no dance teacher. Vicrum, one of the dance teachers showed up right on time, Indian time that is. He pulled out his tablas and established a beat for our dance. There were two ladies in the class that had a bit of experience with Kathak and Vicrum asked that we follow by their lead. My brain does better with specific instructions as well as demonstrations, but I was still game and did my best to follow suit. First the footwork- 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4. I didn’t really understand but just went with it anyways; fake it till you make it right?
    Then came the actions. Well this was also a challenge as the dance students we were supposed to be following had their backs facing us so we couldn’t really see them. So you look like a fool and try anyway. The beginning series of the dance starts off with no drums or harmonium just a voice and it is the most beautiful tune you have ever heard. I have always loved chanting, whether from mantras, or otherwise. I love choral and opera music and listening to the power of a voice. It amazes me. Hearing Vicrum and/or his wife, and the other Kathak teacher Nina, sing the opening tune made me feel the truest depth of life. It was as though any and every thought, feeling, assumption, or expectation I had had about India was now manifested in this one voice. All things felt whole, complete, and perfect and that I was meant to be standing in this room, with these people, learning Kathak dance. True, it felt true. . . .and amazing!
    In the opening tune the dancers stand in a prayer pose waiting for our cue to first give thanks to God, then give thanks to our dance teachers, finally to thank the audience for being present, left, right, and centre. After the opening sequence we move into just footwork with our hands locked in a posture. Then the dance begins with our teacher singing accompanied by tablas, and or the harmonium.
    In my first few days of class I had never been so dizzy in my entire life. There is a lot of spinning in Kathak, to my surprise. In one sequence we spin around nine times in a row, nine! I could barely make it to the ninth time and would usually stumble around afterwards trying to regain my balance and equilibrium. After a few days I did get used to it, but I also learned the trick; keep your eyes fixed on one point! When I spin I do close my eyes but open them upon my return to lock eyes with one point I have designated on the wall. I also learned better footwork. Instead of just spinning on my foot and potentially injuring my ankle, I simply take three steps in a circular fashion. Much simpler, efficient, and effective.
    Derhey derhey, or slowly slowly, I would pick up the steps, the spins, and the sequences. By my third day I had gotten the attention of my teachers. They noticed how fast I had picked up the steps and how well I performed them. This made me extremely happy. I have taken dance classes in the past but only once a week. Doing Kathak everyday made such a difference in terms of my pick up and execution. It is a lot harder to forget something that you are doing everyday and something you are truly enjoying!
    Once in awhile Vicrum or Nina would stop playing the music and give a demonstration of the dance moves, which helped immensely. By day four my teachers were asking me to demonstrate to the class! Woot woot I had gained status and respect!
    Everyday I would have my lunch early enough so my food was well digested and that I was ready for dance class at 2pm. Everyday I would have the largest smile on my face as I spun, stomped my feet, and held my fingers in the proper Kathak position. My arms would get so tired locking my hands and arms in the position for almost an hour. But I would push the pain aside and keep going. It was totally worth it!
    Then Kathak got even better. I got my first guingeroo, I have no idea how to spell this. Guingeroo are the anklets with little bells attached. So when you are stomping your feet to the sound of the tabla your ankles chime with little bells that reinforce the beat! I did finally get my footwork down and was able to get faster and faster. It was incredible! Although if I let myself get distracted I would screw up the rhythm and would receive a look of disapproval from Nina and Vicrum. They would always notice and never let me get away with any missteps. They were hardcore, that is for sure.
    Then Kathak had to come to an end. My days at the ashram were numbered and so I let my teachers know that my last class would be coming up. We arranged to do a performance with full dress, makeup, and dance sequence. I felt very honored as the entire class was dedicated to me. Everyone waited for Nina to doll me up in the back room; a golden dress, slightly different than a sari, hair pulled back and pinned up, heavy black eyeliner, and even a bit on my eyebrows to darken my fair features. Then came the bangles. I learned how one can cramp their hand down small enough to fit through a very small circle! At the time I didn’t have my ears pierced, so no earrings for me, but a decked out gold necklace along with a little drop, earring type decoration placed at the top of my forehead where the hairline begins. Of course the piece de resistance; a beautiful jewelled bindi. It was incredible. I felt like a princess. Then I danced.
    One of the other ladies in class filmed the performance for me, including Nina’s beautiful voice; so fabulous! I gave a performance and did fairly well. I screwed up a couple of times but not too bad considering I never really got proper instructions and teaching of the Kathak, Hahahahha. Also not too bad considering the entire length of my dance classes had been eight days at that point. Not too bad at all!
    On my last day of class my teachers gifted me with the dress I wore the day before as well as all of the jewellery that I wore. It was great. I had a great final class. Then walked arm in arm with Nina down the path to their motorbike.
    Such an incredible connection and experience. Taking the Kathak classes did a lot for me. It definitely inspired me and motivated to keep up with dance. I have always loved to dance and all different types of dancing. I have taken different types of dance classes through the years; ballet, jazz, African, Hip hop, Salsa, and now Kathak. Because I did so well and enjoyed Kathak so much I am seriously considering studying the dance once again, and, in time, teaching it. For one thing to bring me so much joy  and happiness is a treasure and is worth investing in!
    Thank you Parmarth Niketan, Nina, Vicrum, and my fellow class mates.


  1. Beautiful Steph! Can't wait for you to show me and teach me!! Love it!

    1. You got it sweets !!!! So excited to hear all about your travels as well. Sending much love from India to South America !!

  2. superb..............ur great...................

  3. I want to learn Kathak Dance, this is a Indian Classical Dance Style, where Can I learn this online.
    Carnatic Music Classes Online