Published in Panorama
Dance as Therapy
“Most people don't nourish their body with movement, as much as they do their minds”, says Hyderabad-based Tripura Kashyap, Director of Apoorva Dance Theatre, a product of Kalakshetra and one of India’s first trained dance therapists who studied Dance Therapy at The Hancock Centre for Movement Arts and Therapies Inc Centre, a non profit organization established in 1983. The Centre is also a supporting agency of the Marian Chase Foundation, the charitable branch of the American Dance Therapy Association.
Strangely enough, Ms.Kashyaps’s stint with dance (Bharatnatyam) began as a treatment for squint, at the tender age of six. “Since there are a lot of eye movements associated with dancing, particularly Bharatnatyam, someone suggested to my parents that they initiate me into it. Believe it or not, my squint disappeared complete within six months of learning! Therapy began for me there itself!” reveals Kashyap.
The idea of dance as a therapy was born out of Kashyap’s personal experience with her brother, Pawan, affected with cerebral palsy. She reveals, “Pawan, who was wheelchair bound, would start thumping his wheelcahir and almost jump out of it whenever he heard music.” That sent Kashyap’s mind ticking: why not use dance for therapeutic purposes. But she did not know how to go about this for she was not entirely satisfied with Bharatnatyam as a form of self expression. They found the dance form too rigid and codified, thematically restrictive. To widen her horizons, she joined hands with path-breaking ace choreographer, Chennai-based Chandralekha, who sought to link Bharatnatyam with Yoga, kalari and various other physical disciplines, to create an integrated style of her own, doing away with dance costumes. However, Kahyap’s quest for dealing with disabled individuals through dance bore fruit through a chance meeting with Dr.Grace Valentine, Dance Therapist from the US, who invited her to study Dance Therapy at the Hancock Centre, Wisconsin.
Ms.Kashyap explains that Dance Therapy is a form of psychotherapy which incorporates creative and expressive movement that help individuals to develop emotional stability, healthy self image and improved communication skills. The movements involved enable people to understand themselves better, to explore and express past and present issues in both, verbal and non verbal ways.
Dance therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process to enhance the emotional, physical, cognitive and social integration of an individual. The therapy is based on the premise that body movement reflects the inner state of the human. Hence, by moving the body through guided therapy, it is possible to set the healing process in motion. Simply put, dance therapy seeks to harmonise the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level of the human.
The therapy is very effectively being used to treat issues relating to the realms of the mind where people suffer from a sense of poor identity, have a low self image and esteem, suffer from shyness, anxiety, tension and depression, have problems interacting with others, are unable to forge relationships with people, suffer from other emotional, cognitive and neurological problems, besides actual physical and physiological ailments.
Since her return to India from the US in 1989, globe-trotting Kashyap has been working with people with disabilities. Bangalore-based until recently, Kashyap engaged herself in helping schizophrenic adults at Atmashakti, and hearing-impaired children at Hamsadhwani, Bangalore. She further undertook mobility training programs at the National Association of the Blind and did other and therapy for autistic children.
Kashyap received the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992 to explore various Indian dance forms and styles, to seek the therapeutic elements present in them. She traveled across India, training special educators to use movement therapy and also compiled a handbook with 40 activities they could use as starting points. Kashyap explains, “Most Indian dance forms have some therapeutic potentials embedded in them but you can’t use the dances the way they are; you have to extract specific elements from them and use it for your therapy session. And this is what I have done. The goal of dance therapy is to help people express their own, what I call as personal movement vocabulary. Everyone has this, and the idea is to use various strategies to help them bring out the material.”
As part of therapy, Kashyap uses background scores from Tibetan and other meditation chants, to do certain kinds of movements. Little bit of Tai Chi exercises are integrated as part of therapy wherein breathing and movement are exercised, the aim being to elongate the breathing pattern. “Using movement will actually help people to breathe better; most people breathe from the chest but it is best to breathe from the stomach,” reveals Kashyap.
Every movement that is part of the Dance Movement Therapy, has a therapeutic potential, but which movement to be used when and for whom, depends on the disability itself, says Kashyap. “For instance, if I am working with mentally challenged children, I may not use Indian dance forms at all. I would use creative dance which is from the West, because there are certain things there that would help a child get to know its body better. A lot of these movements require the use of movement props like parachute, streamers, stretch rope – which are all from the West. So the goals for therapy dictate the kind of dance we use, which in turn is determined by individual disability.”
Kashyap uses a variety of movement props from Indian folk dances, including bamboo poles, kolattam and dandia sticks, scarves and cymbals with mentally challenged children. The movements are so integrated so as to enable these children to solve movement puzzles, improve group coordination and enhance memory for movement. With such pre-determined movement of the props, the children have been found to improve their eye-hand coordination and imitation skills.
Kashyap explains, “For instance, I found that using the footwork of Kathak, we were able to enhance the attention span of autistic children. The Karma tribal dance of Madhya Pradesh was found to be effective in visually impaired adults. The dance which involves holding hands in a line, serves as a contact dance, providing challenging tasks like moving backwards, making a circle and other geometric designs. These movements enhances the spatial awareness of the visually impaired, thereby reducing their fear of space around them and makes them more confident to deal with their bodies in a more relaxed way.”
Similarly, using modified movements from the technique of Chhau, helps hearing impaired children improve their balance and concentration. Kashyap reveals, “Working with the hearing impaired children is like working with normal children, because visually they are very good. The learn all the movements with the hand signals that I give them, except for that part where they can’t hear the music. But some of them hear the vibrations coming from the music; a drum is played along with the music so that they can hear the drum with their mind’s eye, mentally feel the vibrations from it. No only do they enjoy dancing, but we have observed that their confidence and self esteem improve and as a result they take greater interest in their studies.
Explaining metamorphical exercises, a very interesting therapeutic movement for normal people to lead healthier emotional lives, Kashyap says, “We have these huge cartons into which we get people to sit and tell us how they feel about the experience. We then get them to move inside the box and narrate their experience from this activity. Obviously, the feeling is one of claustrophobia that the people will profess to – something they feel in their real lives as a result of ‘boxing’ themselves. So we address their basic problem, by helping them break out of the ‘boxes’ they have created.
Gentle movements of dance therapy has been used by Kashyap to motivate senior citizens in old age homes who had hitherto confined themselves to bed, believing themselves to be sick and incapable of activity. Kashyap has also been working in association with Committed Community Development Trust, an NGO (Non governmental organizations) to train dancers to do dance as a therapy with HIV/AIDs children. “These children, a lot of them teenagers, don’t believe in themselves. They are very withdrawn and they face the trauma of seeing their friends die. Our aim is to give them an motional release through dance movements.”
However, Kashyap does not lay claim to dance therapy being a cure-all. “I wouldn’t say I could cure a schizophrenic with dance therapy; you can’t really do that. Because such a person needs much more, including psychotherapy and drugs as well. But what dance therapy can do is make the person more functional, to co-ordinate his body movement better, to enhance social skills, blood circulation, calm him down and relax.”