Healing Through Dance

"Most people don't nourish their body with movement, as much as they do their minds. Why is that?" asks Bangalore-based Tripura Kashyap, one of India's first trained dance therapists. "We're all born with movement in our bodies. Yet we tend to neglect or negate it. Could it be because of Indian society?"

Kashyap's questing mind and the questioning body initially led her to engage in therapy with schizophrenic adults at Atmashakti, and hearing-impaired children at Hamsadhwani (both in Bangalore), and mobility training programs at the National Association of the Blind. That was on returning to her roots in 1990 after two years of American dance therapy training at the University of Wisconsin's Hancock Centre.

Kashyap - widely recognized as a Kalakshetra-trained Bharatanatyam dancer, who blossomed into contemporary choreography via a stint with breakaway dancer Chandralekha's troupe in Chennai - rewinds to her most precious encounter as a therapist. This was at the Baldwin Opportunity School in Bangalore, where she worked with eight children who were moderately mentally challenged. They were very mobile, and full of energy. 

What made the experience valuable? "Each child had different problems. One had a short attention span, another could not coordinate with rhythm, and a third found relationships difficult. They could dance on their own, but not with the group. I took each problem and made it the goal of therapy," says Kashyap. 

"One day it was social skills, such as holding hands and moving them. Or placing their palms against each other's, and pushing playfully. Gradually, their coordination improved. We finally choreographed three dances incorporating mirroring, sculpting, and other exercises we'd done as therapy. Even their teacher Ruth got involved, correlating dance to their learning problems. When they had perceptual problems with drawing a circle, we'd walk in a circle, getting it into their bodies. My three years with them were very rewarding." 

What brought Kashyap into dance therapy? Around 1988, after a stint with Chandralekha, she was working as a librarian at the Institute of World Culture in Bangalore. "I vaguely wanted to start a dance group. But I was equally keen on dance for handicapped people. Maybe because my late brother was differently-abled. I had no idea how to go about it. That's when I met American dance therapist Grace Valentine and she invited me to the US," Kashyap says.

On her return, Kashyap set up her own dance troupe, Apoorva, best known for its pieces, 'Chayangika' and 'Aranyakiran'. Many non-dancers signed on. Then came an Ashoka Fellowship in 1992, during which she travelled the length and breadth of India, training special educators to use movement therapy. In addition, she compiled a handbook with 40 activities they could use as starting points. 

Kashyap feels special educators need dance therapy more than the handicapped. "They're out of touch with their own bodies. They earn a pittance of what normal teachers do. It's almost voluntary work, yet their inputs are much greater," she stresses. "Often, I do follow-up workshops, so that they can come back with their problems. Word is now spreading that movement needs to be a part of the curriculum."

How does Indian dance therapy differ from the US? "The American Dance Therapy Association has a thousand members, who work in prisons, at de-addiction centers, at halfway homes. In India, we're s till at a nascent stage. When trained therapists return here, they're both underpaid and unappreciated, though our need is so great. They're constantly battling 

with the system. So they return to the west," Kashyap notes. "In the US, treatment is almost like a private psychotherapy session. Even visitors can only watch through a one-way mirror. In India, visitors to the school just walked into our sessions. And we've got it into our heads that dance is a performing art."

"In India, we have so many classical and folk dance forms which were intrinsic to our community," argues Kashyap. "Then, why are people so distanced from their bodies today? Except for disco bhangra or disco garba, it's no longer a part of our everyday lives. So, I have to use more structured exercises to get people moving here. Often, we use kolattam sticks or cymbals as props or try the bamboo dance."

Within this context, she lauds Sohini of Kolkata's Sanlap, who presents performance-oriented therapy with girls and women from the red light areas. "They're brilliant dancers. You're in tears when you watch them on stage. Their equation with the public has changed. They bring forth how they feel about their origins, the problems of living in cramped Sonagachi, or the way men look at them. They now earn money through dance," says Kashyap. 

Kashyap was recently in Argentina, where she teamed up with another Ashoka fellow, an artist named Veronica, allied with a musician and a theatre-person. Over three weeks, they experimented with therapeutic inter-arts modules, which yoked together esoteric elements like meditative Tibetan chants, Bharatanatyam mudras, shadow play, and communing with nature. An English-Spanish 'Moving through Art Rituals' handbook is slated for the future.

A fervent believer in inter-arts therapy, Kashyap is currently working with 20 mentally challenged adults at Pune's Sadhana Village, along with Anand Chabukswar, a drama therapist, and music therapist Zubin Balsara.

"Our goal is to make them come out of their seclusion and isolation," explains explains Kashyap. "If we can challenge them, if we can all work with them as therapists in a single session, that would be exciting for me!"

