Life Without Dance

Life Without Dance

For all of my previous blogs I have talked about dancing and all it has done for me and for others, but for this final blog I would like to reflect on what life would be like without it. As challenging as it is to even think that it is possible, I am sure it once was. Imagine if every time you spun around it was as if you were walking in circles without it ever surmounting into a twirl. For some of us dance has been our only outlet, but at several instances throughout history, dance either did not exist or was banned.

Throughout history there have been many legal or religious prohibitions against dancing, which have been applied in numerous places around the world at a variety of instances. For example, in Islamic countries, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and India throughout parts of history and for some countries, even today, dancing was or still is banned either on certain religious holidays or sometimes overall as it is thought to be promiscuous or against God’s wishes. In all Islamic countries, throughout all of their history, dancing between unmarried men and women is thought to be haram or forbidden, but in Germany the laws are less severe. Dating back to the Middle Ages, and even today, dancing is banned on religious holidays that are meant for mourning or contemplation. In fact, dancing on Good Friday is illegal in 13 of Germany’s total 16 states. While people will not be arrested for dancing, venues that host events in which dancing or celebration are involved can be fined with over 1000 Euros. In Indian history as well, many forms of dancing were frowned upon or banned as they were thought to be promiscuous. In Sweden, even today public dancing is forbidden regardless of the season. Many even say that tapping your feet to music is illegal. As for Japan, since the 1940s dancing at nightclubs transformed into hotbeds for prostitution and thus dancing is viewed very negatively by many of the country’s officials. Furthermore, dancing after midnight was banned for 67 years after the end of World War II, and it was only recently, in the June of 2015 that this ban was lifted. In Kuwait, there is still a very strict policy for behavior in concert scenarios in which barely any movement is allowed aside from clapping one’s hands and swaying slightly. In 2012, the Taliban massacred 17 innocent men at a party in Afghanistan because they were listening to music and dancing. Even today, due to the Taliban many Islamic countries have forbade their women from dancing although in modern times most other countries have rid themselves of these laws.

After conducting this research, I was shocked by the number of countries that not only had bans on dancing in the past, but also still do. Dancing is acknowledged as the universal language of the body, and life without it seems unimaginable for thousands of individuals, myself included. Thus, during this month of thanks, I am thankful that dancing is not banned where we live so that it can be used as an outlet of expression that results in peace and tranquility for all those who need it. As someone great once said, “Dance is a way to find yourself and lose yourself…all at the same time” and I hope all of you get a chance to feel that way in your life, whether it is through dancing or not.

Dancing to Relieve Stress

Dancing to Relieve Stress

During this time of the semester every course seems to be progressing at full speed with exams around every corner. At this point, one of the best words to describe our daily lives would most likely be stress. Every week feels like it is never ending with exams day in and day out and one of the only escapes for me is dance.

Similar to workouts at the gym, dance has a similar stress relieving property that is especially useful during this time of year. As we approach Thanksgiving there seems to be no mercy, as the professors want to get in as much of the work as possible so that we can enjoy the break. However, that will unfortunately not last very long as finals will approach soon after. Therefore, during this chaotic time, dance serves as not only my outlet of expression, but also my outlet to break out of the stressful stronghold of everything else around me.

The scientific reason for why dance has the ability to act as a stress reliever stems from the idea that when the body feels good, the mind does too. Any type of physical activity releases the neurotransmitter, endorphins, which serve to alleviate stress. Neurotransmitters are chemicals within the brain that help communicate messages throughout the body. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller to reduce stress and improve the mind’s perception of the world. Thus, after a good workout the endorphins cause the body to feel calm and optimistic. The endorphins also aid in improving the quality of sleep so that a few sleepless nights due to stress can be avoided after a session at the gym.

Since I never ended up getting a gym membership because I joined dance teams instead, I use dance practices as my alternative for a trip to the gym. After leaving all my frustrations and stress on the dance floor I feel so much better. I am sure many of you can relate as the gym serves to accomplish this same goal of relieving stress. Any kind of physical activity acts as a coping mechanism for many people as the released neurotransmitters help to decrease tension, stabilize one’s mood, and even increase self-confidence. As I mentioned in my last blog, there are a couple of dance performances coming up in the next week and although this may seem stressful as there is not much time left, the adrenaline rush that comes with dance does not just serve to take away the stress from the upcoming performances, but it also relieves the stress from academics.

