I taught my first dance class with Limitless Productions as part of DanceTO’s Dance in my ‘hood program for the International Day of Dance celebration. Before the class even began we did a lot. My Limitless friends Ashima, Sarah, Shafik, Justine and of course, I, canvassed the Yonge and Wellesley intersection for about a half hour before the class to spread the word about of free dance workshops and then got ready to face the attendees. While I have choreographed before and taught classes as well, this one workshop took me on a journey back to the beginning of my journey as a dancer.

As I sat down in the corner of the studio trying to deal with my fast crashing adrenaline levels the entire hour long workshop played itself out in mind. And then, as if on a split screen of a widescreen TV screen my first ever set of dance classes also came back in my mind. While everything was familiar and in the past it somehow left me feeling a lot more humbled and immensely thankful for dance in my life.

I recalled now how I had nervously stepped into my first ever dance studio, sat quietly in a corner and surrendered myself and my trust to the one young man at the head of the class who led a pack of 30 students of different levels of experience through a brisk warm up and a simple routine. But this time there was something new about this scene. I realized how much I had taken for granted and even ignored the aspects of this class up until I stepped into the teacher’s role. Unlike a classroom teacher, a dance teacher fights an up-hill battle of breaking down the personal guards the students come in with, but gently. The dance teacher has to then assure the students that he/she can be trusted to guide the students towards feats and beauty of form that each of those students has convinced themselves of not being capable enough to achieve. The dance teacher is tasked with providing encouraging feedback to each one of the students, regardless of their level of expertise, so as to make them feel positive about and believe in themselves. But more than anything else, the dance teacher is tasked with the Herculean effort of having to entertain while educating the students. The moment that does not happen a sensitive dance teacher is then plagued with the guilt of having bored the spirit of dance out of a student, should the said student not return to the class the next time. And then comes the part about teaching the choreography by means of repetition, further encouragement, disassembling a step into fragments and repeating them until it seems as though the students have a hang of it and finally ensuring that it all makes sense. But all of this is just the beginning.

Today, I was sharing the teaching stage with my fellow Limitless members – Shafik, Sarah and Ashima. If I were to forget something, they were my safety net and vice versa. Speaking for myself, as per usual, I tried to spell out every syllable of a bar of dance. I’d insert a random joke here or there which would hopefully serve to relax or inform the students. Every once in a while I was focussing on reflections in the mirrors and searching for faces that seemed to signal feelings of being overwhelmed, boredom, disappointed or just tired and I would try to engage them. I had gauged early on that not everyone who was attending this workshop did so for the love of art. Fitness was another motivator and Shafik and I had to ensure that our warm ups incorporated muscle and stamina related benefits. Choreographing was actually the easier part this time around but by no means was it cakewalk. Each time I teach a class my respect for every single one of my teachers (be they dance teachers or otherwise) multiplies by manyfolds and I find myself being further and further indebted to them. Each time the phrase “teaching is a noble profession” makes further and deeper sense. My parents’ advice about honoring your teachers doesn’t seem quite as melodramatic as I initially used to think. The sanskrit phrase “Acharya Devo Bhava” (teacher is the embodiment of God) takes of renewed relevance. It finally imparts a perspective that not even the most original of my teachings, choreographies or ideas could have been possible without the foundations that my teachers, their teachers before them and so on laid down for us.

Teaching dance, much like any other form of education, brings a sense of accomplishment not just for the students, but also the teachers, the choreographers and any future employers of these emerging artists. However, with performance arts and especially with dance the most rewarding, intensely gratifying and essentially humbling moment is when a choreographer gets to watch his/her vision unfold upon the physical presence of an ensemble dance cast. Three years since my first choreography, to this day, I shake with pure pleasure, exhilaration, pride and joy when I see my choreography performed perfectly by a class or by dancers whom I have choreographed. Today, watching the choreography execution towards the end of the class sent goosebumps up my back. For a brief moment I looked to my left to see our Limitless Productions’ choreographer – Ashima Suri – watching. I could only half imagine how sublime and unreal she might have felt to see that her dream of bringing Contemporary Ballet to members of the South Asian and underserviced communities was finally starting to become a reality. It is for these moments that each of us at Limitless Productions continues to practice, rehearse, create, and teach. It is within these moments when we envision the proverbial flame being passed on from within us into hands that give us hope that it shall remain burning and spread through the world and touch and change lives for the best.


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