Young Advisor Emily Hart-Lopez and Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project
Young Advisor Emily Hart-Lopez is an NYC based performing artist, dancer and fitness instructor. Originally from Charleston, South Carolina Emily’s work in New York consists of live performances, music videos, dance company work, teaching, and volunteerism. Emily recently embarked on a teaching artist initiative in India serving as an instructor for 2.5 weeks at the Shanti Bhavan school in Bangalore, India through ASTEP (Artsts Striving to End Poverty). Nectar News sat down with Hart-Lopez to discuss her experience in India and learn more about what the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project does for families in communities surrounding Bangalore.
NN: What called you to India and what was the inspiration for your involvement with Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project?
EH: Steps on Broadway provides dancers with a communal audition book at the front of the studio where we can find work and performance opportunities. I found a flyer for the volunteer teacher program at Shanti Bhavan in that book, and I’ve always dreamed of traveling to India. I grew up home schooled in South Carolina prior to high school, and during those days my family exposed me to Indian culture through film, food, and clothing. I really connected to its vibrancy, music, and dance at a young age. In addition, my family had friends that would travel to India and bring me back clothing, and in college I nannied for a very lovely Indian family. I’ve always felt like India was a culture that I wanted to experience more of, and when I saw this opportunity to teach I couldn’t pass it up. I applied, interviewed, trained, etc. and left in May of 2018.
NN: How can interested performers and teachers learn more about the Shanti Bhavan school?
EH: What brought me to this particular school and program was through ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty), which is an arts organization based in NYC. What really drew me to the school was the Netflix documentary called Daughters of Destiny. I strongly suggest educators and artists take some time to watch the film. After watching the film I thought it would be really special to go do something that was a step away from my life here in New York. I wanted to get away from the “me and my career mentality” in an effort to discover how I could serve other people and be exposed to environments so different than my own. The students at Shanti Bhavan are very deserving, incredibly smart, talented, character oriented, charismatic, and more. They are truly world changers and leaders. Each one of them grows up in this wonderful school and goes on to do phenomenal things for their families, hometowns, communities, country, and the globe.
NN: What as your experience like on the daily during the program?
Once we were on the grounds of the school it was just two weeks primarily teaching, choreographing, and performing on campus. We left campus one day to get teaching supplies in the neighboring city of Hosur and we didn’t really explore (as there wasn’t time) until the very end when we went to the village outside of the school where The George Foundation builds houses for families in poor slum areas and houses for staff members of the school. Shanti Bhavan, meaning “Haven of Peace” has been around since 1997 and it is virtually self-sustainable. Students maintain a community garden and the campus has its own animals for milk and eggs. It’s very isolated, but such a paradise and safe, peaceful dwelling place. The entire school is functions as a tight-knit family.
We arrived four days before the students arrived for the camp. During this time the teachers would work on lesson plans, plan camp activities, and practice for a little performance for the students. When the students arrive each year at this time they commit to six intense days of camp. Teachers instruct a major class, a minor class, and a collaboration class followed by another week of rehearsals, performances, and graduation events. From early in the morning to late at night, we were busy and ready to put our heart into everything as these students deserved our very best.
NN: Tell me how you felt when you got back to New York, especially in regards to finding balance between community service and the NY performer’s grind?
EH: I’m still volunteering (on occasion when I can) with ASTEP with their WIN (Women in Need) program in Brooklyn as well as a new organization known as Broadway’s Babies (that has their own WIN program in the Bronx and is founded by ASTEP volunteers who also co-taught with me to Shanti Bhavan). After their experience at Shanti Bhavan, these ASTEP music teachers started their own version of arts education outreach by founding Broadway’s Baby’s that has been giving back in both NYC and internationally. Between ASTEP and Broadway’s Babies, these organizations have served as an excellent arts education model for me to experience. These programs, schools, and students are truly making an impact on communities, and I’m honored to play a small part in it.
NN: Tell us more about finding balance between your performing and volunteerism.
EH: It’s hard to find the balance, but I know that volunteering is always going to be a part of my life. My parents always set an example by practicing generosity, hospitality, and altruism in my household my whole life. Volunteering and outreach is something I started practicing at a young age thanks to them. This is a value I plan to uphold my entire life and hopefully instill in my future family one day. I plan to stay involved with ASTEP as long as I can and would be happy to return to Shanti Bhavan. When you are away in India volunteering, detached from the performance opportunities and other commitments that I’m tied to here in New York, it’s much easier to commit. When I was in India, all I had to do was focus on being there every day for the students in comparison to being here in the states where you have to pay your bills and work. My heart is still very much interested in volunteering, so I’m trying to find ways to make sure it becomes a part of my life every month ideally.
NN: Do you practice Bollywood in New York?
EH: Even though we taught the students choreography of our own, the students also taught us Bhangra. Now I’m performing and learning the tracks for a current U.S Bollywood tour I’m dancing in for Indian artist, Devi Sri Prasad (DSP). I’m excited to delve into the style more in the coming weeks. It’s still fairly new to me, but the beauty I’m finding in Bollywood is not only do you get to be very expressive and theatrical without it being the same as musical theater, but it fuses a variety of dance styles. Bollywood can have some traditional Indian movement, but it also has hip hop and elements that tap into my contemporary background at times. I really love the storytelling, colorful, vibrant, and animated aspects of it.
NN: We know you will be embarking on your first multi-city national tour this year! Congratulations! Tell us more about the styles of dance you will be pursuing and what this opportunity means to you.
EH: Now we’ve just completed our second city performance and are headed to our next city this week. One of my biggest career dreams is to see the world through my art as a performer and entertainer. The past two years have taken me a few places thanks to teaching and performing, but this opportunity means so much to me and is my first extensive touring opportunity beyond one city. I absolutely loved my time in India and now I have the opportunity to explore the culture through dance with some talented dancers from various backgrounds. I’m really grateful to be working for DSP, his choreographer, Ramji, his team and the DPA management/company. This whole experience is showing me how beautiful life is that you never know what experience leads to another or what doors you are meant to walk through. I went from visiting the South of India to working for South Indian artists, and I am thankful for the richness that Shanti Bhavan, ASTEP, Broadway’s Babies, and the DSP tour are bringing to my life. I’m surrounded by incredible artists and human beings every day, and life is an adventure. My hope is that anyone reading this would consider giving financially to these organizations or volunteering their time or simply spreading the word about them.
To learn more about Emily visit her Instagram below