The body is constructed from a plethora of chemical reactions that together result in various emotions and feelings. Thus, when various types of stimuli release these chemicals, the body’s reaction can be either positive or negative. Physical activity results in a positive reaction in both the body and the mind so as the next few weeks increase stress levels, remember that just a little bit of exercise can alleviate it all.

Upcoming On Campus Performance

Upcoming On Campus Performance

Every year on New Moon Day either in September, October, or November, depending on how the lunar calendar falls, there is a very auspicious Indian holiday that takes place. Many of you may have heard it described as the Festival of Lights, but the more formal name is Diwali. While Diwali has a religious background that welcomes back the form of God that is portrayed as the true model of perfection and is the turning point of the seasons once the monsoon ends, it also has a more philosophical meaning. The candles lit on Diwali signify the removal of darkness and ignorance and in return the gathering of light and knowledge. The lamps that are lit symbolize the physical and spiritual aspects of light as we gather as a society and work towards the removal of darkness within us. On this holiday, families get together and give each other presents, wear new clothes, and make delicious food, which is basically the equivalent of Christmas in most other parts of the world. During this time of year many festivities take place that involve spending quality time with the family and while college students cannot go home this year for Diwali since it falls on November 11th which is a Wednesday, Penn State is making up for it in a different way.

The student organization, SASA, which stands for South Asian Student Association, is hosting a Diwali show here on campus at Alumni Hall at the HUB, where all of South Asian dance teams will be performing. The dance team I am a part of, Penn State Natya, which is the Indian classical team, will be performing along with Jadhoom, the fusion team, De Sher, the bhangra team, Ghaamudyaz, the raas team, and Penn State Fanaa, the Indian acapella group. All of the dance styles that are being performed originate from different parts of India and during this holiday we all come together and celebrate as one. We unite not just through our passion for dance and Indian culture, but also through this festive holiday through which we work towards the betterment of ourselves for the year to come. The largest South Asian organization on campus hosts an event such as this one every year and luckily this year the Diwali show falls on the actual date of the holiday, so that we can all celebrate together as a different kind of family. All of these dance teams will be performing their pieces to celebrate a new beginning, as the day after Diwali is the Gujrati New Year. Thus, as this holiday passes many Indians will be working towards their New Year resolutions around the world.

The dance teams and the acapella group will be putting on a show from 9:30 to 11 and in between there will be festivities taking place such as the lighting of fireworks and candles. Setting off fireworks is a huge part of the celebration so hopefully in order to continue the tradition SASA will be providing us with fireworks at Penn State as well. Ultimately, this will be one of the major on campus performances done by all the South Asian dance teams so I highly recommend that you check it out as I definitely think it will be a fun time. Hope to see you all there!

Influence of Music on Dance

Influence of Music on Dance

Have you ever heard a song on the radio and just felt the sudden urge to get up and dance? I have that feeling more often than not and just recently realized the impact music has on dance, as it would not even exist if it were not for the music that goes along with it. Dance needs music to set the mood, drop the beat, and create the motivation needed to start moving. Music has that ability to make us feel a certain way, which is why it plays such an immense role in dance. Different styles of music create various types of beats, which all correspond to a specific dance style. While some dances can be performed to any kind of music, there is always a typical genre that it matches with. For example, slower tunes would be utilized when performing dance styles such as the waltz, lyrical, or ballet, while fast, upbeat songs would be used for hip-hop, tap dancing, or the salsa. Although it can be argued otherwise, the traditional version of each of these dance styles respectively corresponds to either slow or fast music.

It is often hard to realize the importance of music in everyday life, however music plays a very integral role in daily activities. Most people usually listen to music when working out, driving, or sometimes even while working on assignments as it creates a fun and lively atmosphere in everything that we do. Music sets the mood and is often in line with our emotions as we all can recognize its role in the theatrics of movies, musicals, and dramas. A relatable instance of the way music affects us all would be in terms of productivity level as we blog every Thursday during class. Our fingers naturally type faster as the beats increase in speed when we listen to the instrumental music in the background. Even though it may seem like an insignificant background noise, it plays a much bigger role on our productivity than expected. Similarly, the beats in music give off a vibe that transcends into the movement of the body without it ever giving off a striking epiphany of the strong impact that it can have.

Furthermore, the lyrics of a song can be portrayed through dance just further enhancing the relationship they share. A song in itself can evoke so many emotions through its lyrics, but when combined with dance the impact it leaves can last a lifetime. There have been many such instances where I have seen dances that I will remember for the rest of my life and the most important reason why is because of the music choice. When dramatic music is conjoined with intricate movement, the aesthetic qualities and awe inspiring way it is depicted is one of the best things I have had the privilege to watch. The movements go in sync with the speed of the music and the melody combined with the footwork can definitely be classified as a work of art.

