Tag Archives: Indian

Exploring Culture through Dance

By Juliette Chirol Hill

At a very young age, I absolutely detested children’s ballet classes, because putting on tights was a real pain.  Ten years later, ballet has become my favorite form of dance.  The vocabulary of ballet mostly comes from the language my mother speaks: French.  So, over the years, my ballet instructors would often asked me how to pronounce various French ballet words  such as “déboulés” and so on.  I have always loved those cultural moments, especially since finding another French person in my neighborhood was as likely as finding authentic French crèpes in a local pancake shop.  Ballet, like my French culture, is now part of me in the way I move and in the way I think.

Following a growing interest for Indian culture, my parents encouraged me to take Bollywood dance classes. Since by this point, I was practically exclusively listening to Bollywood songs and watching Bollywood movies, I fit right in with the Indian dancers who had grown up with all those tunes and films.  Occasionally, I would amaze my friends by mouthing songs they would never have expected a non-native to know.  Since this style of dance is so different from the unyielding poses in ballet, which I had practiced my whole life, it was a difficult transition.  The hand positions proved to be particularly tricky in all their intricacies (quickly switching between the “lotus,” “peacock,” and “deer” challenged me for a few weeks).  With the help of the dancers who had grown up in this style, I was able to improve my technique, and in turn, I taught them how to do ballet “déboulés” and useful stretches.  Bollywood dance provided me with some of the most fun I ever had dancing, with so much life and energy bouncing between the dancers who pushed through their exhaustion and still managed to nail difficult moves to the beat of the music.

Arriving at USC, I wasn’t sure how I would fill in the gap that both ballet and Bollywood dance had left in me and so I started searching for dance clubs.  I soon tiptoed into USC’s Traditional Chinese Dance. Once again, I surprised most of the members by the fact that I spoke Chinese without much of an American accent.  So we got along right away.  Chinese dance styles being much closer to ballet in the postures and footwork, most of the combinations were second nature for me, but unfortunately, not for all of us.  Like my friends in the Bollywood classes who had helped me through my clumsiness in my early steps, I helped the USC dancers who were toiling, even sharing tricks I had learned to make the movements work and look best.

Languages and dance, two completely different but nonetheless powerful forms of communication, are the two mediums that have allowed me to find a home within cultures, regardless of whether I was born into them or not.  And I’m thankful to be in a country where it is so easy to experience all these cultures, whether it be through verbal interactions or through dance.

Juliette  is currently majoring in computer science at the Viterbi School of Engineering, with a potential minor in linguistics.  She is local from Los Angeles, but has traveled to both Europe and Asia several times.  On her free time, she likes to dance, watch films, read, do puzzles, and learn Chinese and Hindi.

Communicating in Two Languages

By Jessleen Dhaliwal

My mother and I speak two different languages; she speaks Punjabi and I speak English. We choose to speak different tongues. My mother asks a question in Punjabi, and I answer in English. Even though we communicate, the truth in our words is lost.

I never understood how our words lost meaning until I read Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. Tan describes language as a key factor in the cultural gap between Chinese mothers and their American daughters. In each story, there were misunderstandings because neither the mother nor the daughter understood one another. After reading The Joy Luck Club, I wanted to understand why my mother and I spoke different languages. Was it my limited knowledge of Indian culture? Or was it my mother’s fractured English? How could we speak, yet not understand each other?

When I finally asked my mother, she replied with a simple answer. In Punjabi, my mother said, “That is the way it has always been.”

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Embracing My Indian Culture

By Zaki Khan

As I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I am 100% American. But, my parents emigrated from India in the 70s, so that makes me an Indian-American. While I grew up around the language (Urdu), culture, and cuisine, I actually did my best to abstain from a lot of aspects of my Indian heritage. Although I loved the food, I refused to learn Urdu, I protested any Bollywood film viewing, and I begged my mom to let me wear western style suits (instead of the traditional shlwar-kamis) to important functions and parties.

I shunned all these aspects of my parents’ upbringing because my biggest objective growing up was to fit in. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and my greatest fear was for my peers to think my family’s customs were weird. My reluctance was so great that, on move-in day four years ago, I rolled my eyes and made a fuss when my parents said they met a nice couple from Bangladesh and that I should meet their son.

This wasn’t the first time my parents wanted me to meet and befriend a kid my own age just because he or his parents were from the Indian subcontinent. So I did what I usually do – I greeted the parents with respect, exchanged a few words with their son, Waiz, and told him we should definitely get lunch sometime (not really expecting either of us to follow through on the invitation).

But as it turns out, we actually had very similar interests. And after running into each other repeatedly at different events the first couple months of school and sharing the same dreadful CHEM 105a class, we became really great friends. Soon enough, we decided to room together for our sophomore year and continued to remain roommates and best friends throughout the rest of college.

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