TikTok Gave My Daughter a New Passion During Quarantine

published Mar 24, 2021
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A year ago this month, our life turned upside down, and among other losses, my elementary-aged daughter’s beloved bharatanatyam classes pivoted online. Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form that originated in southern India, but has become an accessible way for young people in the diaspora to access South Asian culture in the U.S. 

We are not south Indian, yet my mother enrolled me in bharatanatyam classes when I was in kindergarten. More than anything, it provided me with a sense of community and pride in my South Asian-ness when I was surrounded by and navigating a sea of whiteness. It also gave me an appreciation for the hard work that being an artist and performer entails, and provided an opening to other dance forms I learned later on in life, such as kathak, flamenco, and belly dancing. 

I enrolled my daughter — who is half-south Indian; her father’s family is from the southwestern Indian state of Kerala — in bharatanatyam classes for much the same reasons: for friendship, for discipline, for art. I also fell for her teacher and her approach. She is cognizant of her young students’ physical limits, attention spans, and creative capabilities, and respectful of their sense of self and sense of play. She instills the fundamentals of the dance form, from adavu (basic step) to hasta (hand gesture) to abhinaya (expressive element), but also invites students to explore the boundaries of the ancient art form and use the vocabulary of bharatanatyam to tell stories of their own. 

My daughter’s twice-weekly lessons, as well as year-round special events, such as Diwali at the town’s senior center or the holiday tree lighting at the public library or her dance school’s summer camp, gave her life — and mine! — rhythm, joy, and community. 

At first, her classes were cancelled outright and we were very sad. And although they resumed some weeks later on Zoom, she missed the warmth and energy of a studio. It was also around this time, in the early days of the pandemic, that TikTok dance challenges became popular on the platform — the Renegade, “Say So” by Doja Cat, the “Hit Every Beat” challenge. We watched and mimicked, but also began to create 15 to 30 second videos of us dancing together, based on what she was learning virtually that week. 

For many, the “TikTok dance challenge phase” of quarantine waned, but we continued to make short videos set to pop songs, several South Asian folk forms, even Beethoven. It’s now a creative way to enhance her more traditional practice routines, and it has brought me back to dance in an unexpected way. I have been reminded of its pleasures and been awed by what my body is still capable of doing. Together, we continue to find new inspiration on TikTok and Instagram and YouTube, and the whole experience has allowed us to bond and be silly and stay grounded during these unpredictable times.

Though our videos borrow their aesthetics from social media, we have no intention to share them on any platform, even with family and friends. Instead, I save them onto an external hard drive, labeled by date — a relic of these historic times and a document of the shared interests of a child and her caregiver. Perhaps we will one day, far into the future, she will look back on them and appreciate how far she has come as a dancer and artist. Until then, we continue to make videos, not losing sight of having fun and letting it be whatever it wants to be. 

Tips for Incorporating Dance into Family Life

While I love social media, I’m also very strict about my own time on various apps and her access. TikTok is fun, but it’s not all child-friendly. I usually browse first under the #danceislife, #bharatnatyam, #ballet, or other hashtags for 10 to 15 minutes tops, and then share a link or two with her.

If social media isn’t your family’s thing, we’ve also found inspiration in music of various genres and even art! Adapting a tradition around dance and movement has made each day special for us.