I didn’t know it would turn out this way…
Our association goes back more than 4 decades and counting. She initiated me into the exquisitely rich world of classical dance and performing arts. It all started without any fanfare. She saw me standing by the door, a dumbstruck little girl, watching her rehearse and asked if I would like to learn. I just nodded my head in the affirmative, without uttering a word, still awed by the experience of what I was witnessing. That started a journey which intertwined us in an almost cosmic connection. We have both travelled through our independent trajectories in life during this long phase, being connected somehow even when physical proximity wasn’t possible. Yet, even today, when I stand in front of her as a student my heart flutters and there is a certain nervousness, butterflies dancing in my stomach. And excitement! She is a master of her craft, a doyen in the field. She has taught me most of what I know about dance. But she has also taught me a lot about life’s nuances. Sprinkling insightful analogies and narrating anecdotes to explain the underlying bhava (emotion/sentiment) while teaching, extolling me to go beyond the realm of just physical movement. All this while naturally drawing upon her personal learnings, simultaneously coaxing me to embellish my craft with mine, goading me to own it because its as much mine as hers. Always, in some way, driving home the point that our craft is a stylized version of us, of what we bring to the stories, how we give them life and nurture them, that our interpretations of the same may change over time, and that they should because both the art and the practitioner are vibrant entities which need to continually rejuvenate to remain alive and relevant. She does this without any declaration of intent to be a ‘mentor’ or ‘wanting to inspire’. She just does it quite simply as a byproduct of the desire to share what she has absorbed over her lifetime and uses to create newer stories, no holds barred. There is no implicit hierarchy to be guarded in this sharing. It just has to be “full, meaningful and beautiful”.
“Even the way you look with your eyes has to meaningful. It can make the movement bigger or kill it. It can help convey an emotion or kill it. It can make it look graceful, or reduce it to being coquettish. Every small element counts. But make it flow from within. Only then will it look complete.”
There are some valuable lessons I have drawn from this relationship that have seeped into all else that I do, without me even realizing it.
- Being a leader/coach/mentor is more than a designation. It’s as much an intuitive process as a studied one, an art as much (if not more) as science. And some are more natural at it then others. Being good at your craft doesn’t ensure you’ll make a good teacher of it. This in turn also depends as much on your teaching abilities as your inherent nature. You can practice to be good at it but it only happens better when you’ve internalized your own lessons better.
- Knowledge/expertise often gets polluted with ego. This may not be a voluntary act, but human nature is quite porous to its effects. This ego doesn’t always exhibit as an obvious black and white Machiavellian. Rather, it could manifest as more complex behaviour, translating to a selective (diluted) sharing, possibly originating from a place of judgement. You may righteously feel (the emotion is the qualifier here) the receiver is not competent enough, ready enough, hasn’t worked long enough to be receiving, or feel that she/he would walk away with those learnings to compete with you. Of course, each of these is a practical reality and we can cite examples to prove the point. But if your learnings are a result of any long term period, there is usually only so much a novice can do with it. Their ability to sieve intense teachings and interpretations would likely be limited. Your granting the learning from a place of deep rooted self confidence and grace however, could keep them rooted to you and keep them coming back to you for further guidance. Its important to be vigilant to ego creeping in.
- It’s good (for the heart and head) to realize there is always a chance that someone will take what you have taught them and turn it on it’s head. And it may not necessarily be a bad thing. The initial input would still have been yours and that still makes you a part of the process. No one can take that credit (if that’s how one wants to see it) away from you. Being challenged is never easy. But how one chooses to react to it could be the difference between reinventing for relevance and being sidelined as a hurt, resentful ‘has been’.
- Don’t be nervous about exploring. It doesn’t always mean lack of focus. Even if people may tell you so. It’s a sign of life, growth and vitality. How do you know you may not be good at more than one thing until you try? Why should you not take a new route or select a new destination? Even a car GPS throws options. That’s why we use one, right? And here it’s our life we are taking about!
Definitions should be used for what they are meant for – define something. Not define you.
And if some folks have trouble understanding that, so be it. Your job is not always to make it easier for others to understand you, but to understand yourself. They will eventually understand (hopefully). It’s tough and the tussle is for real. But if you don’t explore choices, how valid are your inferences?
- Last but not the least, if you are fortunate enough to have a genuine guide/guru/mentor in your life, don’t forget them. Stay connected. Many of life’s eureka moments come from a better understanding of a basic concept, a sharper picture of what you have already been staring at for long. When you repeat/revisit these concepts your own accumulated experiences make them so much clearer. And you become more thankful for all the earlier lessons, no matter how little you understood them then.
Some learnings can’t be rushed. And who knows, you might become a worthy mentor yourself in the process without trying too hard. It happens more seamlessly and meaningfully.
I didn’t know it would turn out this way that day in my life long ago. I just shut up and took the plunge. Quite literally so. And I am so glad and richer for it. It hasn’t been all joyride but its been nothing short of magic in parts either. Don’t let the magic die.
And yes, I believe technology cannot create magic the same way.