Aerden (aerden) wrote,

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Tonight, I attended a reception at the Lighthouse of Houston for a company of five dancers from India who have various degrees of visual impairments, from low vision to total blindness. These dancers are in town to perform in Stafford, Texas Friday night. They will perform Panchavaktram, a ballet portraying how Lord Shiva and Shakthi created the universe out of the void, using the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and space. Please note, when I say 'ballet,' what I really mean is classical Indian dance.

The reception was faxcinating because the dancers gave a demonstration of how they are taught new choreographies and hand gestures for their dances.

They use ankle bells to determine each others' positions, and they are able to move about the stage with impressive synchronization. Before they perform or even practice for the first time, they and their instructor pace off the stage from front to back, right and left, and as they do so, they determine the size and shape of the dance space.

They have been dancing together for twenty years, and they come from the south of India. I believe two of them are totally blind, and the other three have low vision. Their instructor teaches them new steps and hand gestures by feel. They seem to learn while standing in a circle, before they start learning the figures of each dance.

Now, the way they taught us was, 'Get in a circle and start to move, and while you're moving to the music, we'll teach you the dance.' I didn't really care for that method, but I'm presuming it was the quickest and easiest way to get audience involvement. The way I prefer to learn is, first you learn the steps, then you learn the figures, then you perform the dance without music, then you do it with music. And then you practice like crazy until performance time. I'm presuming that's closer to the way they do it when they don't have to get an audience to participate with them.

We learned a couple of basic steps, similar to what I know from medieval dance. One, I considered a demarche in place, which you can do standing in one spot or moving to the right, in a circle.

Forward right foot - lunge down and forward; clap your hands
Back left foot
back right foot - straighten; clap your hands
Forward left foot
Forward right foot - lunge down and forward; clap your hands

Basically, your left foot stays in one place, and your right foot moves. For circle dances, you move the 'back right foot' slightly to the right each time.

They performed two dances--one seemed to be a piece from Panchavaktram. The other might also have been from the ballet; but the first was more obviously so. The first was about fire and featured movement about the stage; the second might have been about earth, because the dancers stood in poace.

The second dance was a combination of six steps or rhythms, in which the dancers pretty much stood in place and moved their feet very fast. I likened it to belly dancing with the feet--that's how fast they were moving. It was sort of like tap-dancing, but the dancer remained in one place, and the feet moved at warp nine. In a way, it also reminded me of Irish step-dancing, the way the dancers kept so still, except for their feet and legs.

I would have loved to have sat and talked with those guys and learned more of their steps than I could from mere observation, though I did get up and join in the audience part. I've wented to get back into dancing for a while. I hope I get to see the ballet, sometime.

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