Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Embodied Learning: Bringing Performance into the Classroom

Dr. Mekhala Natavar.

As a performer, scholar, and teacher with many years of rich experience living and working in South Asia and other parts of the globe, I understand language, culture and performance to be inextricably connected. In my teaching, therefore, my primary aim is to link these three by presenting language and culture in context via the medium of performance.
At Duke I have worked to enhance the curriculum across the university and in the AALL department in general and the Hindi program in particular by attempting to break down boundaries that separate people and to expand students’ intellectual horizons through embodied learning.
What do I mean by “embodied learning”? I believe that knowledge is most easily acquired and solidly retained by those who actually experience it in a visceral way. The concept of embodied knowledge is rooted in many ancient cultures with oral traditions and confirmed by learning specialists. Rather than being passive recipients of information, students in my classes learn to explore and experience new materials and concepts through gestures, sounds, and other means of active connection to knowledge.
How do I implement embodied learning in the classroom? Performance is a major focus in all my courses. Not only do students in both my language and culture courses perform skits, dialogues, dances, and songs in class but they also have the opportunity to interact with visiting performers, directors, actors, musicians, dancers, and artists. In the last three years, I have brought several artists in residence who have enriched the experience of the students and the local community.
I vary my teaching methods and questioning strategies to engage students with different learning styles. I present the material in a methodical yet fun manner, mixing grammar lessons with songs, vocabulary building with cultural vignettes. I take a creative approach to all material covered with plenty of hands-on, “learning by doing” activities so that the theoretical subject matter presented can be absorbed through all their senses and thus truly experienced, not just memorized, reproduced on a test, and subsequently forgotten. Using interactive techniques, I foster student participation in reaching our two goals: content comprehension and an integration of the material with the personal and academic life of the student in a significant way.


Dr. Mekhala Natavar  (United States)
Assistant Professor of the Practice
Department of Asian and African Languages and Literature
Duke University

Dr. Mekhala Natavar (Assistant Professor of the Practice) is a professional dancer specializing in the classical and folk traditions of North India. Her research and teaching focuses on expressions of the spirit, aesthetics and activism in the performing, literary, and visual arts of South Asia. In addition to teaching four language courses per year at Duke University, she teaches courses on South Asian culture, literature, religion, and the arts such as “Indian Dance and Hindu Cosmology” and “Contemporary Cultures of South Asia.” Dr. Natavar is the faculty advisor for "DIYA" (Duke's South Asian-American student association), the Pakistani Student Association, Local Colour (a spoken word group), and Lasya (Duke’s classical Indian Dance Society).

  • Embodied learning
  • Performance
  • Language acquisition
  • Oral traditions

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)