A city used to dance as culture, worship and entertainment, now rediscovers it as therapy
Ramya Tirtha was told by her doctor to practise yoga for her hypertension. “But when I approached my yoga instructor, she suggested I take up dance therapy,” she says. That is how she became a student of Shristi’s Institute of Dance Therapy in Bangalore.
Many who thought dance was about entertainment, leisure, culture and worship, have realised it can offer much more. Certain forms of dance, if practised continuously, are believed to cure or mitigate diabetes, arthritis, obesity, polio, chronic pain, and depression. Dance slows down ageing, alleviates stress, and reduces feelings of isolation and fear.
Dance as therapy is still nascent in Bangalore. Therapists like Dr A V Satyanarayana and Tripura Kashyap are trying to promote awareness about its therapeutic and cathartic values.
Satyanarayana is the director of Shristi Institute of Dance Therapy. An exponent of Bharatnatyam and Kathak, he says, “As a dancer with 40 years’ experience, I have created steps to treat diabetes, marital discord, polio and obesity.”
At Shristi, the emphasis is on Indian classical and folk movements. Gestures and movements from Bharatanatyam, Kathak and yoga are blended with animal movements. Satyanaryana claims, for example, that ‘peacock dance’ movements are beneficial for lung and spine problems while ‘snake dance’ movements help people control obesity.
Many pregnant women take dance therapy. “A pregnant woman needs to keep her body and limbs supple to ensure easy labour. I have designed movements imitating age old domestic chores,” says Satyanarayana. He cautions that pregnant women should practise movements only for 10 minutes a day, and women with heart problems should not take up dance.
His ‘sex symphony’ therapy is meant for couples who have lost interest in each other. “Urbanisation and stressful lifestyles affect people’s sex lives. I have created beautiful dance movements to help them put the romance back in their lives,” he says.
The American Dance Therapy Association (AITA) defines dance therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement, as a process that furthers furthers emotional, cognitive, and physical integration in individuals.
Dance therapists encourage participants to evolve a personal movement language to achieve holistic growth and healthier functioning.
Tripura Kashyap, choreographer and trained dance therapist from the Hancock Center in Wisconsin, conducts workshops and classes on contemporary and creative dance, physical theatre, and dance in education.
Children living in rehabilitation centres and the visually impaired have seen improvement through her therapy. Not everyone is comfortable expressing themselves verbally, Tripura says. “Through my therapy, I help them come up with their own movements.”
Tripura combines Indian and Western dance theatre moves in her classes. She emphasises movements that can be done from a single position. “I don’t believe in classical or folk movements in my therapy. It’s foolish to use structured, classical movements as many handicapped children can’t execute it,” Tripura told Talk.
“I always knew dancing could work wonders in the lives of people, especially those suffering from incurable ailments. My brother, a patient of polio-meningitis, gave me the confidence to take up dance therapy as a profession as his body showed improvement whenever we taught him some movements,” recalls Tripura, who lost her brother ten years ago.
As a student of Kalakshetra in Chennai, Tripura has collaborated with dancers, filmmakers, visual artists, theatre directors and musicians on several cross-art projects and performances.
Tripura has also choreographed ‘site-specific’ dances in a large dry well, a pub, a low lying table, and on ladders against a wall. She travelled to Sri Lanka as part of the ‘Teertha’ International artistes’ residency’ programme in which she created dances to merge with paintings, sculptures and art installations.
Tripura is the author of a book titled, My Body, My Wisdom: A handbook of creative hand therapy and presently runs a school in Bangalore called Apoorva Dance Theatre. She is also the co-coordinator of Bhoomika Creative Dance Theatre, Pune, where she teaches, choreographs and performs with her students.
As the Austrian writer Vicki Baum puts it, “There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.” It looks like dance can also be a short-cut to good health.