Danish Bhandara | June 2017
Hometown: Irvine, California
Major: World Arts & Cultures/Dance
Minor: Visual and Performing Arts Education
Q: How did you discover your interest in the arts and how did you know that it was something that you wanted to pursue professionally, as an artist or as an artist teacher?
A: As a young child there was nothing I looked forward to more than our religious community’s (Zoroastrian Association of CA) Youth Shows. This is where I started practicing my choreographic, teaching, and dance performance skills without much guidance. Fast forward about 10 years; when I started going to Irvine Valley College, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to double major in : Nursing and Theater Arts. However, I realized those areas weren’t where my true strengths lied. I couldn’t see myself as a leader/ changemaker in either field , so I switched to Dance as my major, where I felt I could carve my niche by promoting diversity as a dance teacher in our educational systems.
Q: Describe what the young artists in your VAPAE afterschool arts program are working on and the process they’re using.
A: VAPAE has collaborated with the UCLA Graduate School of Education and the Confucius Institute to create an arts component for the Mandarin/Chinese/Spanish Summer Camp at Mark Twain Middle School. We’ve been working with a group of about 40 kids ranging in age from 1st grade to 8th grade, spending this hour-and-a-half at the end of the day with VAPAE Teaching Artists studying art forms related to these two languages, and their cultural heritage here in LA. I’ve been co-teaching dance with Professor Laurel Butler, which integrates various Latin dance forms with Tai Chi. This is followed by a visual art making class lead by Raymundo Baltazar and Yue Wang. Raymundo has been teaching the art of piñata making to grades 4-8, while Yue has been teaching the art of Chinese fan making.
Q: Why is an enrichment opportunity like this important for those participating? What do they gain?
A: Since these students are learning two or three different languages, an art making / participation component in relation to these languages is essential to understanding the cultures in which these languages embedded. Generally speaking, students don’t have enough space to create and participate in art in education, yet it is essential to their growth especially in discovering and expressing their individuality.
Q: Did you have an opportunity like this when you were a younger artist? If yes, how did it help shape your love of art? If no, in what ways could a program like this have helped you?
A: Like I mentioned, every other summer our religious community (Zoroastrian Association of CA) would hold a Youth Show. Acts for the show were parent organized and as I grew older I became a part of the planning and organizing. We would put on skits, dances, fashion shows, and sing. Through these shows I discovered what I was truly passionate about creating, teaching, and performing dances.
Q: What has this experience as a teaching artist or arts facilitator taught you about yourself?
A: Teaching a broad range of ages at Mark Twain middle school has been quite a humbling experience. I normally teach high schoolers or young adults, so I was happy to learn that I could keep younger students engaged (for the most part) and develop some trust. I wasn’t sure if I pull out that inner child in me that could create The most appropriate teaching Person, but I surprised myself and was able to do so authentically.
Q: What do you personally gain as a teaching artist, arts facilitator?
A: This may seem a bit dramatic, but it truly is the best use of my time here on Earth I believe. The best that I can give of myself is through teaching/ performing dance. To know that students will take some of the positive values or the value for dance/art that I’ve introduced to them (knowingly or unknowingly) and pass that on, hopefully, for generations to come, makes my life that much more worthwhile. Moreover, in terms of Arts education (primarily dance ) I’ve noticed an Utter lack of diversity, despite the US being such a culturally diverse country. The main dance forms that are taught originate from Western cultures. So it is very fulfilling for me to bring about diversity by teaching dance forms from India and the Middle East.
Q: What are the benefits to you as a student/graduate in the UCLA VAPAE program? Was this program a good choice for you? If so, why?
A: Going through the VAPAE Arts Ed teaching sequence was probably one of the best decisions I made as an undergrad. It gave me hands on experience of teaching in the public school system and the practice of Lesson Plan making and implementation. It empowered me as a teaching artist because it made me certain of my capabilities & passion. It also really helped me to articulate that I was teaching more than just movement, I was teaching about culture, about respect/acceptance, the value of diversity, etc.
Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions (or Arts Education Teaching Sequence) that stand out to you? Perhaps you had a break‐through with a student or saw some particularly noticeable growth in that student through this program, collaboration etc. Maybe something surprised you or made you think about art or teaching in a new way.
A: When I taught students at Van Nuys High School about various folk, classical, and modern Indian dances, I went in knowing that they were looking forward to it, but I was not expecting such an enthusiastic response. After I had taught them a phrase of Bollywood dance choreography one day, almost all the students decided to stay after class during their break and spontaneously created a cipher to dance using the movements I had taught them. They were so elated and cheered each other on. I know that I lucked out with a great group of students, but to know that my teaching could have such an impact was incredibly heartwarming and motivating.
Q: What are your short-term and long‐term career goals?
A: At the moment I am applying for grad schools to earn an MFA in Dance. I would like to create a prominent name for myself as a dancer/ choreographer in the commercial, concert, and /or fine arts dance world (s). Ultimately, I would like to teach dance (mainly Indian and Middle Eastern forms) to high school and/or college full time.