Marisa OlsonContact Email:
For Dhara Shukla PharmD’13 and Khushbu Shah PharmD’13, dancing is a passion deeply rooted in family traditions and events. As young girls, they each performed at relatives’ parties and weddings and years later, the two sophomore resident assistants have channeled their love of dance toward enriching the lives of young girls in the local community.
During the fall 2008 semester, both Shukla and Shah found themselves in Dr. Paul Furtaw and Everett Herman’s Leadership in Service to Community class making plans for the course’s required community service project.
“We knew that we wanted to incorporate dance into the project, and to work with little kids,” said Shukla. “Through our class, we were put in touch with the After School Activities Program (ASAP) and then connected with the Jubilee School.”
ASAP, a non-profit initiative to provide after school recreational and enrichment activities to Philadelphia children, set Shukla and Shah up to teach traditional Indian dance to students at the Jubilee School, a local pre-kindergarten through sixth grade private school committed to providing an education that is affordable to all.
Dance classes kicked-off after Labor Day, and admittedly, started off a bit shaky as the 7 and 8 year-old students reacted differently to the unfamiliar Indian music.
“The boys weren’t responding well to the Indian music, but the girls were really enthusiastic,” said Shah. “We decided to work solely with the girls and to make it more fun, fuse hip-hop and Indian dance together. A lot of the girls had a background in hip-hop music, so that helped to pull them into it.”
With Shah’s extensive training in traditional Indian dance, and Shukla’s love of hip-hop style dancing, the combination was ideal. Throughout the semester, Shukla and Shah visited the Jubilee School twice a week to teach a traditional Indian dance routine and a hip-hop routine to five young girls. The classes culminated in a special end-of-the-semester performance for family, friends, and students in Shukla and Shah’s Leadership in Service to Community class.
The countless hours Shukla and Shah spent at the school lead to noticeable changes in the students.
“The dancing and the performance really gave the girls a boost of self-confidence and offered them something positive to look forward to,” said Shukla.
“When we first met the youngest girl, she wouldn’t even speak and when she’d dance, she’d barely move,” said Shah. “She was so uncomfortable, but after working with her, she got into it and when the performance rolled around, she and the other girls were jumping up and down because they were so excited.”
While it was clear from the young girls’ big smiles that the two women had made a difference, they themselves finished the semester with a fresh outlook.
“The girls hugely impacted us. They all came from different backgrounds, and for a few of them, we could tell that things weren’t as good as they could be. We both realized how fortunate we are, and it opened up our eyes to what’s actually around us,” said Shah.
“I think the dancing was a positive light in their lives, and we ended up getting really close to them,” said Shukla.
Grateful for the influence the students of the Jubilee School had on their lives, Shukla and Shah decided to continue the dance classes through the spring semester, despite it no longer being a class requirement.
“It’s fun and we both really like it. The girls are enjoying it, and we feel like we are making a difference, even if it is only for those five girls,” said Shukla.
Looking back, both women credit the University’s commitment to public service for paving the path to their involvement with the Jubilee school, and hope that their positive experience will enable the school to open up to more volunteers from the University.
“In the beginning, the dancing was just another required after school activity for the girls, but it became so much more than that and now girls who didn’t participate are saying “Oh, we want to do it too.” That feels really good.”