Is the Indian approach to dance therapy too casual? The need, according to Kashyap, is for trained therapists. "If you're just a Bharatanatyam dancer, to what extent would you understand the movements of spastic children? Unless you work with a special educator and a physiotherapist, how can you be sure certain movements are not detrimental to the child?" she says.

What is it then that sets dance therapy apart? "As dance therapists, we don't use just one form or style. We're trained in at least five forms, so that our bodies move in eclectic ways through creative movement. It's unfair to superimpose a formal style on a disabled person. It might prove dangerous," Kashyap opines. "Even with mentally-challenged kids, you need a psychoanalytical background to understand what they're going through. An ordinary dancer is not trained to cope with that."

As dance therapy gropes for a foothold in India, Kashyap will require reserves of courage and determination to stay the course.  


More by :  Aditi De

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Views: 3342      Comments: 15

Comment Dance is my passion
I want to explore it first for my own healing.

How to get in touch with Tripura kashyup. Need her no.

13-May-2019 01:54 AM

Comment I am from nashik, and i am intrested in DANCE THERAPHY course so would u please tell me more about this course. I just wanted to do something in DANCE...... please i am wating for your reply..... so please HELP me. thankyou

dushyant khandelwal
23-Dec-2015 11:30 AM

Comment Hello, I am student of human development department.Just appeared my final semester of M,sc and a folk dancer from Assam and very much passionate about dance and would like to learn dance therapy under your guidance. will you please help me in letting me know how can I join and know about these course.
Thank you

J N Tulika
10-May-2015 13:15 PM

Comment i want to undergo healing session for my ownself through dance. i am pune based so would you please guide me for same.

dr. aparna deshmukh
26-Dec-2014 08:07 AM

Comment I am a psychologist from Erode district, I am into training... I would love to attend the Dance therapy workshop anywhere at Bangalore or Chennai...Please do guide

26-Oct-2014 12:06 PM

Comment Please let me know where i could learn Healing through Dance in Pune.

Girija Kirtikar
16-Sep-2014 11:20 AM

Comment Could you please tell me where in Delhi can I take lessons for dance therapy?

Akanksha Pandey
24-Feb-2014 10:59 AM

Comment I am a psychiatrist and belly dancer. I am interested in learning dance therapy. I am from Mumbai. Please advise me where I can undergo training. Thank you.

Dr. Prachi Shah
26-Oct-2013 02:47 AM

Comment I am a Psychology graduate and am interested in Dance Therapy. Please advise if I can train in this field with you or if you can guide me where I can get the same. I have been interested in a different type of therapy and have great inclination towards using Dance as a therapy for children.

Kareena Mullan
04-Jun-2013 05:08 AM

Comment Iam a special educator and a classical dancer, would like to know more about the Dance Therapy, which would inturn help the special needs kids.

Latha R Rao
28-Feb-2013 08:23 AM

Comment hi im a physiotherapist specialised in pediatrics .works for specially abled children. was interested in ny institution offering course in dance movement therapy in india . kindly let know .thank you.

dr. hima
27-Aug-2012 07:22 AM

Comment I am apost graduate in dance (kathak) and want to do further studies in dance.I want to know that is there any phd course or master degree course or any certificate course available in dance therapy.and if it is available then could you plz tell me which university provides these courses.

Natasha Gedamkar
08-Dec-2011 05:38 AM

Comment I am a student of Psychology. have complated my masters in psychological counselling. I had attended a workshop by Tripura Kashyap in bangalore 1 year back. I have used a few components of dance movement therapy in counselling work with children and have seen it to be beneficial for them. I am interested in learning more and utilizing dance therapy for children especially those who have been abused. Please guide me, how do i go about this. I am also planning a research project based on Dance movement therapy. Could you help with some inputs.
Thank you

Ann Treesa
06-Aug-2011 11:10 AM

Comment My daughter is a trained jazz and ballet dancer.She has been also been training many kids and adults.Some time ago a couple of autistic children joined the studio where she teaches and to her surprise she was able to help them quite a bit.She is now looking at dance therapy seriously.However we feel she should take some professional training in this.Could you give us some inputs on where to go for this?

Veena Naravane
27-Jul-2011 03:12 AM

Comment i belong to salem tamil nadu and am interested in bringing dance therapy as an intervention programme for children with learning problems. basically a trained classical dancer but lost touch over 20 years. wish to relive my passion as well as help children and adults identify themselves and let go of inhibitions. need guidance and support and would be glad if there are any online courses for dance therapists or if there are any other options to get into this field.

Dr.Vasanthi Subramaniam
26-Jul-2011 09:50 AM

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