Learning Tools in Odissi Dance Education

by Dr. Rohini Dandavate

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Rapidly advancing communication technologies and media formats have opened new avenues for teaching, learning and presenting dance. In traditional performing arts in India, Guru Shisya Parampara was the primary way of learning and teaching. However, increasing access to digital media has lead to emergence of hyperlearning, or education made possible by computer technology and hypermedia. Dance teachers and students use social media for marketing, and online tools for teaching and learning. Performers have also integrated digital media in dance presentations. This emerging trend is permeating all aspects of dance education and dance production.

As a traditional practitioner of Odissi dance, I believe that while technology in learning can be effective, it cannot fully replicate the value of in-person lessons from a Guru. I received training in Odissi dance in the 70s, when multimedia tools were limited to audio/video tapes and recorders. Daily lessons, class notes and a limited number of books were our only learning and reference tools. In the early 80s, the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) and many other government and non-government institutions took the lead in documenting the Odissi dance form practiced by different Gurus. By then, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra also had begun the process of documenting his work at home. These video resources became very useful to Odissi dancers for daily reference and home practice, but dance students still sought out in-person lessons, like month- long residencies, which helped develop relationships between students and their teacher, and cultivated a sense of devotion to the teacher and the art form. Such experiences highlight how in-person training impacts the learning process in a way that online learning cannot imitate.

There are, however, ways in which technology can support the preservation and propagation of the dance form. With the aging and passing of the main architects of the traditional dance form, the emerging generation of Odissi dancers must preserve the traditional technique, and share the history and theory of this dance. Being trained under the guidance of one of the main architects of this dance tradition in Kala Vikas Kendra, one of the premier institutions of dance, music & theatre in Odisha, I feel obliged to share the knowledge I have gained through the course of my long training in Odissi dance.

I have produced a learning tool-kit comprising DVDs and a CD covering the important elements of the technique. My aim is to continue adding to this kit and eventually streamline the material on the web in order to make it accessible to students all over the world.The resources I have developed are available on CreateSpace.com, Amazon’s self-publishing portal. Details can be seen at the following sites:

1. Fundamentals of Odissi Dance (DVD) https://goo.gl/4jknqt
2. Language of Gestures in Odissi Dance (DVD) https://goo.gl/HrjGqY
3. Abhinaya: Technique of Expression (DVD) https://goo.gl/wYB7nQ
4. Rhythms in Odissi Dance (CD) https://goo.gl/mQkH4n

I hope many more senior practitioners of Odissi dance who have had the privilege and experience of being trained by the Gurus directly will contribute to this effort to preserve our dance form through digital documentation and share the different styles of the Gurus.

As more students choose to learn Odissi worldwide and pursue it as their profession, the use of digital media can help expand their reach, assist them in the process of learning, teaching and presenting dance. Dancers and institutions are already using computer technology and the Internet for real time communication across distances. Increased speed of processing information and data transfer has made it possible to exchange digitized reference materials without degeneration in quality. Digitization of learning resources has offered teachers and students the key benefit of accessing learning resources in their own place and time so that they can revise and refine what they learn in the class.

Digital technology can be an effective tool for dance educators, dancers and administrators in the following areas:

Dance teaching and learning: Dance instructors can use digital dance recordings of works by different Gurus and dancers in classrooms to offer comparative studies of differing styles and techniques. DVDs and CDs providing demonstrations of the vocabulary of Odissi can be provided to students for their independent practice sessions. Other educational institutions, parents, class fellows and members of the community can view multimedia presentations uploaded to the cloud. Dance institutions now have the option of using apps and software programs that help standardize dance curriculum. Odissi teachers can set learning milestones, define a timeline and monitor each student’s individualized learning objectives and progress. Using apps and software programs can also help in extending and connecting the classroom from dance schools to students’ home, where parents with proper technological infrastructure can be involved and informed about the practical and theoretical lessons on dance and also be provided tips for their child’s progress.

Dance choreography: Software programs like Life Forms are being used to create, store and edit movements. According to Merce Cunningham: “Life Forms is not revolutionizing dance but expanding it, because you see movement in a way that was always there – but wasn’t visible to the naked eye.” Motion Capture technology can be used to record dance movement in 3 dimensions and make it possible to watch movements from multiple angles.

Dance documentation: Using digital technology can be useful for recording and preserving dance related information. Dance institutions can establish an online multimedia resources library by digitizing print materials (books, dance journals, articles, and reviews that not available in the market) photographs, audio tracks and videos of past and ongoing works, making these resources available to a wider population of students.

Dance presentation: Using technology as an aid to enhance expressive abilities beyond the usage of the body is another option. For example video imagery, multimedia presentations like power points with embedded video, stage lighting, and musical accompaniment with interactive devices on stage can provide easy coordination between performer and the other components. Video conferencing software can enable the dancer or the educator to invite audiences from around the world to view performances/lecture demonstration. Audiences can be invited to the online chat rooms for discussion and interaction. Audience preferences can also be ascertained through online Q&A sessions.

Dance management: Digital technology can also help in the management of dance institutions. Administrators of dance schools can use cloud-based software programs (for organizational functions) available on the internet, to track schedules and rosters, revenue and receivables, instructors, locations, recitals, website, blog and twitter accounts, photo gallery, online enrollment etc. Online tools and templates can be helpful in drafting strategic plans, marketing strategies, planning publicity and in audience development.

If used with discretion, digital technology will provide a scaffold-like support to the learning process. It is important to use this technology to to preserve and advance the tradition of Odissi dance as well as broaden and deepen our knowledge by accessing resources from around the world.

Chattopadhyaya, D.P. (1996) Interdisciplinary Studies in: Science, Technology, Philosophy and Culture New Delhi

Delahunta, Scott. (1996) New Media and Information Technologies and Dance Education, Rotterdam: http://art.net/~dtz/

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