Performers missing the audience’s applause

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Music, students, counts, steps and the voice of an instructing teacher. This sounds like a quintessential dance class. But no, it’s not. It’s an online dance class. Same is the case with a painting class where the teacher is rolling out instructions at every contouring line, placement, shading; except that it’s not happening in-person, but online. Welcome to the new norm of fine arts and performing arts class setups.

Gurus and teachers of fine arts and performing arts are adjusting to the new reality brought about by the pandemic. Like many professionals, fine art teachers too were left puzzled and lost during the initial days of lockdown that came with the pandemic. The lockdown and pandemic restricted them from conducting physical classes. But soon, they embraced the power of technology and harnessed it to their advantage. Anuradha Thorat, Kathak exponent, Noopur Dance Academy says, “The initial puzzlement led me to research and explore opportunities to conduct classes and by the end of first week of April, I was ready with online classes for my students.” While for Thorat it was self-motivation and a need to engage her students, which led to online classes, for Sangita Sarkar, Artist and Art teacher at Art Strokes, it was encouragement from her students’ parents that made her explore the realm of online classes.

While teachers have upskilled themselves to exploit technology to their benefit, almost all agree that teaching online is a different ballgame in comparison to physical classes. Sai Paranjape, Bharatnatyam exponent, Nrityabhakti Foundation who sends recorded videos to her students, rues, “This is like superficial teaching. The style and perfection attained in a physical class is not possible through online classes.” Agrees Sarkar, “Correcting while a student is sketching/painting is challenging. The process of teaching becomes slow as each step needs to be elaborated. Also, I need to be ready with plan B.” “Time lag is a major challenge when am teaching, if I am on count 16 of a song, my student may be on count 15 and leads to confusion!” says Mrudula Jadhav, Hindustani Classical Vocal Artist.

Online classes do not match up to the excitement and connect provided by physical classes.

Glitches in technology is not the only challenge experienced when conducting online classes. “Space is a constraint for performing arts. And most students stay in flats, which means their practice becomes a disturbance for neighbours,” a point equally shared by Thorat and Paranjape. “It’s difficult for students to judge the depth, size, ratio, shadows, texture etc., I have to foresee such challenges, experiment first at my end and then prepare for the same before a sketching class, which translates to more efforts,” says Sarkar.  “Some of my students do not have a tabla set to practice at home, so I encouraged them to use a table,” says Vikas Bhave, Classical Vocalist and Percussionist who had to bring in alternative solutions. Another glaring challenge is the inability to host stage and showcase performances. To bridge the gap teachers either live stream performances or upload recorded videos of their students to Facebook or Instagram pages.

Online classes do not match up to the excitement and connect provided by physical classes. This has been taken care of by teachers who weave activities into the classes. Paranjape provides her students with a concept every two months, to which students perform a short 3-minute dance, which is recorded and uploaded to their Facebook page. While Bhave brings in uniqueness to his singing classes, especially while teaching young ones through sound effects or sharing related videos at the end of the classes, which increases their knowledge about music.

There is no doubt that online classes are insufficient when compared to physical classes, but they bring some benefits; the best being – breaking geographical boundaries. Teachers now have students enrolling for their classes from across the globe. While Sarkar now has students from South Africa, Himachal Pradesh and the UK, Jadhav has students from US, Australia and Canada since he went online. And Bhave’s online classes penetrated the interiors of Maharashtra too. That’s not the only positive… it opened up gateways for students who had to drop off classes mid-way to move to different parts of the world.

Students taking part in an online class

Cheers to the teachers who have embraced technology and grasped the fact that future is bright even for online classes despite their shortcomings. Their longing, however, for physical classes and stage performances is evident and best expressed in Jadhav’s words, “An artist is known by their audience. A performance before a learned audience paves way for their growth similarly the growth of a student is immense in physical classes.”

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