We didn’t have dance exams when we were children, and I think I’m glad of that. Sometimes, though, I wonder – if we had appeared for exams, would we have been more driven to learn? Or would we have wanted to stop learning dance? I was one of those kids who loved exams, but I was also one of those kids who hated dance, so I have no way of knowing.
Now, though, as I watch children say the adavu shollu kattu and respond to the examiners’ questions, I realise how many things I enjoy about being on the opposite side of students appearing for their dance exams. Here are a few that come to mind.
The littlest ones sometimes wear dupattas for the first time for their exam. They beam as they stand before the examiners, dressed up in dangling earrings and kajal. Some are like mannequins, barely touching anything they’re wearing; others continually pat the dupatta around their waists. I love how pleased they seem with their attire!
When asked a question, so many of them are wonderfully confident. And when they do their best, the pride on their faces … Adorable.
My favourite: Sometimes, examiners ask, “Do you know xyz adavu?”
Very seriously, children reply, “Yes.”
And that’s it.
Do you know does not translate into Do this.
Many children don’t learn music, so they understand swaras as words – and it is astounding how they make things up as they go along, pushing whatever they like into their thaalam. As one of the examiners commented, it’s a good thing we have only seven swaras. Otherwise …
Da becomes Ga, Ri becomes Ni – and at least these might sound similar (in terms of pronunciation, not notes). It is bewildering when something like Da-Ni-Da-Ma morphs completely into something like Sa-Ri-Sa-Ga!
Some children do their absolute best during their exam. They’re the ones who practise, practise, practise just before the exam and then surprise us all. Sometimes, the examiners turn to us and ask, “Do they know how to say this? Do they …?”
Filled with doubt, we reply that they probably don’t.
Every so often, the least interested child pipes up and says, “I can do it!”
And to everyone’s amazement, she does, drawing spontaneous responses from all of us. Teasingly, the examiners tell us over and over again, “You underestimate the intelligence of your students!”
Then, we have those who are so nervous that even though they are good dancers, they freeze when asked questions. Those make my heart melt. Sometimes, artlessly, they say, “I know this, I knew it just now! But now …”
Dance exams fill me with so much emotion, year after year! Sometimes, I feel quite overwhelmed when the exams are over because I feel each of the children’s emotions – nervousness, stress, incomprehension, excitement, earnestness … And so often, a wonderful sense of fulfilment.