South Asian Dance Teachers’ Forum Report
3 October 2012
Anusha Subramanyam reports from the Forum held at ISTD2 Dance Studios in May
It was the 13th of May and I had just entered the reception area of ISTD2 Dance Studios in London. The studio was buzzing with dancers and you could feel the excitement. The South Asian Dance Faculty of the ISTD periodically organises Forums for opportunities to network and share skills. This was one such event, attracting teachers from across the UK to be introduced to the dance examination route available throughout the ISTD. As a dance practitioner who has been regularly involved with the ISTD’s South Asian Dance Faculty since its inception, I am excited to see the progress the Faculty has been making, every year continuing to expand and develop its role within dance training.
Following registration, the event started with the Faculty Chair, Sujata Banerjee, giving us an introduction to the ISTD and its South Asian Dance Faculty. She talked us through the rationale for the ISTD’s Kathak and Bharatanatyam syllabi, with very valuable input by Vice Chair, Pushkala Gopal.
Sujata’s talk on the value of the ISTD qualifications in relation to mainstream education as well as the new proposed conversion route to a degree was for me personally, truly exciting. I feel that people will understand the commitment required for working towards the ISTD examinations if they can grasp the potential range of qualifications available. For the South Asian community, working towards graded examinations with clearly defined goals and levels of attainment is something that they will find of value. For me as a tutor, the examination process gives me a structure to work within and the students a sense of development and progress.
I feel that there is the potential for overall dance standards in the UK to rise, thanks to these examinations, and the ISTD has an opportunity to attract many more dance tutors as its members. The talk by Sujata Banerjee raised the desire within the community to get engaged with the ISTD examinations.
Then we saw mock examination presentations of both the lower Grades as well as Vocational levels. This was truly informative and inspiring, and one could see young, future professional South Asian dancers emerging through the ISTD route. The presentations gave us a sense of the requirements and the possibility of achieving these well within each of our means. The fact that there were other tutors in the room who were sharing their experiences gave me the sense that we were learning together and sharing each others’ successes and challenges.
Over lunch we had time for nibbles and networking, an opportunity to re-connect with old friends and make new contacts.
This Forum was also special as it was delivered in partnership and collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) for South Asian and Contemporary Dance, for which Anita Srivastava is the Project Manager for Outreach.
Louise O’Hanlon, Programme Manager for the CAT, explained how the project identifies and selects potential students and builds a collaboration with local dance teachers who are identified as the ‘Home Tutors’ for the young person. Louise discussed the CAT’s core curriculum and how the intensive dance workshops are delivered to students at the DanceXchange in Birmingham. There was also a brief discussion on the new development of the mentoring scheme that CAT has recently started to support the work of community dance tutors wanting to explore their personal development. The programme aims to help tutors link up with existing support networks and apply for developmental funding as well as engage in collaborative projects.
After this talk, we were joined by Imogen Walker, Dance Science Researcher, based at Trinity Laban, London. Imogen used her involvement in a three-year research project with all the CATs across England, to talk to the group about safe practice in dance training and how to protect young dancers from injury. This opportunity to cover aspects of the 'Health and Body Conditioning’ or ‘Anga Suddhi’ parts of the ISTD syllabi, was a real bonus. I feel that dancers’ health and body conditioning is still an area of expertise for which South Asian dancers need much support. The data gained in Imogen’s research helped identify when injury was more likely to occur and how tutors can help guard against over-training. Imogen concluded her talk with suggestions for websites that tutors could use to find further information on safe practice and how to download copies of the full research document ‘Passion, Pathways and Potential in Dance’ at www.foundationsforexcellence.org.
For me the investment I made in the time and effort to attend the Forum was well worth it as I came away invigorated and excited about continuing my work with young dancers.
There were many senior artistes present like Sujata Banerjee, Anusha Subramanyam, Nina Rajarani MBE and Pushkala Gopal amongst others, who gave us an insight to the ISTD. I personally feel lucky to have met these people who have spent their invaluable time and effort in promoting the art forms of Kathak and Bharatanatyam.
The Forum was great. The insight provided by senior members of the South Asian Dance Faculty was much needed, especially for someone like me who is very new to the ISTD and in fact the UK itself! What I liked most is that there exists a well-structured curriculum which helps all teachers and students to maintain standards, just the same way as how we learn in India.
We have recently started training students in the Classical Dance form of Bharatanatyam. As we had no experience of what to expect during the ISTD assessments, the Forum proved a valuable opportunity to clarify our doubts and hence prepare ourselves to guide the students appropriately. We found everyone at the Forum very forthcoming with information. Also the demonstrations gave us a better idea of how to prepare the children.
The South Asian Dance Teachers’ Forum was refreshing throughout the day as various aspects were tackled, such as syllabi and their rationale, ISTD qualifications in relation to mainstream education, the presentation and compilation of examination material for various grades, skills sharing on recent syllabi revisions as well as body conditioning.
The Forum conducted by the ISTD’s South Asian Dance Faculty was exemplary to say the least. The Faculty, comprising Bharatanatyam and Kathak stalwarts, shared their rich experience and interacted with participants in a friendly yet professional manner. I would strongly recommend this networking opportunity to dancers who are keen on honing their pedagogy skills. I can't thank the Faculty enough for the fantastic experience!