My teaching philosophy has been shaped by holistic educators since before I realized the value of the term. For me, the idea of holistic means learning all parts of something, which involves the intersection of research, history, theory and praxis. When I grew up studying Bharatanatyam in Chennai, India, my guru Sudharani Raghupathy ran what she called a “research institution” called Shree Bharatalaya where she included mandatory music, yoga, Sanskrit, and dance history classes along with our movement study. As an eager seven-year-old who never lost stamina, the Sanskrit and theory classes always felt avoidable. I used to try and sneak out of the classroom and get gently pulled back in. Today, as I constantly have to work for stamina, I am most nostalgic for those moments where talking about dance aided my practice.
Thus, as an educator of dance, I always include exercises that involve other movement practices than Bharatanatyam, and a component of class that involves research or reading. Growing up, my education of Indian dance was fractured, fragmented by my trips to India because I never had a teacher in the United States where I grew up. I yearned to get back to Chennai where I could dance and only dance for hours at a time. I always felt that in my time away, I was missing something. I realized as a young adult that this experience might have had some benefits in my educational endeavors, because of my ability to talk through multiple worlds. Much of my teaching in the United States has been through advanced private lessons or workshops. In both these situations, I believe that my job as a teacher is not just to teach technique, but to provide a new perspective to students who have already had experience in Bharatanatyam. I tap into my holistic learning experience for this purpose. One experience with a student who wanted to learn choreography took a turn when our inquiry led to personal journaling and researching dance history as it impacted abhinaya. The lessons shifted; there was no teacher/student power dynamic because we were sharing and exploring expression together. I believe that holistic education can lead to unique teacher/student relationships.