Monday, May 09, 2005

The Meridian Hill Park drum circle...

has started again. And it's just as wonderful as it was last year.

I went yesterday, with a book called "The Idea of Pakistan" I wanted to read as background for some research I'm doing. I didn't intend to actually read it at the park; it was more as a totem, in the way that you put a picture of your boyfriend in your wallet.

I did some yoga and then danced. The drummers all congregate on the concrete flat space just in front of the steps that separate the two halves of the park. I was dancing in the grass, slightly separated from the main group. As I danced, a man in the center of the circle smiled and waved at me, meaning that I should take a turn dancing in the center of the circle. This may astonish some of my friends, but I turned him down because I felt shy. There are some amazing capoeira dancers who dance in that circle, and I just didn't feel worthy. But I will, eventually.

When I turned around I saw that a small group of friends had set up a tightrope tied between two trees (about two feet off the ground), and were practicing on it. One guy - who was short, had very long toes, and seemed somehow elfish - jumped on and ran back and forth. He was wonderful, just like a monkey. "Can I try?" I asked them. "Sure," the elf said. "Why don't you put your hand on my shoulder." Even when using him for support, I couldn't stay up for more than a few seconds without toppling. It was astonishingly challenging - and I like to think that yoga has given me an excellent sense of balance. "You'll get the hang of it," he told me encouragingly. "You can buy the rope for it at any climbing store."

I thanked him and went back to my yoga practice. As I was resting in downward facing dog, two kids came up to me. "We know you!" the girl said. "You can put your feet behind your head!" They remembered me! They were astonishingly taller and bigger and older and I felt a brief pang of mortality before I began playing with them. "Show us more, show us more! I know that one, I can do it!"

Children have a marvellous energy and I believe that all children naturally love to learn. If I ever teach children in any way, I hope that I'm never arrogant enough to believe that my job is to instill them with a love of learning; my job is to teach them to figure out how to satisfy the love of learning they already have in the context of what I want to teach them. If a teacher is boring or uninspired about their subject, it quickly becomes obvious to children that they'll have a much richer experiential learning curve by making noise or creating some interesting social interactions by throwing a paper ball at the kid next to them.

In BKS Iyengar's wonderful book "The Tree of Yoga", he describes teaching a rowdy class of children, who had daunted all the other teachers who tried to work with them. He says, "I allowed them to play with me. If I had been very strict on the first day, the next day when I went to the class I would have found an empty classroom, because the children would have skipped the class and would not have come at all. But when they started making mischief, I said, ‘You are very good at making mischief. Come on, a little more! Perhaps you should make a little more noise. It’s not enough!’ That gave them a shock. Then I conducted the class. Then I say, ‘I love you. I like you because you are very mischievious.’" Oh, that BKS Iyengar, he's so cute.

So I played around in the grass with the kids for a while. We did some yoga moves, and then we invented some dances with soundtracks: "Peanut - (pump arm) - butter - (kick leg) - and jelly (jump up and down)! Fried (stretch left) bananas (stretch right) and HONEY (Big jump)!!!"

Then the kids noticed the tightrope. Naturally they dashed over there faster than a spring lamb leaping in a paddock. "I can do that! I can do that! Let me try!" So the Elf Man gave them a little impromptu lesson and I have to say their teamwork was remarkable. One kid would try the tightrope while his or her two siblings each held a hand and gave a running pep talk. "Just focus...concentrate...get in the zone! The zone!" Michelle kept chanting.

After the children had left I danced a little while longer and a guy came up to me and gave me a lesson in breakdancing: popping and locking. "It's all about isolation," he said sagely. "Just follow each movement of your limbs with your other hand." He led me through a baby exercise and then broke off into this amazing dance routine with the complex rhythms of the drums pounding away behind him.

Really, where else could you go on a Sunday afternoon to lie in the grass and listen to amazing music, get an heart-pumping dance workout, play with children, and get awesome lessons in walking a tightrope and breakdancing?


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