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  • Writer's pictureMouli Pal

Healing together at "Noontime"

It has been three months since we started meeting every weekday at noon.

The world came to a stop mid March when the pandemic lashed viciously into every human life all around the world. With all my concerts cancelled, the existence of performing arts threatened, I felt numb. As a former finance professional I considered switching back. But my heart revolted completely. Then I thought of enrolling in a Masters program in Arts Management so I could use the time to build my resume for a future job as a curator for some cultural organization. Like everyone I was scared and confused but only for a moment.

Past few years I have been performing and travelling intensively but had limited time for practice other than for the specific concert. We should not practice to perform but perform because we are in good practice. So I decided to delve deeper into perfecting my art form which will actually take a life time.

Dancing helped me regain my mental strength and I resolved to not let the situation distract me. Instead I wanted to do more of it. I immediately started online teaching and took up the challenge of teaching intricate pieces. The students cooperated and bravely adapted to the new way of learning by singing and reciting the bols while dancing.

I also felt the need to bring my community closer so that "We are truly in it TOGETHER". That's when the "Noontime" meetings came to my mind. Schools were closed and adults were working from home and we all need to stretch and move.

Initially it was only a body conditioning session. Then we started sharing art and had a mini talent show at the end of each session and slowly started inviting guest artists and speakers. Then I reached out to Raka and Riya to moderate a wellness and positive actions discussion at the end. Our "Noontime" sessions evolved into a wholesome experience where we moved, shared, enriched and learnt.

While my classes included some stretching and warm ups there was never enough time. We now took advantage of the situation and created an elaborate regime consisting of Pilates (glad I certified as a trainer), Yoga, self massage, foot work and specific stretches for Odissi including the wrist and torso movements. Within a few weeks I could notice the huge impact not only on my own dance but all the students who were attending showed a remarkable flexibility during their respective classes.

The guest presenters included following dancers :

Prany Chopra : Kuchipudi

Anagha Sundararajan: Kathak and Bharatnatyam

Emma James (U.K): Contemporary

Denise Limoli: Classical Ballet

We were also honored by some amazing musicians:

Phil Scarff: Saxophone

Jonnathan and Johanna Robinson: Piano and American Pop

Shiv Sai (Mysore-India) :Mridangam

Karuna Randolph: Kirtan and American Pop

Other fascinating presenters included:

Hiking to the base of Mount Everest : Sumit Pal

Health Clinic for Tribal kids in India: Dr. Satish Mullick

Each of the presenters brought the world closer to us even though we were stuck at our homes. We were glad that they could join us from various parts of the world and grateful for the donations from parents which helped support funding for our guest speakers.

We celebrated International Dance day when I learnt the various reasons why dance was important to the students I have the privilege of teaching. I am glad we stopped to contemplate. We also celebrated the graduation of Dr. Maalika Banerjee who has been with us since childhood. Her journey assured our young students that dance and academic excellence actually go hand in hand.

We observed "Rabindra- Jayanti" through the Nobel laureate poet's songs. My dear friend Patra's son Rudransh joined us from Kolkata and inspired us with a powerful elocution of "Where the mind is without fear". We also celebrated numerous birthdays and made the child feel happy on his/her special day. Every Friday was "Art Exhibition" day that motivated everyone to create an artwork through the week.

During this happy time of the day I wanted my entire family together so made sure my nephew Abhinav also showed up from Kolkata on Friday's to share his art work at the art exhibition and my father would attend every guest speaker.

Over a decade ago I had founded Upasana as a Not for Profit organization to promote dance. But when the world went into "Isolation" the organization emerged as a virtual home for all of us to find comfort together.

In three months we never missed a day and took a break only for Memorial day. It helped me immensely to deal with all the negativity and also found another gift. It feels incredibly fulfilling to be able to bring together my students, friends, family dance colleagues, artist friends, and also have my daughter Medha with me each day. How else would a teenager spend an hour with her Mom at Noontime! As for the Master's in Arts Management course, I think after the years of learning through Upasana Odissi Inc. and navigating the pandemic, I could perhaps teach the course!!

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