The Art of Performing

The Art of Performing

While I have spoken about dancing and performing numerous times before, I have never touched upon the vast differentiation between the feeling that comes from dancing at practice to finally performing on stage. Most dance academies have about two performances at different locations every year and often times they have an annual show within the academy itself. My dance academy started off small, however, so we only had performances with other dance academies, but never solely our own until very recently. Growing up performing in front of a crowd, regardless of who they might be, has allowed me to feel a rush like no other and I would like to describe this feeling to you to the best of my ability.

From the first performance until the last, I will always love the way performances make me feel. While initially the tension can be nerve-wracking and the numerous people in the crowd watching your every move can be very stressful, the feeling during the performance and afterwards is what makes it so worthwhile. This quote by Wayne Dyer sums up perfectly the reason why I love performing so much: “When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.” The adrenaline flowing as the team transcends from one move to another in complete coordination to the beats of the music creates the most indescribably amazing feeling. It is the feeling of unity, teamwork, and grace. From the sudden burst of adrenaline that starts flowing the minute the music starts to play to the split second after that when in one synchronized movement all the dancers come to life, is the true essence of a performance. The aesthetic qualities of a performance are what make them enjoyable for the audience, but the motives with which the performers all showcase their skills come together in one unified unit as the lights dim and the music begins. As I previously mentioned, performances can be very intimidating, however, when I perform with my team, I know I am not alone. We all rise and fall together and knowing that we will be there to encourage and inspire each other is what makes these experiences as memorable as they are. Furthermore, after the performance there is an immense sense of fulfillment as all the hours of practices and rehearsals have officially paid off. When the performance ends and the audience break out into a deafening applause the performers can finally acknowledge that the hard work has been worthwhile. The soreness, sweat, and possibly even tears has created something beautiful not just to see, but also to perform.

Although my description could never completely describe the true feelings evoked during and after a performance, for those who have never experienced it before, it is similar to any accomplishment made by a team of any kind. It is the feeling received when you know that you have earned your right to the top as you replay that memory in your head over and over again with a sense of pure gratification.

Dancing to Give Back

Dancing to Give Back

I am sure all of you have heard about THON as current Penn Staters and a lot of you are probably even on a THON committee. This is just one of the many amazing ways dance enables us to give back to those who need it most. Dancing is a great way to raise money for different organizations all serving well deserved causes. Just as THON raises money for children with cancer, dance performances are held around the world with international dancers going from one place to another raising money for various causes.

I have grown up surrounded with dancers in a performance environment and many performances I have seen have raised money for different causes. For example, a few girls from a neighboring dance academy held a show raising money for Down syndrome and another for autism. In addition to the performances done by others, I have also been fortunate enough to participate in such an event myself. As mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago, I gave my Arangetram (three hour solo graduation performance) at the age of thirteen and it is normally a common courtesy to bring gifts for the performer. However, instead of gifts, I asked the guests to donate to the charity organization AIM for Seva, which stands for All India Movement for Seva or contribution, and together, we raised $5000. It was the most fulfilling feeling in the world knowing that the selflessness expressed by the audience could create such a powerful impact on those living in such harsh and destitute environments. Similarly, five of my other friends also gave their Arangetrams that summer and each of them raised money for different charity organizations. We all were dancing not only for the audience and ourselves, but also for a cause that could leave a lasting impact on those around the world.

There are also performances held across America that my family and I attend every year executed by dancers from India who tour nationwide raising money for AIM for Seva wherever they go. There are about twenty to twenty five shows in numerous locations and while the tickets are free there is a different kind of payment involved. Every attendee has the choice to either donate or just come for entertainment purposes, however, as the performers are professionals their performances are outstanding most people in the audience donate money for this wonderful cause and are also awe-inspired by the moving performances and thus, get the best of both worlds.

After being part of these types of shows since my childhood I am so thankful to be able to continue this legacy here at Penn State. The dance teams I am involved in enable me to perform at THON and I could not be happier to be part of such a momentous experience. The exhilaration of dance comes not only from the adrenaline rush, but also from the cause one is dancing for. Although not every performance will have these kinds of purposes, I encourage everyone to involve themselves in THON and other organizations because everyone deserves to feel the fulfillment involved with dancing to give back.

