The Vanaver Caravan Passage to India

The journey of four dancers and our experiences teaching and learning in Udaipur, India.

Strands into String

My heart sits heavily in my chest with that awkward knot rising up into my throat as I bid farewell to the people who have become family. Like an ocean’s tide, ecstasy and grief rise and fall in my body. I have been lost in the intensity of discovery and coming out is equally as mind boggling. A realization pours over me. The past two weeks were not just a fun excursion they were laborious and heart-filled. We lay a solid foundation on which a strong structure can be designed and built. The lingering question of, “What am I doing with my life?” has become, “How do I continue doing this with my life? How do I nurture it, feed it and keep it growing?” Again, patience and presence are key in creating order to the letters that paint words into beautiful images; answers.

The night before leaving, I dreamt this:

I pause and stand breathlessly feeling the cool marble steps beneath my feet. The heat of my body and chill of the steps meet somewhere in my stomach, creating a buzzing sensation that zips up and down my spine. I peer over the railing down the spiral staircase I’ve been climbing. Nowhere do I see a defined end. My eyes wind up and up to where I am posted. Like roots of a towering tree that stands high above the forest floor, there is a natural flow and connection between the steps. It is only through stillness and observation this reveals itself. No longer unsettled, I continue walking, my mind flooded with questions. A new curiosity rises from such discovery.

The dream blurs as the morning chants greet the day. Dreams are like Mothers. Even when you don’t know, they do. Most of the time, you’ll deny them knowing, and when you come back around to it, you’ll pretty much always find that they knew before you knew. And then, you’ll smile because you’re happy that you now know. Being, learning, teaching, exploring India helped me link these pieces of my life together, circling and winding like the staircase.

As if attached to a rope, I was spun further and further into another world. I watched, hypnotized, as beautiful Rekka whirled around the room with her gypsy dance. Revealing ancient secrets on the palms of her hands and just as easily taking them back with the curl of her wrist. With certain nostalgia, my body sank comfortably into the movements. My infatuation turned passion for Flamenco brought me here, to the Gypsies, the creators. When I teach, I tell the story of how the gypsies brought their dance into Spain. Now, the story has breath and life to it. Like a Gypsy, I brought the dances I have learned and treasured to this distant land where they too will find a place.

Being here feels like holding a magnet to the strands of my life and watching as they rush together. Creating these bonds. Connections that with time and thought gain momentum.

It’s not that there aren’t words, there most definitely are. They are spilling over the edges of my mind, running through my fingertips and onto the screen in front of me. Yet, my pinky keeps finding it’s way to the top of the keyboard to that small, rectangular ‘delete’ key. After sitting here for hours, I’ve realized this: While I love words and how the placement of them has such an effect on human emotion, they will never truly be able to portray all that I experienced during these two weeks. Each moment, like the careful hands of an artist have sculpted and re-shaped me into who I am right now. I am leaving with an awakening inspiration and deep-pitted motivation to continue what I’ve only barely begun.

Songs of a City

Full. So full. The days, my belly, my heart, my mind, even my dreams.

Car horns and doves sing the song of morning here in Udaipur. A man’s melodic voice carries down the dirt road. I imagine him pushing a rickety wooden cart, filled with a rainbow array of the most delicious sweet fruits. He too becomes apart of the morning orchestra.

Golden sunlight hangs in the thick morning haze. I inhale cool textured, aromatic air and rise slowly, stretching my stiff body. My phone has been buzzing for forty minutes and I know I can’t put it off any longer. I jump out of bed with not a clue as to what kind of a day I will fall into.

Moo, Ramona and Rita are downstairs already, gathered around the long wooden table, sipping tea and chatting quietly. Oh the tea. I call it transition tea, for it carries me from one adventure to the next. It is the most incredible mixture of ginger, spices, sugar cane and milk all boiled to perfection and served steaming hot in delicate teacups. It’s close to 9:00 am and ‘the boys’ (RJ and Gustavo) are no where in sight. Fifteen lax minutes later we meander down cold stone steps and to the front gate where we pile into the auto. Small birds are perched near the roses that line the garden walls.

The streets of Udaipur are buzzing with a new day’s energy. Rickshaw’s stuffed with children in matching blue and red school uniforms zoom around the hustling streets. A small arm dangles, a little leg kicks about, tired eyes peer curiously at our white faces.

Caffeine is unnecessary in this city as a rickshaw ride will jolt you into this dimension. Though one may not know whether they are awake or dreaming.

After bumping through the Old City and rounding that familiar blind corner, the tall gates of Mahilla Mandal’s enter into sight and my tummy grows warm with excitement. Across the sandy courtyard, I see dark wondering eyes poking out between the tall, heavy doors. Teal paint has chipped off, but it only adds charm to this incredible place and plus, I am a fan of old and falling apart; rustic charm.

I fiddle with the out-of-date sound system that seems to have a mind of its own. Like a wool sweater in swealtering humidity of early August, my iphone is completely out of place in the stone courtyard enclosed by white washed walls. Through fuzzy speakers spills Tinariwen playing traditional Tuareg melodies with a bluesy, groovy edge. An odd combination, but then again ordinary has been long forgotten. The girls giggle nervously we begin to move to the music. Halfway through class, the electric goes out. Panic? No, no. Everyday from about 11-3pm the power goes out. This is simply how things go here. Everything is relative now.

The creases around my eyes crinkle as my lips curl up towards dazzled eyes. Small hands unfurl like blooming flowers under a full moon’s soft light. I can almost smell the jasmine and sweet rose dancing with each other through the warm breeze. Such beauty.

