Teaching artist Ruchi Ahuja, from Mumbai, India, is a recent graduate of Emory University, with a B.A. in psychology and minors in dance/movement studies and mathematics.
We sat down with Ruchi to talk about her experiences as a new teacher, as a dancer/choreographer, and how relationship-building has informed her art.
How did you become a dancer?
The summer after my second or third year in high school, I was bored and didn’t have much to do, so I decided to take a bunch of dance lessons. I started doing a style called street jazz (largely improvisational and stems from modern-day dance styles, like hip-hop, breakdancing, funk and electronic dance). I enjoyed it and started going to it more, and even got hired as a kind of apprentice in the company, but I didn’t really start doing ballet or modern until I came to college. From that point on, I dove in and took a lot of technique classes every semester and spent a lot of my summer breaks doing dance intensives and things like that. It’s pretty recent, but I found my passion.
Why did you decide to become a dance teacher?
I don’t think I ever decided to become a dance teacher. In college especially, I don’t think I had any intentions of teaching because I consider myself to be a fairly impatient person and I always thought I would be the worst teacher. For a long time, like a lot of college undergrads, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my educational experience. I majored in psychology and minored in math and dance, so it was a very diverse education and all I knew was that when I graduated, I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and that helps people in a direct way. Moving in the Spirit happened to be a place where both of those interests could be accomplished, so I wasn’t opposed to it.
What is your proudest/most exciting moment as an artist?
I take pride in the fact that I started dancing very late and along the way I’ve had a lot of injuries and difficulties, especially being away from home. In retrospect, there were multiple times where I could have just dropped it and left because it wasn’t affecting anybody else. But I haven’t done that, and it’s a great feeling to be committed toward something so much.
Another proud moment was when I choreographed for the Emory Dance Company last spring along with a few other students. It was an assignment for our Choreography II class, so we choreographed for the company and put on a show. I was very scared going into it, but I knew that I wanted to start expressing myself as an artist beyond just learning other people’s movement. I also felt like I had a lot of things that I wanted to say that I couldn’t express verbally because verbal expression is not my strongest suit. I just dove in without a big plan; I just went with my intuition, trusted my gut, went with the flow, and ended up creating this piece that was people’s favorite piece in the concert; my peers and faculty gave me great feedback. At the end of the concert, my cast and I had formed some really special bonds and they gave me a journal where they had written on the first five pages about the different ways in which this piece changed their lives artistically, emotionally, and physically. I thought I was just all over the place throughout the process and things just happened to come together, but I just had no idea how much they gained from it, so that was really gratifying. I want to go to grad school and pursue an MFA, a goal that I’ve doubted consistently, but when I had that product, that was one moment where I was realized I can do this.
You haven’t been teaching long, but up to this point, what is your proudest/most exciting moment so far as a teacher?
Working with experienced, technically able dancers is definitely different from teaching and working with children, whose bodies are just getting accustomed to what dance is. I think the most challenging part has been conveying information to a four-year-old versus a 12-year-old, so that’s huge learning for me. I think my favorite moments have been forming connections with these little kids, and just within a few classes, having them come sit next to me, hold my hand and say, “Ms. Ruchi, I had so much fun!” I’m enjoying building these relationships and bonds through art and knowing that I’m contributing to something that [the kids] may do for the rest of their lives and be just as passionate about.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve been given is that the dancer/artist you are right now, at this exact moment, is perfect. Use what you’ve got to do what you’ve got. I think it goes back to this common perception or ideal in the dance world that you have to strive for perfection and perfection is five pirouettes or a 180-degree split and it’s so easy to get caught up in that and go down the ladder and feel more inferior.
A lot of times I feel like in the present moment in my life I constantly find myself being frustrated with these injuries and all that they don’t allow me to do. But, I’ve realized that I can pull back a little bit and still be functional in a dance class, keep learning and training and eventually I’ll get back to 100%. It’s very easy to just let go of all that and think that because you’re injured, you’re not perfect anymore and that this isn’t worth it. I think there’s something in working with what you have to build up to a better self.
What do you like most about teaching at Moving in the Spirit?
One thing is that I’m so much in awe of the curriculum because it’s not just about drilling dance technique, it’s about cultivating the children as people before they identify as dancers. There’s a lot of value in that, which contributes to who they are as artists.
The second would be the people that I’ve met here. I’m really big on forming relationships with people and meeting new people and I think every person that I’ve met here is so different and so special in their own way. There’s not a single teacher training or anything where I leave and haven’t gained something that I can use. It’s a community where I feel like I can constantly learn and be inspired.
Ruchi teaches Baby Steps, Mini Steps, and Girls in Motion classes at Moving in the Spirit. Learn more about Ruchi in her bio.