Like many Asian-American children, I studied piano after school. Many years of piano, plus flute, plus, eventually, bharata natyam, a classical form of Indian dance, similar in discipline, rigor, and historical scope to European ballet, though tremendously different in style. I was highly resistant to the dance. A pudgy, clumsy child, dance made me self-conscious in a way music never did. I rebelled as well against the long hours of practice -- during the worst period, I was practicing two hours of piano, one hour of flute, and one hour of dance every single day after school.
This seems mad to me now, but in grammar school, I wasn't spending much time on homework. I generally did it in the bus on the way to school, or on the way home. At one point, my best friends and I decided we were just too bored to actually do all the homework ourselves -- we traded off subjects, so that each of us only needed to do one area, copying each others' answers on the bus and in the playground before we went in to homeroom. Neither our grades nor our actual learning suffered for the cheating, but it proved to be as much of a nuisance logistically as actually doing the homework, so after a month or so, we gave up and went back to doing our own work.
In any case, I did have plenty of time for music and dance practice, but losing four hours a day to it seemed bitterly unfair. I had no actual commitment to the arts; I was a voracious reader, and often ran scales with one hand while sneakily reading a book propped on the piano, so that my poor mother would think that I was dutifully practicing. My friends in the neighborhood were freely playing kickball, capture-the-flag, riding their bicycles, while I was chained to the piano, the flute, from age seven to approximately age fifteen.
Bharata natyam was a late addition; I only studied it for two years, in seventh and eight grades. I was coming to dance quite old; my middle sister started at the same time, and gained far more proficiency than I ever did, eventually graduating with honors from the program. Her graduation involved a grueling two-hour solo performance, which she executed with remarkable skill and grace. To give her due credit, Mirna was not only younger, but far more disciplined and driven than I ever was. Our younger sister, Sharmila, also eventually studied bharata natyam and graduated from the program as well.
I was the oldest student in my class, and the worst. We met on weekends, in a community center, with perhaps a half-dozen other students. We strapped jingly bells onto our ankles and under the instruction of an old man we called Master, we ran through hours of incredibly boring drills. Thay thay, thi thi thay. With hands on our hips, knees bent, we thumped repetitive patterns with our feet, over and over and over again. It was no worse than classical ballet training, with its endless tandus and plies. But I had no affection for bharata natyam dance, no appreciation of its beauty. I just wanted the hours to be over, so I'd be free to run around with my friends while the aunties and uncles gathered and gossiped over cups of coffee and tea.
By high school, I had complained vociferously and persistently enough that my mother, exhuasted by our battle, finally allowed me to drop the dance lessons. Flute and piano followed soon after, as high school intervened with a demanding homework schedule. My grades were dropping precipitously, and since nothing could be allowed to interfere with actual schoolwork, it wasn't hard to make my case. Very briefly, my parents attempted to send me to that same community center for Tamil lessons, that I might regain that native language that I had forgotten. But I complained again, that it was just too hard, keeping up with the Spanish I was required to learn in high school and studying Tamil on the weekends as well. So Tamil was dropped as well, and I was free to concentrate on English literature and European history, classic Greek philosophies.
I still can't say whether that was the right decision or not.