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In Hinduism, Lord Krishna is one of the most major deities and is known as the god of compassion, tenderness, love, and beauty. He is also known by numerous other names, one of which is Mukunda. I learned this information about Krishna when some of the children at Vidya very kindly let a few of us watch their dance class, not just once but every day for the second two weeks of our time in India.

We took off our shoes and left them with the rows and piles of well-worn loafers and Mary Jane’s that crowded the classroom’s door. We snuck into the packed room and seated ourselves against the mirror, ready to watch the students rehearse. A beautiful Hindi song boomed through the speakers and the students immediately began to move to the beat; each of their steps coinciding perfectly with the drum and their arm and hand gestures complimenting the singer’s sweet voice. We watched with admiration as their dance teacher choreographed step after step on the spot and the students performed them seamlessly on their first try.

After no more than ten minutes, the students urged us to jump in and dance with them. They made room for us in their opening positions and tried to calm our uneasiness about not knowing the steps by insisting we just follow their moves. The instant we got in position, the music again began to boom and we were trotting in a circle before we knew it. Our first run-through was undoubtedly uncoordinated, but at the very least it provided some hearty laughs for the students watching. Despite our imperfect beginning to learning the dance, both the children and the dance teacher were incredibly encouraging and patient with us.

Not only did they make us feel like we had a place in their dance, but they truly wanted us to take a piece of their culture home with us.

I asked for the name of the song that we were dancing to so I could show friends and family at home. One of the girls who had been most enthusiastic about us learning the dance replied immediately, “Mukunda. It is one of Krishna’s songs.” She proceeded to tell me about Krishna and the meaning behind this song and dance. When I learned of Krishna’s meaning being a symbol of love and compassion, I found myself touched by their keenness to teach us the dance and have us partake in rehearsal. I saw that the students were pleased by our joy of dancing with them and the fact that we wanted our own families to understand as well. I realized that we both were able to take this experience as a gift.

For the students, who have a great amount of pride in their country and heritage, the gift was imparting a beautiful piece of culture upon a group of visitors that would have otherwise sat on the sidelines. A class period that started with a few extra spectators blossomed into a lesson for us ACE volunteers in the art of dance, religion, and camaraderie that overcomes the barrier of language. Whether it was their intention or not, the students expressed to us the very qualities of the deity they were dancing in honor of: compassion, tenderness, love, and beauty.

Watch the VIDYA schoolchildren teach #ACEathletes the Mukunda dance:

children and student-athletes dancing in a classroom

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