South Asian Dance Teachers' Forum at mac
7 April 2011
Sooraj Subramaniam reports from the event held in November 2010 at mac, Birmingham, in collaboration with Sampad
It was a crisp Sunday morning in late November, and I was piled in the back seat of our car on our road trip from London to Birmingham. Our mission: the mac in Birmingham where the first ever ISTD’s South Asian Dance Teachers’ Forum would be held. I was nervous and excited in equal measure.
We arrived in time to find a neat parking space, and ventured into the robust yet friendly buildings of the mac. Here we were greeted by Piali Ray, Director of Sampad, and some of the committee members of the ISTD’s South Asian Dance Faculty.
I was looking forward to warming my hands around a cup of hot tea. As participants arrived they were taken through registration formalities by Faculty Secretary, Nina Rajarani. Once everyone settled down we were formally welcomed by Sujata Banerjee, Chair of the ISTD’s South Asian Dance Faculty who also gave us an outline of the day.
The morning began with grade material demonstrations, showing the sort of presentation one would be expected to make in an examination. First, students of Jyoti Parwana and Chitraleka Bolar presented material from the Primary syllabus. The presentation showed how this non-genre specific syllabus could be specifically tailored for Bharatanatyam students. Following this we had a presentation of Grade 2 Bharatanatyam students of Smita Vadnerkar and finally a presentation of Grade 3 Kathak students of Pratap Pawar.
How closely could examiners adhere to guidelines when assessing candidates from different styles within the same genre? If presentation within styles were sufficiently distinct how would they demonstrate similar outcomes? How might it be possible to assess candidates of vastly differing ages (and presumably different movement facility and ability) who may be sitting for the same grade exam? My mind was abuzz. A rumble from my stomach, however, denoted that further discussion could only proceed after some nourishment.
After lunch, Nina Rajarani gave a brief overview of the practicalities surrounding the application process for teachers wanting to have a private examination session at their centre. We then separated into our respective classical genres for skill sharing and discussion on the syllabus content. The Bharatanatyam group was led by Chitraleka Bolar and the Kathak one by Sujata Banerjee. The groups discussed the merits of the syllabus in light of the vocabulary that was used to teach the students.
We looked at the various grade specifications, and what they meant in practical terms for teachers and students. The general precept was that even within styles the syllabus is meant to lay a broad framework for teaching and assessment, with ample allowance being made for individual detail of style and flavour. This meant that the syllabus would be overarching rather than prescriptive. Having only recently completed my own Advanced One Bharatanatyam examination I saw how the fence that principled the syllabus was not impervious to adaptation for individual candidates’ circumstances. My earlier disquiet was beginning to be sated.
The two groups reconvened to attend a talk by Sarah Combes, Head of Education and Training at the ISTD. She spoke about ISTD qualifications and how they would equate to those in mainstream education. The increased necessity to procure certified qualifications in teaching was seen as a move to bolster dance education with more gravity. While I imagined that this would sap some of the joy from teaching dance for its own sake, I could appreciate the need for such bastion in the climate of our sceptical society. The skeletal consolation would be that I, as a fledging dance tutor, would have the endorsement of an international organisation to demonstrate to students (and their parents) that I was indeed properly qualified to deliver quality dance education. Thankfully, Sarah explained away much of the jargon surrounding the qualifications, and demystified the process to attain such credentials.
The day was brought to a conclusion with the performance of vocational level material presented by students of Pushkala Gopal. Nina Rajarani followed this with an indication of the type of questioning that could be expected in an examination of this level.
I was replete with information, awash with technicalities and semantics of dance assessment. These, however, were innocuous in light of the quiet satisfaction and sentimentality that I had shared with fellow dance enthusiasts.
Sooraj Subramaniam, Dance Tutor, SRISHTI – Nina Rajarani Dance School