Dance Around the World

Dance Around the World

            Dance has been used as a form of expression for thousands of years around the world and each region of the world has a type of dance that separates them from the rest. However, when we look at the bigger picture, these variations also serve as a form of unity as all dancers can agree upon the liberating feeling that it gives. From the salsa to ballet there are numerous countries that have a specialized discipline in the art form of dance.

Out of the numerous regions and countries in the world, one of the places I am most familiar with when it comes to dance is Latin America. This region has many types of dances each with their own style of music and steps. Latin America has a vast variety of dance styles that all are related, yet can be distinguished as their own individual styles as well. For example, the salsa is composed of a combination of various other Latin American dance styles such as the cha cha, the mambo, and the rhumba, yet each of these subgroups of dance can be identified as their own with their own personal identity in the world of dance. The merengue and samba also originate from Latin America and serve as a lively and fun style of dance. In addition, the paso doble, which is modeled after the environment and sound involved with a Spanish bullfight is a renowned dance style learned by professional dancers around the world.

On the other hand, although India is only one country and Latin America consists of many countries, the dance styles in India all vary drastically from one to another. Each geographic region of India has its own cultural dance that distinguishes itself from the rest and each dance style has its own specialized types of music, costumes, and flow, or sometime lack thereof. For example, the dance style from my last blog, Bharatnatyam, consists of intricate costumes and makeup and the steps are done with precision and grace, whereas Bollywood has much more flow and is much more casual in its costume choice. Furthermore, dance styles like bhangra, kathak, and garba all have their own specialized music depending on the region of the country. North Indian dances tend to focus more on an upbeat style like bhangra with loud and energetic music, while South Indian dances, like kathak, tend to focus on stricter movements, and generally have a more classical edge. Centrally, the region of Gujrat, where my family is from, garba is the regional dance style and every year for a week straight, groups of people gather together and create intricate steps to fast-paced music in celebration of the holidays.

Overall, there are diverse styles of dance everywhere we go, and it is fascinating to see the way different regions of the world can incorporate dance into their lives as a mode of expression. Although I only focused on Latin America and India for this week’s blog, I am sure there are many other scenarios of dance styles and their respective variations around the world.

 

 

 

What Dancing Means to Me

What Dancing Means to Me

From the age of four, I have been learning the renowned art form of the Indian Classical dance style, Bharatnatyam. At first I did not realize the value it would have in my life, but today, I could not be more grateful that my parents enrolled me in the Vedanta Dance Academy at such a young age. Just like most young dancers, and most children in general, I was clumsy and lacked the grace dancers need to execute a successful performance. However, I persevered and eventually that phase passed. I continued learning dance throughout the years and it was always my favorite outlet. It seemed that when everything else was continuously changing in my life, dance was my constant, my haven, and my passion.

At the age of thirteen I was finally ready to give my solo graduation dance performance, known as an Arangetram, which is a three hour long dance debut in which a dancer gives his/her graduation performance that not only marks the end of the amateur phase, but also marks the beginning of a whole new journey filled with opportunities to perform as a certified “expert”. In order to prepare for this tedious, but definitely fulfilling event, I was required to practice a minimum of five hours a day for two months to improve my dexterity in dance. Over time, I was able to build up my endurance, grace, and technique to cumulatively create synergy and ultimately perform with utmost elegance and precision. Performing evoked a feeling unlike any other and it was one of those indescribable moments when I truly felt like there was no one else in the world and reality was composed of just the dance floor and me.

Aside from the performances, dance has also given me many other benefits. It has allowed me to make life-long friends and memories that I will forever cherish and it has taught me to be disciplined, respectful, and passionate. Furthermore, dance has ensured that I never forget where I came from. As Bharatnatyam originates in India, this art form in particular helps connect me to my roots. From the age of five I have been dancing in cultural shows held at our local temple with styles ranging from Bollywood fusion to Bharatnatyam and those shows hold some of my best memories.

I hope that my dance memories continue as I proceed on my dance journey here at Penn State. I have joined two dance teams here at college as my method of decompression. I have joined the Indian Classical team called Penn Natya and the Bollywood fusion team called JaDhoom, both of which compete with other collegiate dance teams across the country. In the midst of all the chaos that comes with college life, dance serves as my stress reliever so joining these dance teams will definitely serve as my nonacademic getaway. Dancing allows me to take a break from reality and get lost in the music as my thoughts drift away into nothing but happiness.

