Hip hop in India

Hip hop has become the go-to style for many kids around the globe.  It represents a lot to those who listen to the music and adopt the lifestyle.  A lot of people understand that hip hop is a culture, a way of life.  There are four main parts– MC, DJ, graffiti, and break dancing.  In India, I saw a lot in the way of dancing, and break dancing, or hip hop dancing was definitely the mode by which hip hop culture has assimilated into the lives of youth there.  Not to mention the attitude and style that goes with it.

I happened upon this group one day as I was walking back from my art class on a Sunday afternoon.  It was busy in the park.  People were exercising, chatting, playing.  It was super hot, too.  I could hear the faint music trickling out on to the sidewalk, and decided to stop and take a look.  At first I watched from afar, not wanting to interrupt their flow or seem like a crazy tourist.  But they invited me to sit down and watch.  I sat next to a couple of kids who spoke some English and we talked about hip hop, and dance.  One of the guys said that the group who was dancing were taking classes and come here almost weekly to hang out and practice.  And that’s what they were doing.   There wasn’t even a lot of talking happening, just dancing.  It flowed as the music changed as they were just trying a variety of movements out.

I talked to the guys some more and asked them if I could take some pictures and video.  They seemed ok with that, so I did.  After they finished a long session of dancing, I just thanked them for letting me watch and chatting with them.  They were super excited.

Dancing has a long tradition in Tamil Nadu.  Mostly known for a particular South Indian style that merges with storytelling and pantomiming.  Hip hop is a freedom of movement for them, a chance to experiment with their own style.  Because if there’s one thing that hip hop culture allows, it’s: personal style.

I tried going back to see if I could catch them practicing again, but I never saw them again.  I wish I had, because they were so fun to watch.  But, it was getting super hot throughout March, and I never ran into them again.  Here are a few videos that showcase the guys just hanging out, practicing, and trying their best to move to the music.

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An arts camp, with the future in mind.

I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.

This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.

The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.

All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.

Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.

As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.

On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong.   Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.

The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.

 

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The camp space.
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Student receiving a welcome pin!

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Camp rules.
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Students creating their small group poster.
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Student beginning work on her self portrait with a tiny mirror.
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Decorative self portraits.  Using color and pattern as symbols.
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Students had a lot of discussions with each other for collaborative projects.

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Working on their community poster, discussing issues that are important to them and their community.

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Presenting their community posters to all the other groups.

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Me!  Teaching origami cranes, step by step.

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Uma and I on a tour around Agastya.
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All the camp goers and the teachers.
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The lovely girls who put the song together.
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Traveling to the camp spot.

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Shadow puppets to tell a story.
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Clay figures.

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Trust game– “Crazy taxi”.

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I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.

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Spontaneous Performance

When I visited this school, I had no idea that these students were so apt to show their talents.  The students were so eager to show off their dance moves and singing.  We had a whole evening of pre-dinner performances. Many of the students improvised and made up percussion with the objects around them.  These two kids were really quite amazing.  It just goes to show you, that no matter what your background is, your circumstances, art transforms the space.  On first glance many of us may look at the state of the classroom and think nothing can be accomplished in a grey, uninspired room.  Sometimes it just takes a single action to transform the space.  The students who shared their talents that evening made the environment warm, joyful, exciting, and playful.

Road trip to Camp

The major highlight of being involved with NalandaWay Foundation was being able to attend, observe and help facilitate an arts camp called Kanavu Pattarai (dream workshop).  The purpose of the camp is to immerse youth in community building strategies. By using arts based and mindfulness practices, Kanavu Pattarai camps educate and train diverse communities to create responsible children who are expressive and positive in their choices.

Before we arrived at the camp for this session, our group stopped along to visit some other groups at some different schools who had already experienced Kanavu Pattarai in previous sessions.  The kids had recalled what they learned, shared with us the art and skits they created during camp.  I even got to facilitate some group yoga practices.  What a treat!

The best part for me was being able to interact with the kids, and noticing how receptive they were to my presence and trusting me to guide them through some poses.  What a warm reception and some stand out, unforgettable moments.

