Friday, December 17, 2010

The Teacher becomes the Student

I'm an athlete. Ever since I can remember, I've preferred moving to being still. I played some sports in high school, but I was not very good at them - except for one - cheerleading. I know a hot debate is going to erupt somewhere as soon as these words are read to argue that cheerleading is not a sport. I am not here to debate the topic, nor to even talk about cheerleading - just to say that when it comes to learning moves put to rhythm, I am relatively talented. Which brings me to my topic for today: dancing. 

I love dancing. It doesn't matter to me if I'm contra-dancing at a Grange Hall in Maine, dancing to techno at a club in Massachusetts, or doing salsa at a little restaurant in Guatemala - I love all forms of dance. I feel fortunate to have landed in a country with a long tradition of dance. Almost everyone here knows at least some of the traditional dances, and many people take dance lessons regularly. At the first suphra I attended with my colleagues, a couple of the ladies led me through some of their dances. My students here love dancing (if you read about my excursion with them, you read about the Georgian dances that took place in the aisle of the bus) -- anyway, they asked me a couple of days ago if I like to dance. Of course I said, "Yes!" And the natural Georgian reply was, "Would you like to learn our Georgian dances?" And my natural reply was, "Of course!" So they invited me to join them at their dance lesson at four o'clock today. 

Three of my students that I usually walk home with are some of the dancers. After school today, we walked home together and they said that they would be back at 3:30 to walk to the dance lesson with me. I ate a little lunch and put on some leggings with a skirt, a top with a fleece vest, and flats. It's cold. Tea ooo-ed and aaah-ed that I looked just like a dancer. (She's so sweet, and skirts are the best for dancing.) As promised, the kids stopped by at 3:30, and we went together to my first Georgian dance lesson. I had no idea where the lesson was held, because as many times as I have walked, run, or ridden up and down the only road in Shamgona, I have not seen any buildings other than houses, the schools (new and old), the tiny stands that are our "stores," and one building that some Abkhazian refugees live in. When I asked where the dance lessons were, the answer I got was, "the pavilion." Right. Nothing I have seen yet fits that description. I walked with the kids past the the building where the refugees live. I never would have guessed that there was a small auditorium complete with a stage in that building. We stepped into the room, and I saw a group of students spread out across the room following the teacher through some warm-up moves. The wooden floor was covered with old, dusty vinyl flooring (which is actually perfect for this type of dancing). The high ceiling held a half-dozen lights that may have had 40-watt bulbs in them - or maybe they were 25-watt. It was dim, but as my eyes adjusted to the light, I recognized several of my students in the group already warming up. They all clapped and cheered when I came in. I met the instructor, a very kind, genteel lady, and she welcomed me to class. She doesn't speak English, but with dance, showing is better than telling. I lined up in the back with the older girls, and for the next hour, I learned how to float across the floor like a butterfly. I know that my calves will be sore tomorrow! (YouTube has several videos of Georgian dance - this link is a short video of some of what I am learning:

When the music fills the room and we all smile as we dance, the dingy-ness of the room doesn't matter. The love of culture that is being taught to these kids is very special. They are carrying on the traditions of countless generations. And it means so much to me that they want to teach me something that is such a revered part of their culture. I enjoy the dances, and I know with 6 more months of lessons, I'll learn the steps - the graceful hands may take a bit more time and practice. When class was over today, the kids wanted to know if I would be back at the next lesson .....tomorrow morning at 11. I may be.... if my calves will let me.

No comments:

Post a Comment