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Dance teacher Sameeksha Joshi teaches Indian classical dance to students at the GEMS Heritage School in Dubai on 24th September 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News Image Credit:

Dubai: Indian performing arts should be a compulsory subject across Indian schools in the UAE, according to an artist leading a campaign to preserve culture and heritage.

Jogiraj Sikidar, founder and director of Malhaar Centre for Performing Arts in Dubai, said a generation risks alienation with classical Indian music and dance unless children are taught them in school.

Two Indian schools in Dubai – GEMS Heritage Indian School and GEMS Modern Academy – have already made the subject mandatory and, Sikidar said, more are expected to follow.

Indian students given lessons on culture Clint Egbert, Photographer, Faisal Masudi, Senior Reporter

He added that unless Indian performing arts are made part of the curriculum, they will slowly fade out, losing a part of Indian culture and identity. And because it takes years to learn the arts, children must be taught from a young age, Sikidar said.

At the two schools, a total of around 2,500 children from grade one to six are taking daily classes in vocals, dance or instrumental music, taught by teachers from Malhaar. Parents are not charged extra for the classes, Sikidar said.

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Students learn and practice Indian classical music at the GEMS Heritage School in Dubai on 24th September 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

‘Make it compulsory’

“You have to make it a compulsory subject otherwise it will never happen; people will always treat it an as option or hobby,” he added.

Sikidar said besides the cultural value, the performing arts help children use the brain’s “creative half”, build confidence and communication skills, increase their university admission prospects and even improve behaviour by teaching them anger management.

“With the way the world is moving, how Artificial Intelligence is taking over, these qualities will be most important when children grow up. Performing arts are no less important than, say, maths and science.”

According to Sikidar, this is the first time a movement has begun to make Indian performing arts a mandatory school subject.

Approved classes

The classes are approved by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), he said.

Malhaar, in association with the schools, organises “internal exams” and certificates for grades one to three. Grades four and above take “external exams” and certificates from visiting examiners from “widely recognised” performing arts accrediting bodies in India and London.

“Other schools can see the results, now that it’s happening; they’re getting convinced to make it mandatory.”

‘It’s working’

Darrly Bloud, executive principal of GEMS Heritage, said the school wanted to offer students a “unique” opportunity while also saving Indian performing arts from becoming “a lost cause”. He added that parents and students have welcomed the subject, with some even asking for additional after-school paid classes.

“I think it’s working... this has been a wonderful programme and what also makes me happy is that sometimes great maestros from India visit us through the programme. They come into our school and the children get to know them and learn from them; this is something which has touched all our hearts,” Bloud said.

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Students learn and practice Indian classical music at the GEMS Heritage School in Dubai on 24th September 2019. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Meeting gurus

Students at Heritage have interacted with notable Indian artists such as santoor player Shivkumar Sharma, violinist Dr L. Subramaniam and singer Asha Bhosle.

Pupils at GEMS Modern Academy are also learning from performing arts gurus and taking master classes. Toshiko Malhotra, Head of Primary, GEMS Modern Academy, said, “this is a unique initiative in this part of the world. Children learn from mentors, observe the maestros and perform with peers”.

In April 2019, Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj launched Malhaar’s flagship integrated Indian performing arts programme, ‘Listen, Learn and Perform’, as a compulsory performing arts subject at Modern’s primary school and also conducted a master class.

Malhotra said: “GEMS Modern Academy strongly believes an appreciation of Indian classical music and dance, along with our well established Western vocals and violin classes, will enhance our children’s perspective and holistic development, it was heartening to see the enthusiasm of our students and many a hidden talent emerged. Students enjoy the sessions and we were surprised to see the interest of a large number of boys in Bharatanatyam dance form. Special thanks to our parents for encouraging and supporting the programme wholeheartedly.”

Good move

For grade three student Aahana Singh at Heritage school, she has found joy in learning the Kathak classical Indian dance. “It’s great that I’m learning something new and I’ve a good teacher. I like the footwork and hand movements of Kathak, it’s really nice to be in this class.”

Her dance teacher Sameeksha Joshi said the students’ “hard work” spoke volumes “about the appreciation I get from them”.

Aahana’s schoolmate, grade six student Laiba Khan, said playing the Tabla has helped her focus and improve her concentration. “I have never played an instrument before, and Tabla as an instrument fascinates me. I was keen to know and learn everything about it. This is what sparked my interest. I feel very relaxed. I aspire to be a musician someday.”

Another grade six student, Meehir Verma, who is learning Hindustani vocals, said the programme has lent a voice to her passion. “I love singing. It is my passion to sing. The play of notes moving from a high note to a low note excites me. I also feels singing helps me focus better in my studies.”