Here is a glimpse of some of the students I met, the schools I visited, and what they shared with us:

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Students were game for a few yoga poses.  Tree pose is always a good one to try.
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In Andhra Pradesh, the land is a lot drier and rockier.
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Mural painting is big everywhere you go, although this one is fades, it’s still beautiful.
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I had a chance to visit a girls school, the whole school was bright, cheerful, and boasted lots of arts integration.
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Meeting with a group of girls who participated in a previous camp.
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We also visited a residential school.  These kids were energetic, lively, and so friendly.
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Listening carefully to a few members who were speaking about the importance of the arts, but also how the arts can be a catalyst for social improvement among peers.

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Part of the camp process is to create a banner to bring back to the school.  This group worked hard to create a message about equality and acceptance.

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More to come from this trip. Stay tuned.

Healing through the arts

In February I had a chance to visit Nandhivaram, Panchayat Union Primary School, Kancheepuram.  NalandaWay organized volunteer educators, therapists and social workers to go to this school to provide a regular therapeutic program using movement and visual arts.  This school is in rural Tamil Nadu, about 2 hours south west of Chennai.  This area was heavily effected by the monsoon floods from December 2015.  Students used multiple forms of art for expression; including storytelling, dance/movement, song, and visual arts. It was one of the best experiences of my life.  Although these kids had witnessed a lot of tragedy and hardship the school was clearly a respected structure within the community and students could feel safe enough to enjoy being children once again.  The pictures below share what the children were involved in on the day I observed.  I found the kids to be friendly, fun, happy, and introspective.  These kids loved the arts workshop and it was written all over their faces.

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Almost like a game of head, shoulders, knees and toes.
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A group of primary students waiting to get started.
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After movement, students go to visual arts where they can draw in response to their movement activities.
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A smiley group.  All of these students wanted to take lots and lots of pictures.
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Upper primary school kids getting to work in art class.
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Taking a moment for the camera.
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The combination of movement and art are a great combination for these kids.  All of them seemed to enjoy the whole experience and really value the time they had in the art classes.
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A walk around the school building.
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Primary group and movement.
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A upper elementary student sharing her work with me.  During the movement activity, the therapists told a story about animals and how they helped each other cross the river on the backs of turtles.

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Looking at the building you can see how far the water may have come up on the side.

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At the end of the upper elementary art class students made small bracelets and exchanged them with someone else.
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The room got quiet as they exchanged bracelets with other, students really showed how much they cared for each other with this small sentiment.

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Stress, contiuned.

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Water usually has a calming effect on me, but sometimes the water gets churned up, causing a lot of movement and instability. Stress is like that too!

Friday I actually had to really be aware of my stress response.  I’m fine, but something happened where I had to notice how stress was affecting my body.  Since I was able to recognize my response to the stress, I was able to manage it.  Because I managed it, I was able to think clearly and act.

Has that ever happened to you?  Ever get nervous or anxious because of a particular situation and didn’t know what to do next?  Have you been in an argument and it got so elevated that you couldn’t even think about what was being said?

In some cases stress can actually shut down parts of your brain that remembers and thinks.  So, managing your stress can actually keep your brain working, even in extreme stress.  You may notice what happens in your body when a stressful situation occurs. For example, on Friday, I noticed that my breathe quickened, my heart rate increased, I was in a state of freeze.  I didn’t know what to do next.

I believe that by regularly practicing yoga and mindfulness I am getting better at being aware those sensations.  I was able to recognize I was feeling stressed and then do something to calm myself down so I could do something about the situation.

Here is a practice you can use to notice sensations that come up in your body*:

Focus Breath

  •  Start by closing your eyes or softening your gaze, exhale and let all the air out of your lungs.
  • Now breathe in and breathe out. Continue this breath 4 or 5 times.

Arm Movements

  •  Sit with a straight back and your feet on the floor.
  • Press your hands together at your chest.
  • When you breathe in, take the palms out in front of you and then apart to the sides.
  • When you breathe out, bring the hands back together, then to the chest.
  • As you bring your hands out try stretch your fingers out wide.
  • Do this a few more times to find a rhythm.
  • Now sync the movement with your breath, inhale for 4 counts and bring the arms out, exhale for 8 counts and bring the arms in.
  • Do this for 4 more rounds.
  • After your rounds, relax your arms down to your lap and just sit.  See if you can notice sensations.  Notice how your arms feel.  Take a few breaths here just to notice.

