THE ROAD TO KATNA
MURSHIDABAD, WEST BENGAL, INDIA
BLOG JANUARY 2019
In the rural village of Katna in the district of Murshidabad, West Bengal, India, known for its disparity, poverty and unemployment, I’m walking into the famous Jagriti School. Founded by Shabnam Ramaswamy and her late husband, this inspirational school offers learning to rural children in one of the poorest areas of the state. I’m amazed at how clean and open it is as I teach grades 3–11 each day. I choose the basketball court because it’s an open space outside, surrounded by nature. It is private so no one looks at us. We can enjoy ourselves, make lots of hoots and howls, and laugh a lot. This is important.
Earlier in my life, having learned and practiced Western classical music and contemporary dance, movement forms from different world cultures, as well as studying classical music and dance from North India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, I was always interested in the music and rhythm of motion. This gave me the idea to take natural movements of walking, skipping, jumping, hopping, etc. and put them in rhythmic phrases, like dance steps. We use counting in rhythms, and this makes the “movements” into “exercises.” It also makes the “exercises” into “movements.” Everyone gets some good energy with a lot of laughs and it’s good for the heart, body, and brain.
When I work with the younger students 3rd to 6th grade I have to be “on my toes.” They have a lot of energy. I knew they would like to jump, hop and move around a lot. They were in big groups, so in order to contain them I used unusual sounds, since I don’t speak “Bangla.” It surprised every class and was really hilarious.
The kids in this school all learn English, and pretty much understand, though they may not be able to speak English that well. Still, they come onto the court, we make a circle, and I start. After a few minutes, they are “with me,” and we begin having a good time.
I was inspired to show all the groups a movement that is arm swinging, then do it as if we were in a film: “cut to slow motion” with dramatic expressions, and then fast. They did it so well. Everyone enjoyed it a lot. You can see how it was captured in a little snippet on the video.
Then on another day an opportunity came to have the women teachers try the flying in slow motion exercise and then whooping and fast swinging of the same version. It was a big hit. Again, as in many other situations, when we began the session, most of the faces were serious and a bit down, and after this exercise series, shining eyes and flashing smiles appeared on the faces of these beautiful women.