This week in bharatanatyam, I’ve been working on Variation 4 of Visharu Adavu. I’d thought it was the third variation until my guru explained that she is purposely omitting Variation 3. Her rationale made sense – especially when she actually demonstrated the step – yet I feel I should be learning it regardless. (I’m surprised not to feel relieved; the step is pretty, but looks like something I won’t be able to execute well. Like Variation 8 of Natta Adavu, which I love to watch but hate to practise.)

I find myself in this sort of bind often. I believe in taking learning into my own hands, but I want to trust my teachers. I know they can make my learning process so much more efficient. But I have also been misled in the past – quite badly – by following teachers’ advice against my instincts.

I think I am sensitive because my bad teacher experiences happened when I was new to a thing I was learning, and needed to be taught how to learn the thing as much as the thing itself. In these recent pursuits of bharatanatyam, carnatic music and opera singing, I am back in that position. I want to be a good student, but I’m not sure what that entails.

You wouldn’t think this would be a problem for someone who got through postgraduate studies. But university mostly boiled down to time-management: knowing what to do thoroughly and what to gloss over and what to outright ignore in order to make the grade within the allotted time. For skills with an embodied component, however, your body is either capable of a thing or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, you have to spend however long it takes to get your body capable. You cannot cram for (or be driven by) a deadline.

But as frustrating as that can be sometimes, it offers a different kind of lesson. I am learning to slow down, to create habits, to take things as they come. To listen to my body. I am finding a kind of patience I have never had with myself.