Mountain Pose

  •  Stand on mountain pose (feet parallel and hip distance apart, standing up straight, shoulders down, tall spine).
  • Press your hands together at the center of your chest and close your eyes or look down towards your hands.
  • Breathe in and out for 4 rounds.
  • On your next breath in, tense your whole body from the bottom of the feet to the top of your head.  Breathe in and tense all the muscles you can – your toes and feet, legs, stomach, arms and shoulders, hands and fingers, even your face.  Hold!
  • Breathe out and release and relax the muscles.
  • Repeat tensing the muscles again on an inhale and hold.
  • Breath out and release and relax the muscles.
  • One more round, tense the muscles from the feet to the head.  Hold.
  • Breathe out, release, and relax.
  • Shake out your arms and legs.
  • Come back to stillness after a few breaths.

Standing Crescent Moon

  •  Begin in Mountain Pose
  • On your next breath in reach your arms up above your head and clasp your hands
  • On your exhale, keeping your arms straight and hands together lean to the right just enough to feel a stretch on the side of your body
  • Inhale, come back to center, arms still straight above your head, and hands clasped.
  • Breathe out, and lean to the left
  • Continue the sync the movement with your breath
  • Do a few more rounds
  • Next time you exhale relax the arms down at your sides
  • Now do the same movement, but hold the pose 3 breaths per side.
  • Notice if you start to feel more sensations, or have an urge to come out of the pose early.
  • Notice small and big sensations
  • Use your breath to keep you call, even if it’s uncomfortable.  Knowing that you’ll come out of the pose any time if you need to.
  • After 3 rounds of holding Standing Crescent Moon release your arms down to your sides relax.
  • Stand in mountain pose and just notice if you feel anything.

Neck Movements

  •  Sit down in your chair once more.  Straight back.
  • On an exhale let your right ear fall towards your right shoulder
  • Inhale and bring your head back to center
  • Exhale, and let your left ear fall towards your left shoulder
  • Repeat and sync this movement with your breath for a few more rounds
  • Bring your head back to center
  • Exhale look right
  • Inhale back to center
  • Exhale look left
  • Inhale back to center
  • Repeat  this movement with your breath a few more rounds
  • Back to center
  • Inhale, lift your chest up an look up slightly, be careful not to strain your neck
  • Exhale, tuck your chin and roll your head forward towards your chest
  • Repeat a few more rounds

Mindful Breath

  •  Notice the rhythm of your breath right now.
  • After noticing, deepen your breath.
  • Close your eyes or just soften your gaze.
  • Continue to make full and complete breaths.
  • Notice if you are sitting up straight, or if your posture has changed.
  • Place your hand on your chest.  Notice how your chest moves as you breathe.
  • Now place your hand on your belly. Notice how your belly moves as you breathe.
  • Place both hand in your lap, and now see if you can notice the belly and the lungs move as you breathe.
  • Notice your ribs expanding and contracting.
  • Notice the small movement in your shoulders as you breathe.
  • Just notice, no judgement.
  • Open your eyes and notice how you feel.

Silent Refection

  •  Sit silently for one minute and just notice how you feel.
  • Close your eyes or just look down and focus on yourself.
  • Notice your feet resting on the floor.
  • Notice your legs relaxed on the chair.
  • Notice your arms and shoulders, a bit more relaxed.
  • Notice your breathe and notice the muscles in your face may feel more relaxed.

How do you feel? When you notice sensations that mean stress in the body, what can you do next time?

*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good for yourself or for your students. This is how I usually sequence a practice for myself and for students.)

Map Project

Students are still working on the map project and it’s taking some time.  The maps are huge but, I can see a lot of really interesting ideas emerging.  Every student has taken a different take on the project.  Some are being more conceptual about their ideas, while others are finding it extremely important to make a fairly realistic map. Here is a small sampling of “Mapping our Memories:  A conceptual map”.

Heart map
This student chose to start with a heart outline and created a map in the center.
Mexico map
This student is working on a map of Mexico. He’s doing a great job re-creating the country outline. But also writing in important cities that matter to him.
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This student has started a drawing showing movement. If you look closely, you can see how the objects get bigger as they move closer.
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Another student is using realistic maps as a starting point. He’s currently adding on symbols around the country that represent important events to him.
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One of the students is using elements of collage on their map.
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In class we looked at ways artists create childlike images to communicate different emotions, feelings, or themes. This students is creating a detailed map of what he remembers when he was growing up.