Class is over and I’m off to the next thing. Maybe it’s gypsy dancing, lunch at Millets (an incredible organic cafe), music by the lake, teaching this incredible dance troupe or learning the spices of India and how to perfectly combine them into mouthwatering dishes that make you never want to stop eating.

Finally, I’m home. As I scan over my day, I am left without words. Each moment was like falling in love, further and further. Words would only take away from that purity. I shut my eyes, content with my silent mind; for outside, deep chanting from a nearby mosque fills the cool night’s air. Howling from a nearby dog gang has become my lullaby and I drift away to a peaceful rest.

Inside Out Dream Screens…Reality.

That warm, exhilarating sensation that rushes through your body when the eyes looking back at you fill you with curiosity, comfort and joy. That, that is how I felt the first day I met those gorgeous girls at Mahilla Mandal’s School. Like discovering a new species of child, alive in a way I’ve never experienced.

Pride is not a feeling that sits familiarly in my body. Tonight though I am beaming with pride and you know what, it feels good. Proud of all the children for embodying and breathing life into the movements we worked so hard to share with them. For sculpting smiles on the anxious faces of every person watching tonight. For all of the Dancers, Principals, Teachers, Coordinators for being courageous and feeding this project with faith in ourselves, the children, and the community. Not even in the deepest, craziest forest of my imagination could I have created this. The seeds we have planted with this program will grow so much more than a simple cultural exchange. Far beyond choreography and timing. It challenges the boundaries of India’s structured society and creates curiosity, arousing respect and understanding in a nurturing environment of one’s peers. A fire has been lit and I’m going to keep feeding it. This is the work I’ve been seeking and preparing myself for. Soul food kind of work.

My mind is laughing at my weary eyes for their inability to keep up and stay open. I think my eyes have won for the night though. Or, at least my brain has tricked them into thinking they have. For it knows that when they shut, it will project moving pictures along the inside of my eyelids, my dream screens.

Spilled sugar

About a year ago you would not catch me dead teaching. I refused. I would sit all day and do administrative work over teaching. I thought I hated it, but really I think I was scared. Over the Fall I worked with Livia at Columbia University where she’s been teaching dance (for about ten years) to actors in the MFA Theater program. After just the first class I was hooked and elated by the energy of the students. During the four months, I fell ass over tea kettle in love with teaching. It is the challenge and lesson I constantly seek in life; presence. I have always found this when I dance. A meditative state where there is nothing else but precisely what I am doing in each moment. It is just as much apart of my massage practice as the oils I use. Time becomes palpable and malleable.

Struggle, obstacles, and puzzles are the spices. In combination with joy and easy flow, they round the flavor of life. I want the gratification of beads of sweat pouring down my face. Teaching the children here in India has given me just that.

My classes at Mahila Mandal School are outside in an old stone courtyard. Red and orange sarees next to plaid skirts ripple sweetly on a clothesline hanging on the roof. The hot sun hangs over us as gears of the mind turn. I can’t help but smile and giggle along with the girls. I must be quick on my feet to keep up with them, a workout for my brain. How do I articulate my experience of movement that is so ingrained in my body, in such a way that others who have traveled a different path can understand? It’s like navigating in a familiar city but someone keeps shifting the avenues and streets and you must re-route. Flexibility is the key for walking in an ever changing maze. This, this is not just teaching, it’s life.

Next to this great joy and burst of inspiration lies a sadness and confusion. I leave in two days. Two days! I feel like my life is a bag of spilled sugar, spread across the floor. In order to create the most incredibly mouthwatering delicious sweet I must be patient and diligent in picking up each of the tiny grains. Each equal and essential.

Looks like I’ve got some more pieces to figure into this crazy puzzle. Asi es la vida, that is life.

Mountain bliss

Mountain bliss

Winding through India’s country side

Fingers of the Wind

If you know me, you know that my dancing feet typically dawn a pair of worn leather motorcycle boots. Well, today they were used for just that purpose. Mamas, shut your ears or rather eyes. We rode motorbikes into the winding hills of India. Through old villages where straw huts lined the roads and fields of lush green produce grew. Animals were herded along by children and women in flowing Sari’s with an impossible load carried gracefully upon their heads. 

Eyes closed, arms sprawled, legs outstretched standing, moving sixty miles per hour. Sunlight warmed my face as the wind’s finger ran luxuriously through my hair. This, this was bliss. 

Traditional Rajisthani songs floated through the air, but not from any recording. From the heart and mouth of a young, beautiful dancer named Barhat. He is an incredible person and dancer, so genuine and curious, always happy. Him, a few members of his dance company, his younger brother and us four Vanavers were quite a scene to be seen. 

My heart was peacefully racing like the purr of the motorbike as it accelerates up the mountain side. Our motley crew buzzed down a tiny dirt road and into an ancient village. Along the pathway stood several stone structures whose age was revealed by the golden sunlight seeping through gaping holes. We were met with astonished faces and a rushing crowd of inquisitive youngsters who, just moments before were jumping and swaying to the rhythms of Bollywood music. An odd scene to happen upon. Of course, being dancers, none of us could help but to join in the party which turned out to be an India picnic. Combine Bollywood movie and red carpet event to perfectly paint this wordless exchange. We were sucked into a vortex of flashing cameras, blaring music, dancing and an energy that could light an entire city. 

Next I know, I am barefoot in a puddle of cool water at the entrance of an Indian Goddess temple that sits on the highest point of this mountain. I walk up the freezing marble stairs and into a dark, narrow passageway that is only a few inches wider and taller than me. My feet relax into the warm dusty pathway as my fingertips brush along the jagged edges of rough rock. Holy shit, this temple is built inside of the mountain! I am humbled by the small shrine room and a quietness pours through my body. 

The elasticity of time and space becomes more present each moment I spend in this magical land. I am mystified and curious and right at home.