By Pallavi Bhattacharya
Dance therapy has tremendous curative potential. It can improve the mental and physical well-being of a person
On with the dance! Let joy be unconfined.—Lord Byron
Nowadays youngsters hang out at discotheques to dance the night away. But few of us realise that dance can offer much more; it can cure ailments, boost your confidence, improve body flexibility and reflexes, hinder ageing and alleviate stress. Dance has been used as a therapy over the centuries and is now being further modernised to benefit people of all age groups.
Indeed the medicine men of Native American tribes used dance in healing rituals. In Africa, war dances prepared young men physically and psychologically for battles by teaching them discipline and control. The natural rolling and undulating moves of oriental dances have for ages gently worked on muscles and joints to refine the entire physical body and its functions.
However, the formal use of dance as a therapy began in 1942 in the US by Marian Chace who was requested to work at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington DC after psychiatrists found that mental patients were showing considerable improvement after attending her dance classes. During the same time, Trudi Schoop, a renowned dancer and mime, was working with patients at a state hospital in California. In 1956, the American Dance Therapy Association was founded and in 1993, the Office of Alternative Medicine of the National Institute of Health provided a research grant to explore dance therapy for human diseases.
Dance therapy may be defined as ‘the therapeutic use of movement to improve the mental and physical well-being of a person’. It is rapidly gaining worldwide popularity as it promises a wide range of health benefits. On a purely physical level, dance therapy is good exercise, which will keep those extra kilos away, boost the functioning of the respiratory and circulatory systems, improve stamina, coordination and muscle tone. As far as mental health is concerned, it will make one more cheerful, confident and ease depression and anger. Dance therapy has worked wonders with psychiatric, AIDS, cancer and arthritis patients; those with brain injuries, amputees, the visually and hearing impaired, the mentally challenged, learning disabled and the elderly.
Before you opt for dance therapy you should consult your doctor first, whatever the nature of your ailment is—physical or mental. You should choose your dance therapist with discretion. Your therapist should be a degree holder in the field. A good therapist will first inquire about your disease, analyse your body frame and flexibility and devise the dance according to your needs. Even if you are not a dancer you needn’t worry, you will be able to pick up easily from the very alphabets of dance if your therapist is an expert. There may be individual or group therapy sessions.
In India though dance therapy is still in its nascent change, it is expected to gain popularity soon. Tripura Kashyap is a pioneer dance therapist settled in Bangalore. Apoorva Dance Theatre, founded by her, brings together social workers, teachers, mental health professionals and special educators who work as a team to scientifically use dance as a cure. Tripura has innovatively modified the myriad forms of Indian dances, the mainstream dance, martial arts and yoga to be of therapeutic value to the ailing.
Tripura had realised as a child that dancing could work wonders to enliven people even with incurable ailments when her brother, a patient of polio-meningitis would grow ecstatic and try to swing his wheel chair whenever he heard music. As a student of Kalakshetra Dance College in Chennai, she chanced upon two visually impaired boys playing a flute and swaying harmoniously. Convinced that dancing could benefit both the able and the disabled, Tripura could transform her plans into action when Grace Valentine, a dance therapist from the US, invited her to study at the Hancock Centre of Movement and Therapies at Madison. Her MA degree in Psychology has further helped her to understand how the mind, body and spirit can be interlinked positively through dance.
Tripura points out that dance therapy is not a brand new concept in India, it just needs to be modernised and made available to more people. Since the ancient times dances have been used in India to exorcise evil spirits and cure diseases. Tripura travels all over the country to reach out to those who are suffering. She always comes up with innovative therapeutic techniques. She has been working with the visually impaired—for them she has modified the Karma tribal dance form of Madhya Pradesh, in which the participants hold hands and in the process are taught challenging tasks like moving backwards, sideways, making a circle and various geometric designs. To the hearing impaired, she teaches the hand gesture forms of classical dance which help to create through movement sentences, poems and stories, thereby improving their communication skills.
Syed Sallauddin Pasha, another leading dance therapist of India, also focuses on children with special needs. His creatively choreographed therapeutic dance projects have won international acclaim. His dance drama, Ramayana, was performed by children of various kinds of disabilities, and elicited an overwhelming response from foreign audiences.
Ms Patel of the Anjika Manipuri Dance Troupe specialises in helping children with cerebral palsy. Her team includes skilled dancers, master drummers and martial arts experts. Kyoko Jingu, of the Japan Dance Therapy Association who works with the mentally ill, small children and mothers experiencing difficulties in child rearing, says: “I see many patients experiencing revitalisation of their inner resources, which help them integrate feeling, thinking, doing and making connection with other people. This can happen to even very disturbed patients, because in dance therapy we work with the totality of the people in order to reach their strength rather than just looking at their pathology. In the case of children, they are very physical yet their ability to verbalise their feeling is limited. On the other hand, elderly people’s physical ability is generally fading, yet there are always some functions left. Through physical connections, dance therapy helps them access most lively part of themselves, thus promoting self-esteem to further explore their possibilities in new ways.”
Socio-medical counsellor Dr Kanchan Gurtu says: “I know of a lady who got a divorce after 20 years of an unhappy marriage but has retained her mental composure through her love for music and dance. Dance is a physical and mental exercise which may be of considerable help to keep us free of many diseases.”
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