Creating Global Movement; A Journey of Dance, Heritage, and Opportunity
This is the statement of purpose essay I wrote to the India/China Institute at the New school. While some of the details for this trip have changed, it sums up the story, and the motivation I had in making this trip happen.
Creating Global Movement;
A Journey of Dance, Heritage, and Opportunity
My grandmother was born in Basra, Iraq in 1930. During WWII her parents sent her and her sisters to St. Joseph’s convent school in Karachi, while it was still a part of colonial India. When Karachi was going to be bombed the nuns moved the girls to the Sacred Heart Convent in northern India. Every so often my grandmother recalls her childhood, and when she does, we listen. She remembers how the monkeys stole white linens from the clothesline and she remembers sneaking out of the convent at night with her sisters to dance with soldiers. Her greatest adventure brought her to New York. Here, in 1950’s NYC, she donned her high-heel dancing shoes and embraced American culture. She no longer resonates with the young girl who chased monkeys down the lane.
But I do.
I inherited my grandmother’s adventurous spirit. Yet my entire life has been an exploration of American culture—her coming here made that possible. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to experience India. It is one of those desires that manifested itself deep in the fibers of my body, shaping my being, waiting for an opportunity to burst forth and dance across the ocean. That opportunity has now presented itself with such deft and unequivocal perfection that I almost feel as if all the paths I have taken in my life have been guiding me, inevitably, towards this journey to India.
I spent my childhood in the luscious greenery of upstate New York where I received a highly alternative education. My family joined the Ulster Home Educators: a group of progressive and motivated parents who had decided to administer their children’s education. We students learned from a combination of curiosity, self-motivation, and real-world experience. Curricula were built around us with a great amount of care and thought. As a student of this hands-on, creative education model, I have found myself always looking for ways to incorporate my schooling experience into education systems which need innovative ideas, inspiration, and dedicated educators.
Dance was a huge part of my education. At age four, my mother enrolled me in lessons with a local dance institute called The Vanaver Caravan World Dance & Music Company. They are a family-like troupe with a mission to build a more globalized, nurturing, and peaceful world community by bringing people together through dance and music. The Vanaver Caravan (TVC) was founded in 1972 by Bill and Livia Vanaver, who together have traveled the globe, collecting folk traditions, and teaching world dance and music with the hope of fostering a common understanding between people regardless of their religious, national, or cultural mores. TVC has become an internationally acclaimed touring troupe and are official Ambassadors of Goodwill in multiple countries. I am now a principal dancer in their company, a member of their faculty, and a teaching artist for their school residencies. My lifelong experience with TVC is a the driving force behind my love of teaching children and my dream to nurture healthy, educated, and happy communities throughout the world.
Last winter, a women-run Indian NGO called Big Medicine Charitable Trust (BMCT) discovered The Vanaver Caravan. BMCT, which started the Greening India Project, is dedicated to creating sustainable education models, economic prosperity, and life enrichment opportunities to people within the developing heritage cities of India. BMCT has asked that The Vanaver Caravan fly to Udaipur, Rajasthan, India this winter to help build the Shakti Academy, a dance and healing-arts center for India’s gifted youth. The mission of this proposed dance academy is to provide a creative outlet for children and teens who cannot thrive in traditional school settings—seeking out and accepting students regardless of caste, sex, or means. Ultimately, this academy would aid in building sustainable job opportunities and education alternatives to the people in Udaipur. In addition to developing this academy, TVC would teach in local schools, and learn authentic Indian and gypsy dance styles in an ongoing cultural exchange. Many of us will stay on or return in the coming years. The groundwork for this partnership has been laid. Now all we need is the means to get there. Neither TVC nor BMCT have any of the funds necessary for this tour, so they have asked a small group of dedicated teachers and dancers to try and raise funds individually. In order to make it there I would need exactly $3,000. This is one of the reasons that I have come to ICI. Yet my reasons for connecting this trip with The New School extend far deeper than monetary requests.
I came to this University to enrich my understanding of the world, to become fulfilled within myself, and to discover opportunities for my future. When I arrived here, I immediately began looking for ways to link the New School with my extracurricular, dancing life. The development of this project in India has highlighted the fact that things in life connect rather miraculously. I have spoken to a number New School staff, expressing my interest in doing my senior fieldwork in India. So far, I have been met with nothing but support and excitement from the faculty and upper administration, who believe, as I do, that the development of the Shakti Academy would be a great connection to make for the New School—as each of these organizations harbor creative, progressive, civically engaged, and socially-just philosophies which align together beautifully.
When it comes to designing my research abroad, I will work with TVC, BMCT, and the Co-Chairs of the Education Studies department at Lang to create a senior project which focuses on the elements at Shakti Academy that tie into issues of social justice, human rights, intercultural education, and creative curriculum development. I would be staying on an additional two weeks, working exclusively with BMCT to develop a sustainable dance curriculum within Shakti Academy that can be replicated in other heritage cities.
I am often asked questions about the importance of dance. How can dance really make sustainable change? To this I answer confidently that dance is actually one of the strongest, most naturally sustainable forces in this world. It has evolved with people since the beginning of time, providing community enrichment, and often defining culture. The dances and songs that the Vanaver Caravan has learned have been passed down cross-culturally and cross-generationally for hundreds of years. This trip to India particularly highlights how sustainable and prosperous dance can be. We are not simply flying over there for few shows and a couple weeks of teaching; this is a long-term partnership with a mission to create a cycle of opportunity and creativity which draws upon the wealth of knowledge and pure joy that dance has to offer.
When it comes to this Fellowship, there are a few things which set me apart from other applicants in terms of requirements. I understand that many of the students applying will be doing their research over the summer and returning next fall. I graduate from The New School this May and my research would take place from the end of December ’11 through January ’12. However, I will continue to share my experiences in India with ICI and TNS far into the future. I would be thrilled to draw on the connections I make in India and be a resource for future students wishing to do this sort of work out in the world.
This is my project now, but it is really so much bigger than me. I know this journey will define my role in this world as a teacher and as an advocate for creative education and social justice. From the New School to Udaipur, I will carry all that I have learned about social research, civic engagement, and education reform and use my experience to build opportunities for children there, like my grandmother built for me here.