The aim of this project is to introduce classical dance and music to children of various age groups through contemporary contexts. To this end, we use stories from various sources - mythology, popular culture, stories that pertain to social causes and most importantly, stories that reflect the lives of children in India today. We introduce these stories through interactive sessions during which children are led to explore movement and use these movements in short choreographies that they are encouraged to make on their own. In this way, they are not taught rigid choreographies but learn that art and movement are fluid. Interactive sessions also help children interact with classical dance and music in non-traditional formats. This will eventually lead to formal training alongside, if the children are then interested in pursuing dance seriously. While our focus is currently on children, we hope to expand this initiative to older age groups, thus building a community of dancers and/or rasikas who are interested and informed.
There are a few formats that we use in order to employ the stories effectively. When we have workshops of longer duration, i.e., 6-10 hours, we pick stories that the children can then present as solo pieces. Each workshop has a theme like water conservation or adventure. We start with a basic, general warm-up. This is followed by teaching them hand and body movements that are related to the story. If the story is about animals for example, we first encourage them to move as a specific animal, how they think it might move. Then, we teach them hastas (hand gestures) and movements from dance and ask them to combine them in ways they want to. In the next segment of the workshop, we narrate the story to them, and go through the emotions of the characters in each segment of the story. Then we teach them choreography for a story. After they learn the choreography, they are encouraged to substitute the movements with anything they would like to from what they were taught. In shorter workshops, we conduct interactive storytelling sessions, where we first explore movement with them, then perform a story for the children, with them joining us at segments where the movements might be used. The stories themselves are meticulously chosen, in order to make sure that they will be interesting and if possible, carry an underlying social message.
Note about authors: Anu Bhaskararaman is an internationally acclaimed Bharathanatyam dancer and theatre artiste and editor of Kaleidoculture, an online magazine. Lakshmy Ramakrishnan is a movement artist choreographer and teacher lives in Bangalore, exponent in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Kuchupudi.