By Punya Srivatsava
Dancing not only releases your angst and cheers your spirits, but it also heals the mind and body, says Punya Srivastava
As a creative form of self-expression, or even simply as an avenue for one’s exuberance, dance has always been enormously attractive. Eyes closed, hands flowing in the air, feet tapping to the beat, body swaying in rhythm, face exuding bliss – a person dancing in passion oblivious to the world around, is a picture of ethereal sublimity. A sight to behold!
However, dance is more than just a visual delight. For the dancer, it is more than a physical or emotional expression. At its highest level, dance can harmonise and heal the body, mind and spirit, and through the purification it brings about, eventually become a vehicle to reach the Divine.
“Like breathing, dance is a happening … You don’t have to do anything, just stay in awareness. And in that awareness all the movements of your daily life are also transformed. You become part of the flow, and your movements drop into perfect rhythm,” says Nehal Shah, an artiste based in Mumbai. Though trained as a kathak dancer, dance for her is no longer only about that particular form. It is about the exploration of the physical and non-physical being in time-space. It is about knowing the Self, enjoying it, celebrating it. “There is a joy in being free and one can taste that through dance. There is a joy in being centred and through dance you can touch that. There is a joy in searching and discovering who you are and through dance you can celebrate that knowing. Dance for me is sadhana. And, through Her grace, that sadhana has been made possible,” she adds.
“There are instances of people having danced till they reached a point of exhaustion to overcome their sadness or depression. Many invariably speak about feeling energised after these cathartic experiences. This is because special neurotransmitter substances ‘endorphins’ in the brain get increased, thus creating a sense of well-being. Most important of all, dancing serves as an outlet for suppressed feelings or thoughts, and makes the body alive and alert,” writes Tripura Kashyap, choreographer, movement therapist and dance educator, in her book on dance movement, My body, my wisdom.
Ananya Mukherjee vouches for the healing power of dancing. Working as an assistant manager in the accounts and sales department of JW Marriott, Delhi, she acquired movement impairment within three-and-a-half years of her corporate career. She battled severe pain in her limbs and back, all due to the pressure of her sales job. No amount of physiotherapy, medication or even steroids helped ease her condition. “More than the physical pain, the stress of going through that pain was affecting me. It was destroying my mental peace, apart from rendering me physically unstable. I desperately wanted relief from that state,” she says. Guided by a doctor’s advice to adopt a vigorous workout to remove stress and pain from her system, she turned to her first love – dancing. A passionate dancer since school, Ananya was a star performer of the Special Potential Batch in Shiamak Daver’s Dancing Institute. But she had decided to forego her dancing to build her career. Now with her health in tatters, she turned once again to the Dance Institute, “I was initially stiff as a cardboard. But within months I had regained my original fluidity, and all traces of my impairment had gone,” she says. Today, she has evolved her own style, a unique technique-driven creative dance style that blends Indo-contemporary and modern movement, with a grounding in ballet along with Indian classical and folk influences. “Every time I dance, I feel a sense of growth and betterment. The sole hurts but the soul smiles,” she adds cheerfully.
Dr. A. V. Satyanarayana, Director, Shristi Center of Performing Arts and Institute of Dance Therapy, Bangalore, validates the importance and effectiveness of dance as a therapy. Developing his own techniques from various Indian classical dance forms, Dr. Satyanarayana has helped many heal from diabetes, stress, physical ailments, and obesity. Not only that, he has even developed a successful course for pregnant women, to ensure a problem-free and smooth pregnancy and delivery. “Dance therapy is a psycho-therapeutic process promoting the emotional and physical integration of a person. It involves the synthesis of the grace and vigour of Indian classical and folk dance movements into an innovative holistic therapy. It is a process integrating emotions with physical movements, and thereby curing the diseases,” he explains.
One of his students and a beneficiary of his obesity control dance programme, Arpana Vijaya, shares her experience. “I enrolled with Dr. Satyanarayana in 2002. I had been battling with obesity since quite some time. Within three months of regular dance therapy, I lost a significant amount of weight. My food habits changed smoothly, and I had much more stamina and vigour, thanks to the techniques, which were an amalgamation of bharatanatyam and kathak,” says this HR manager, Indian Bank, Bangalore. According to her, the significance of dance as a therapy lies in the fact that it is fun and cathartic at the same time. For example, a dance step of kathak that involves tapping feet on ground without bending knees help increase stamina, especially in women working in the kitchen throughout the day. Dance therapy provides the benefits of exercise along with the capacity to explore issues such as anger, frustration and loss, which might be too difficult to explore verbally. On a mental level, dance therapy seeks to enhance cognitive skills, motivation and memory. The gracious movements of the body in a dance provide more relief to the practitioner, than monotonous jogging, gymming or other exercises.
“Dancing helps you express your emotions and feelings, and communicate with yourself. Victims of trauma or exploitation in the past tend to rediscover themselves, and design a new life by learning to re-express themselves through dance. It helps them build up their confidence and improve self-worth. One is able to say things that he/she could not before verbally through their movements,” elaborates Pooja Sharma, healer and dance therapist at Bodhisattva PS, NOIDA. Corroborating this is Kolkata-based Sohini Chakraborty’s organisation, Kolkata Sanved, which has been successfully helping human trafficking victims and children of sex workers emerge from their trauma with the help of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), since 2004. Sohini and her team of dance trainers teach victims of violence to express themselves through their dance, which becomes a new medium of communication where they can liberate themselves from their inhibitions. “Most of us think that violence is physical, but it can be emotional, physical, social and cognitive as well, and if we want the survivors, who are mostly girls, to heal, we need to address all the four facets of trauma,” Sohini says.
Rose (name changed) is one such beneficiary of Kolkata Sanved who was drawn out of her trauma through DMT. As a baby, she was abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandmother, both of whom were sex workers. After Rose’s father passed away, her grandmother sold her to a brothel. She is yet to get over her physical and mental trauma, but she has become a dance therapy trainer herself. “Now I make my own decisions. I have realised that I was not the reason for my problems. It not only gives me confidence but also provides me with the courage to face the world. I earn and it is all because of Kolkata Sanved. When I go abroad to perform, it is something like a dream coming true,” she says. For Akanksha Joshi, an independent film-maker from Delhi, dance flushes out trauma through its infusion of joy. She was physically assaulted by two men in a car park when they tried to abduct her a few years back. “Traumas go beyond emotional level. They get stored in each and every cell of your body as memories – those of fear, anxiety and apprehension. Dance, or movement, is a method to feel joy. The burst of energy or delight that you feel through dance is the actual cleansing; it helps stored emotions to come on the surface and cleanse them,” she says. “In Indian culture, dance has always been considered as a way to connect with your soul and with the Divine. However, the popular culture has turned dance into a performance. Dance can never be about performance. It is about going inward and feeling the connect with yourself,” she adds. So, set aside your medication and physiotherapy, and reach out for your dancing shoes!