By Suma Varughese August 2006 Dance is a universally powerful form of self-expression that releases emotional and physical blocks, unleashes our creativity, and above all, enables us to mine a passage through the depths of the body to spirit. ‘There was an urge in her body to dance. She began to move, slowly, then with increasing rhythm. Vast spaces began to open out in nano-seconds. She was entering a new landscape of the body. The body seemed to know what it wanted. Something began to grow in it, like an assurance. Something which she had never known she could become. Her gestures acquired a fluidity.’ Parallel Journeys by Anu Mazumdar Dance as a path. As a way of mining a passage into the very depth of the Self itself. Dance as a way of releasing oneself of all the petty considerations of the small self and flowing into the Infinite. Surely, all of us have pulsed to this prospect and longed to break through whatever it is that stops us from achieving this union? We sense its infinite possibilities: as a way of disciplining and mastering the body, as a way of expressing our emotions and state of mind, as an art form, where it fuses body, mind, emotion and spirit into an explosion of beauty, grace, power and harmony, and finally, as a way to the infinite quietitude and bliss of the Self. Tripura Kashyap, dance therapist and author of the body, My Body, My Wisdom, defines dance thus: ‘It is a unique physical discipline in which emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual and creative energies are unified and harmonized. Most dancers would say that our bodies can feel, thrill, speak, memorize, express and communicate effectively through movement.’ She adds, ‘Dance prompts people to have a dialog with their bodies. It nourishes the body in the way that reading or meditation nourishes the mind.’ And yet sadly, dance is one of the least used forms of human expression. Most of us simply don’t dance, not even in the privacy of home, leave alone at a social function. It’s such a basic human instinct, to sway to music or simply whirl with abandon. Yet who among us enjoys this freedom of the body? Indeed, the ability and willingness to dance is virtually what separates the inhibited from the uninhibited. When burdened with a poor self-image or self-consciousness, when we have little touch with our feelings or self, when matter is heavy and dense within us, for the life of us we can’t dance. Yoga teacher at J B Petit School, Mumbai, Anahita Sanjana, recalls, ‘I used to learn Indian dance as a child and I was very good at it. But as I grew older, I lost that instinctive rhythm. I couldn’t flow with the music even at a disco. Then I did a gestalt therapy workshop where, as part of a session of dynamic meditation, we had to dance blindfold. It brought such a sense of release in me that after that, I could dance confidently. I felt as if something in me that was longing to dance was freed. I found myself more fluid in my speech too, and in the way I walked and even in my ability to be close to people.’ The ability to dance is tantamount to breaking through all the fetters that hold us back – unexpressed emotions, unfelt feelings, unassimilated experiences, unconscious traumas, all of which manifest as frozen bodies and expressionless faces. As these fetters dissolve, our movements loosen up, grace takes over and life assumes an altogether silken flow. In the most essential way, dance attunes us to the rhythm of life itself and makes us whole. Says the admirable Osho, who respected dance as a way of breaking through the density of conditioning so much that he introduced an element of it in every meditation he created, ‘Have you watched somebody dancing? What happens? …Dance seems to be one of the most penetrating things, in which one falls into a harmony. Your body, your mind, your soul all fall into a harmony in dancing.’ Wonders seeker and former entrepreneur, Bharti Nirmal, ‘Could it be that dance dissolves the misalignment between us and the universal force?’ Because of its combination of movement, celebration and aesthetic appeal, dance forms a unique gateway to the mind and the spirit. Ma Amrit Sadhana, editor of Osho Times says, ‘When the body moves, the mind stops working and conversely, when the mind works, the body stops moving.’ She adds, ‘Through dance, my energy has shifted from mind to body. I used to think a lot. Now am in the space of timelessness. And each evening during the meditation, I let myself go in dance with total abandon.’ Dance TherapySo how can you and I, stuck within unresponsive bodies and self-conscious minds, avail of the magic power of movement? What is the end is also the means. Dance itself can release us of the very issues that hobble us. If we would but make a start, and begin the process, we will find the path unfolding within us and our issues unravelling. One option is dance therapy. The importance of movement in these mind-dominated times is so pronounced that dance therapy is a flourishing discipline, enabling people to come to terms with blocks or stops, and lead their lives with greater assurance. Most dancers endorse the view that dance has profound healing and redemptive powers. ‘Dance is the most natural way to express yourself and to dissolve emotional blocks. Why are discos and dance floors so popular? Because people can completely let go of themselves and be who they are. If people don’t have an avenue for self-expression, they have breakdowns,’ says artist and dancer Nehal Shah (33). In her book, Tripura confirms this viewpoint succinctly, ‘When we dance, the body’s most natural urge to move is satisfied, special neurotransmitter substances in the brain called endorphins get increased thus creating a sense of well-being, the blood circulation gets enhanced, the body releases certain toxins as it sweats, stress and tension accumulated in different body parts are relieved and people stop thinking for a while. Most important of all, dancing relaxes us and serves as an outlet for suppressed feelings or thoughts and makes the body alive and alert.’ Mohini attam dancer, Mandakini Trivedi, boldly states, ‘Some form of mind-body discipline is absolutely essential for the health of a human being. The greatest loss in urban society has been the loss of community dancing or folk forms where people can dissolve their differences in exchange of sheer positive physical energy through dance. I am sure there would be much less stress in our urban lives if, at the end of the day, people just got together and danced rather than watched TV.’ The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance therapy discipline as … ‘the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process that furthers emotional, cognitive and physical integration in individuals. It effects changes in feelings, cognition, physical functioning and behavior.’ How it WorksTripura, a trained bharata natyam dancer based in Hyderabad, was attracted to dance therapy when she saw that her brother Pavan, who was wheel-chair bound with polio meningitis, would use his upper body and hands to bang his wheel chair and almost slide out of it when he heard his favorite songs. Later, she trained in dance therapy with Dr Grace Valentine at the Hancock Center in Wisconsin, USA. Since then, she has used dance and movement as therapy in various rehabilitation/treatment centers, special schools, educational settings, halfway homes and with normal functioning adults and children. In her book, she writes that she and other therapists have observed how their ‘clients improvised and expressed themselves through a natural movement language already ingrained in their bodies… material from the person’s unconscious was being manifested in a physical form… and clients could now express suppressed emotions, dreams, fantasies, nightmares and defenses more easily.’ She adds, ‘Our bodies are like canvases on which the essence of our history is inscribed. Movements, gestures and postures reveal our passions, insecurities and emotions, the kind of love and affection we have received, abuse we have suffered, as well as our hopes and attitudes.’ She cites the case of a workshop she held for Catholic nuns and priests involved in social work from numerous institutions all over India. She writes, ‘Initially, one could sense… disconnectedness with their bodies… They were especially wary of making eye contact or doing even minimal movements with the opposite sex. ‘…As they went through a range of ice-breakers… they became like children, discovering and exploring the pleasure of their bodies in motion… they expressed relief at being freed from the shackles of what they had been conditioned to believe about body expression.’ Tripura uses an array of physical disciplines like creative movement, contemporary dance techniques, ideas from yoga, elements from classical and folk dances, martial arts, theater exercises, relaxation techniques and mime. These disciplines are used either in combination with each other or independently to address the body-mind linkage and build up individual patterns of motility. Dance can also heal at the physical level, opines A V Satyanarayana, a Bangalore-based bharata natyam and kathak artiste who ventured into dance therapy six years ago. He has helped people heal from diabetes, stress and hyper-acidity. He also assists women undergoing pregnancy to achieve a safe delivery. Using the vocabulary of classical dance, he encourages pregnant women to enact the role of Yashoda, Lord Krishna’s mother. He says, ‘At an emotional level it builds attachment with the child and at the physical level, many of t
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