“The best teachers are those who can change their own minds.”

I am not sure about the origin of this quote, but every day I become more aware of ways that I can change my tactics as a dancer, researcher, and teacher. When I was exclusively teaching Bharatanatyam in a studio to Indian American students, I had a different awareness of my role as a transnational practitioner of the classical Indian art form. When I learned tools in the classroom from Teach for America, I learned quickly about the impact of race, class, and inequality on educational structures.

Today, in the Critical Dance Studies program, I hold these experiences in me as a woman of color trained in Bharatanatyam and teaching in a University setting. Below are some of the ever-changing values that I have collected thus far. I acknowledge that these values continue to be unsettled: when does holistic education lose focus? When do I choose to be strict and when am I more relenting? How do I define rigor in a classroom? These are questions I continue to ask, which lead me to realize so far that there is no absolute answer with education.

Preethi loves collaboration, open discussions, and various opportunities to teach and perform.

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Teaching Dance: The Holistic

“This experience might have had some benefits in my educational endeavors, because of my ability to talk through multiple worlds.”

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.

Teaching Dance: The Holistic

“This experience might have had some benefits in my educational endeavors, because of my ability to talk through multiple worlds.”

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.

Teaching in a Classroom:  Warmth

“I realized that art and collaboration was immensely helpful in teaching in a classroom”

In my early 20’s I taught mathematics and special education briefly for the New York City public schools, through Teach for America. This experience revealed to a greater extent my commitment to the “holistic.” I saw, first of all, that teachers need longer training periods and a more intense investment in teaching than what some TFA training and support offered. I also realized that art and collaboration, which I had gained experience in with dance and music, was immensely helpful in teaching in a classroom, despite the fact that I was constantly being measured by test scores and standardized lesson plans.

It also reminded me of my high school speech and debate coach, Mr. Y. Once when I was going through a rough time, he called me for a meeting. He said: “Anytime you want to come in here for support, this is a safe space to rant, bang your head on a desk, or anything.” At the time, this was a cathartic moment for me, especially as an insecure senior in high school. Remembering Mr. Y’s investment in my education while I was in TFA reminded me that not just working hard, but demonstrating warmth is vital particularly for students who are struggling with issues beyond school.

Goals:  Rigor

“This is the aspect of education that continues to shape me as an artist, through the political movements that mobilize and unite us, that make dance and music a constant source of growth.”

In my personal experience, I have learned that implementing the holistic and warmth also demands rigor from students and myself.  Recently, while I was teaching an introductory class on dance at UC Riverside, I took on the challenge of discussing Indian rhythmic cycles and how they differ from Western key signatures.  This lesson made me nervous because I was acknowledging that knowledge bases are not all the same.  Still, I asked students to participate by discussing music they know and also showing them common Indian dance patterns.  This led to a very interesting discussion which was productive and foregrounded our movement exercise.  I thought the idea of holistic training (showcasing the value of music in a dance class), along with openness and warmth where I engaged with students on their personal relationship with music led to a more rigorous conversation than the result of my asking them to take notes.

Rigor also represents the constant work that teaching entails for me as a personal endeavor:  a continuous response to the political, historical, economic, and societal factors that education dialogues with.  This is the aspect of education that continues to shape me as an artist, through the political movements that mobilize and unite us, that make dance and music a constant source of growth.

Goals:  Rigor

“This is the aspect of education that continues to shape me as an artist, through the political movements that mobilize and unite us, that make dance and music a constant source of growth.”

In my personal experience, I have learned that implementing the holistic and warmth also demands rigor from students and myself.  Recently, while I was teaching an introductory class on dance at UC Riverside, I took on the challenge of discussing Indian rhythmic cycles and how they differ from Western key signatures.  This lesson made me nervous because I was acknowledging that knowledge bases are not all the same.  Still, I asked students to participate by discussing music they know and also showing them common Indian dance patterns.  This led to a very interesting discussion which was productive and foregrounded our movement exercise.  I thought the idea of holistic training (showcasing the value of music in a dance class), along with openness and warmth where I engaged with students on their personal relationship with music led to a more rigorous conversation than the result of my asking them to take notes.

Rigor also represents the constant work that teaching entails for me as a personal endeavor:  a continuous response to the political, historical, economic, and societal factors that education dialogues with.  This is the aspect of education that continues to shape me as an artist, through the political movements that mobilize and unite us, that make dance and music a constant source of growth.