It has indeed been challenging times over the last few months. Needing to adjust our lifestyle for our safety and others became the requirement. As I break for summer term, I thought this would be the best time to reflect on my ‘#lockeddown dance teaching and learning’ experience. And the first thing that came to my mind was ‘it was not too bad’. Thanks to technology, I was able to continue my work online. When the community halls that I hired for my lessons emailed me mid-March that they were going to shut down, I was lost. Some of my students had applied for their grade exam. What would happen to them? I have not yet finished with their syllabus; how would I continue now? Well then, I thought let me take an early Easter break and figure it out in peace. Later when I saw posts of other dance teachers moving online with their classes, that motivated me.
I was skeptical to go online though. There were a lot of questions troubling me. With most of my students being children below the age range of 11, will they like dancing alone in their homes? They used to have fun when the lessons were at the hall; teamwork, games etc. How can I make online learning interesting? Moving from a 3D to a 2D version: how can I be sure that they understand the movements especially front extensions, the way in which arms need to be held etc. I knew that I will not be able to focus on the children if I had the same number as a normal session on one screen. I then split them up into groups of 4 or 5. More the groups, more the time I have to spend in front of the screen, but I did not mind. Next step was to check with parents if the new timings and terms were convenient. Although there were parents and students who were not sure if it would work, we decided to give it a go.
We went online early April. I still remember the blank and curious faces of the children on the first day not sure what to expect. As expected, there were a few hiccups initially; problems with connection, to find a space to cover the full body from head to toe as much as possible, curious younger siblings and pets etc. I remember once there was one child who could not get connected to zoom. I got her to join via WhatsApp video call, placed my phone next to my laptop and had a normal class 😊. WhatsApp groups for each class was created, videos and notes were shared promptly and even tried to keep those who could not join online lessons in the loop. The lag was quite annoying though, to not know if the dancers were dancing in rhythm. So sometimes I made them say the chollukettu (syllables for the step) and dance or asked them to send videos. Slowly we all started enjoying these lessons. ‘Your Students are your best teachers’. We started doing story time; creating a story using movements and hand gestures. It was fun to see how the kids came up with new hastas for their characters. Quizzes were conducted. We began with a lot of jumpy warmups. Sometimes I had to stop them from exploring too much of the hand wave, thumbs up, changing background screen icons in zoom. In fact, some came with a feedback that they preferred online to hall classes because it was less noisy 😊. Some were disappointed when I said we were going to break for summer. Anyways, we finished this term on a happy note with a summary of what we learnt so far, a few fun tasks, a Bharatanatyam board game, the mandatory end of term clicks and wishing everybody that we meet at the dance hall in September.
I am eternally grateful to the parents for supporting their children’s dance education, despite their own busy schedule of working from home. They made sure their system was set and the kids were on time for lessons, found the perfect angle for their tablets and phones, sometimes even held it most of the time, followed up with homework etc. And now helping the children with their online grade exam due next month.
There were a few shows which we all looked forward to performing. Unfortunately, they had to be cancelled which is disappointing. It is of course going to be a new challenge when the halls open and we dance together under the same roof. That is going to be my summer task to figure out how to dance safely. Overall, I cannot complain. I am thankful to be privileged enough to have access to other ways of teaching, whereas many dance teachers struggle to run their livelihood without any other alternative way to teach dance. At the moment, praying for a better tomorrow. “Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu” !!