ISPE program rejects Indian classical dance

October 21, 2015 — by Amulya Vadlakonda

Some people seem to have been born to run a mile in less than 5 minutes — others to shoot hoops, kick a soccer ball or swing a bat. I am none of those people.

But even though I have always struggled with the standardized curriculum of a P.E. class, I know that my physical strength lies in my ability to dance.

However, when I first went in to talk to my guidance counselor about joining the Independent Study Physical Education (ISPE) program in freshman year by participating in a form of Indian classical dance called Kuchipudi, I was immediately discouraged, even though I’ve been dancing for over seven years.

I learned that countless students were in the same situation, and few, if any, were actually approved after they applied. Granted, some requirements for ISPE make perfect sense. For example, each student has to report at least 10 hours of physical activity per week for 17 weeks per semester, which compares to the time that would be used in a P.E. class or in a sport. But the school also sees fit to require students to compete at a state or national level in their area of expertise.

These qualifications of the ISPE program, set by the school district as opposed to the state itself, undermine its goal of encouraging students to participate in their own sport or physical activity. Even though Kuchipudi is as rigorous as school sports and P.E. classes, it is rejected simply because there is no way for participants to compete or perform at a national or state level.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that over the last year, I spent at least 10 hours every week practicing for my arangetram, a solo 3-hour performance that marks the beginning of a dancer’s career. It has became routine for me to practice two to three hours in a day, especially as I neared my performance date this past July. Throughout the summer, I practiced three hours in the morning and another three more at night. Clearly, meeting the ISPE time requirements wasn’t an issue.

To address any objections that dance would not have provided me with the same physical rigor as, say, P.E., I   might add that I practiced core body movements, arm and leg workouts, balancing techniques and endurance training during every practice session.

And, as a student of both the P.E. program and Kuchipudi, I can guarantee that dancing a complex 20-minute item is more physically taxing than running a timed mile or deadlifting 150 pounds. This art form forces the dancer to work on endurance and strength training, which is the same focus of school sports and P.E.  

I understand that it is in the best interest of the school to maintain its P.E. program, reflected in the fact that there are 249 students in P.E. classes at the school, while there are only 33 students in the ISPE program. I concede that ISPE ought to be solely for those who are serious about their sport, but there is a serious issue in that for some sports, there is an impossible standard to reach.

If athletes in sports such as gymnastics and tennis are able to meet their P.E. requirements through ISPE, dancers  should have been able to get the same credits for their work in studios. Perhaps it is time for the school to re-evaluate what it really wants to accomplish with the ISPE program.