By Pawan Sony July 1998 A unique dance workshop in Delhi banks on Oriental martial art forms to break the barriers between body and spirit A unique dance workshop in Delhi banks on Oriental martial art forms to break the barriers between body and spirit Dance Dance Trance—said the ad headline for a workshop on Mystic Movement. Curious and a bit apprehensive, I reach Delhi’s Akshara Theater, India, venue for a week-long Festival of Mystic Arts. In spite of a brief flirtation with Osho’s dynamic meditation, the idea that movement and meditation are mutually exclusive persists in my mind. The first dance is T’ai Chi Chuan, a devastatingly potent martial art. A martial art and a dance? And that too, one that promises to put you in trance? I enter the hall. People are swaying to New Age music. And they look happy. They dance slowly, serenely, flowing from one posture into another. No strain on any part. Their bodies and souls seem completely balanced. T’ai Chi Chuan is based on the Taoist principle of yin and yang. It believes that health is the unimpeded flow of chi—the basic life force. It strives for a balance between the polar opposites of yin and yang—forces that also represent the Chinese concept of life as a circle of change. And T’ai Chi is all about change. From up to down, hard to soft, in to out, substantial to insubstantial—ever-fluid motion always returning to the center. At its core is the ‘long form'; a series of 108 linked movements, with evocative names like White Crane Spreads Its Wings. T’ai Chi is about conscious awareness and effortless action. It aims to bring about what Taoists call wei wu wei, or the state of non-doing. It is a state of body awareness where an action happens by itself. Where the dancer and the dance become one. This martial art does not conquer. It disciplines. It makes you aware of your body from both internal and external perspectives. You become more aware of the space around you. Your mind quietens. T’ai Chi shows the right way of breathing—with the whole body, deeply and gently. With slow breathing comes an inner calmness, matched by the slow, graceful movements. Consciousness takes over bringing about a unity of stillness and motion. As I look on, T’ai Chi ends and the second dance begins. This is called ‘Dance Your Senses’. The workshop conductor, Rashid Ansari, a martial art exponent formerly with the National School of Drama, Delhi, India, guides the participants. They start a little hesitatingly, as if it was a regular dance party. Gradually, as the dance progresses, each participant finds his or her own movement, own rhythm. Rashid tells them to feel like a dolphin in water. They do, but each in his or her own personal way. Discordant notes coming together in a perfect harmony. The participants dance to rhythms corresponding to the five emotions—anger, fear, madness, joy and stillness. None of them is a professional dancer, yet each one dances as if the body has ceased to exist and the soul has taken over. Later, Rashid tells me that ‘Dance Your Senses’ is what he picked up from various movement experts around the world and improvised. He describes the movements as a means to explore the body, overcome mental blocks and shed skin. As the sun dissolves into a beautiful darkness, Rashid performs the Ken Jutsu and Iai Jutsu, systems of Japanese swordsmanship. As I watch him, performing with total concentration, I wonder at how a deadly art can be turned into a profound spiritual experience. The evening melts into night. I am alone now with only one memory as my companion—of people dancing, happily.
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