Physical Benefits of Dancing

Physical Benefits of Dancing

The benefits of dancing are endless, especially when it comes to the physical aspects of this art. Regardless of the style of dance, whether it is ballroom, ballet, zumba, hip-hop, or the salsa, they each play an active role in helping people stay fit. All types of dance styles work to engage all parts of the body to not only create harmony, but to create a graceful workout.

As dancing is done with the entire body, dancers never skip leg day. Dance actively involves the muscles of the arms, legs, torso, back, and even the facial muscles, as the goal is to create oneness with the body as a whole. Through dance one can increase their endurance and stamina monumentally. For example, I had to give a three hour performance for my graduation show and after practicing over five hours everyday, I had built more muscle than I had from six hour long soccer tryouts. Thus, although many people discredit dance and claim it is not a sport, it still has an incredible number of physical benefits.

Dancing is also a great cardio workout through which people can considerably lessen the risks of getting heart disease. Furthermore, it often results in increased flexibility and is a good source of motor and aerobic fitness. Dance is also beneficial when it comes to weight management. In relation to the picture we had to observe for last week’s RCL Blog, dancing could also contribute to one’s physical confidence. Often times when people feel comfortable with their external appearance, they feel better internally as well. This is quite analogous to the instances in which people have good hair days and they automatically feel better about themselves.

Another benefit of dancing is that it can help improve balance and keep the center of gravity within the body stable. Since many dance styles involve posing, it is often compulsory for dancers to have a grounded center of gravity in order to hold a pose for an extended period of time. To add to the list of ways dance can prevent health-related adversities, dance can also aid in reducing the risk of getting osteoporosis as it helps make not just the muscles stronger, but the bones too. Although it is common for dancers to have knee injuries and shoulder injuries, their overall bone structure is very resilient.

The list of physical benefits of dancing could go on forever; however the last thing I would like to touch upon are the improvements in coordination and spatial awareness that result from dancing. Since dancing involves all parts of the body to move fluidly to the beats in the music, coordination is a very important aspect when it comes to synchronization. In addition, spatial awareness is beneficial not in the world of dance but in the realm of everyday life. It is important in dance because it gives dancers a sense of stage presence, however it can also be helpful in math or physics classes at school or even presentations in English class and the workforce.

Ultimately, dancing is a great form of exercise with benefits that extend to not just those who desire to stay fit, but also to those who would like to improve in other aspects of their everyday life.

The Essence of Dance Part 1

Have you ever been liberated by dance in a way that does not just free you from your surroundings, but creates oneness between your mind, body, and soul? I believe that dance has the power to make us feel that way. To feel free, yet complete. Dancing is one of the oldest forms of art and although it has not always been deemed as an art, in today’s day and age, that seems to be the best way to describe it. Dance ranges from just a simple bob of the head to an intricate series of steps involving facial expressions and complex movements of the arms and legs, but regardless of the how complicated it may or may not be, we feel a sense of enjoyment in the process. While I believe that dancing may not come easily to every one, anyone can dance and thus, dancers create unity among not only those around them, but also those around the world.

Dance has been used as a therapeutic process for individuals since the beginning of time, and it is still used as a method of obtaining internal peace. It has been around since the earliest records were taken with styles ranging from the Rain Dance performed by Native Americans to the Indian classical dance styles of South India performed to entertain authority and praise God. The grace involved with dance allows us to relieve ourselves from the stress around us so we can focus on the process of letting go. Dancing allows us to let go of the reality around us and transcend into a world of our own, away from the hardships and struggles involved with everyday life. While some dance styles require discipline and stiff movements to depict precision, others require flow and softer movements to help us connect with our emotions. Dancing for me, just like for many others, serves as an outlet of expression through which we can forget about the rest of the world and move to our happy place, a place where “Hakuna Matata” is genuinely the most accurate adage to describe it. Dancing is a passion through which people with even the greatest differences can unite.

A dance can tell a story without words. We create stories with our expressions and intricate gestures. I have been trained in dance for the past thirteen years, and not until recently did I realize that if it were not for this art form, I would not have been even half the person I am today. Dancing has shaped me to be a stronger, more disciplined individual with the ability to face challenges and overcome them gracefully. While dance has so many physical advantages, the perks extend internally as well. Mentally, dancers have the ability to stay concentrated on the task at hand and our creativity allows us to view the world differently. Ultimately, dance has numerous benefits, but most importantly it is the essence of dance that allows us to liberate ourselves and unite our passions for this beautiful art form.