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From \”The life of Pi\” to a journey into dance

We sometimes see a beautiful sunset, a movie that touches us, or the waves of the ocean crashing against the rocks and something inside us is moved. We get an inspiration to pursue a dream, to learn something new, to overcome our limitations. For many of us, what happens afterwards is that we slide back to our normal self, we fit back into the normal rhythm of our life and it is only months, years later that we suddenly remember there was something forgotten along the way, and the regret lingers for a long time.
But for others, once the seed of the dream is planted, it sprouts to life with glittering joy, and the journey is unstopped till somehow, the forces of the universe join hands and help turn the intention to reality. To quote William Blake: \” What is now proven was once only imagined\”.
Today I want to share a story from this second category, of dreams realized.
More than a year ago, a 14 year old girl from Ellsworth, Fiona Tucker, saw a movie called \” The Life of Pi\”. In the beginning of the movie there is a beautiful scene featuring a Bharata Natyam class, in which two girls are dancing and also explaining the meaning of the gestures. Most people barely remember the few minutes scene. Fiona was very interested and wanted to learn more about the dance style. She did not know what dance style it was, nor could she find a dance teacher in the area. For her 8th grade project, she had to pursue an interest, document the process and give a 20 minute presentation  of it in front of the entire school (the Bay School in Blue Hill, near Ellsworth) close to the end of the school year.
The interesting part is that last September, we went to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Me, to help teach meditation at the Sahaja Yoga meditation stand which we have every year. Fiona\’s mother, Jody came and experienced meditation and then started talking to Archana(who was teaching meditation) about her daughter\’s interest in Indian dance. It was a happy coincidence- Archana told Jody about me and it happened that we came to the stand soon after. Few weeks after, Fiona came to us for her first dance class. As Ellsworth is 3,5 hours drive away from our house, it was quite an adventure for Fiona\’s parents, Jody and Stephen, to drive all through the winter. Some of the classes happened via Skype, which was very helpful with our long winter.

The need for a sari for the dance presentation became obvious early on, and another happy coincidence took place: Fiona\’s kindergarten friend was just going to visit India with her family, and agreed to bring back a sari for her project.
On May 12th, we had the joy of attending Fiona\’s presentation. In the audience was the entire school, Fiona\’s amazing grandmother (who at 87 has more energy and humor than many of our peers), my family and of course this very proud teacher.
In some ways Fiona reminded me of myself many years ago: I was 15 when I had my first Bharata Natyam dance class and was trying to find out everything possible about the dance, its history, technique and so on. Exploring Bharata Natyam in 2014 has the unique advantage of technology: one can now learn the style via Skype, read about the dance and even order the book and jewellery through a website.

After the presentation: All went well!

There is a very positive aspect in pursuing something despite the obstacles: it makes you realize its value, it ultimately helps one become aware of your inner strength and that is a lesson that carries on in other areas of one\’s life.  In today\’s world of immediate satisfaction, where so many things are instantly available at the click of a button, it takes even more patience and concentration to learn a classical dance style. At first, learning is hard and tiring, and one cannot see the grace and refinement that is to be achieved.  Much like a farmer planting a seed and then having to wait while the seed germinates and then slowly brings forth those magical first two leaves, then two more, the student has to learn the first Adavus (dance steps), and practice them again and again. While it does not look much like the beautiful  dance choreographies that are later explained, those first initial steps are essential for they are the roots of the dance.
Here are some images from Fiona\’s presentation and the joy after it all turned out great.

After a mere 8 months of intense learning, Fiona gave an informed and witty speech, rich with personal experience and documented photos. She performed a complete dance item, Natesha Kautuvam, and then answered the many questions that were asked by members of the audience. As mr Springer, (Fiona\’s teacher who coordinated the projects of all 8th grade students) said, these are presentations of interests pursued. He asked the audience how many of us had dedicated time and energy to explore a new interest in the last year.  It was very inspiring to see how earnestly students studied and documented their subject of choice, and how they explained their journey to us. The morning had began with the project of Walter Lange, who studied glass blowing and explained the complicated process involved in making the simplest glass or plate. Walter is a very good speaker, as he told us personal anecdotes and experiences and made us chuckle a few times.

Walter Lange, mr Springer and Fiona Tucker 

Overall, it was a joy to mentor Fiona for this project, and also to get to know her and her family. It is not often that I meet such dedicated parents, willing to literally go the extra mile to help their daughter pursue her dream.

The proud parents Jody and Stephen with Fiona

3 Generations: Jody, Fiona and Grandma Jeannie Wolford

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  1. How amazing it is to transform beginners into performers. Truly a great work of art and kudos to your dedication towards bringing this traditional art form in the west. Beautiful!!

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