Dance Like Me

Posted: April 2, 2010 in Kolkata
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A performance by Kolkata Sanved members

Sitting in the sparse, nondescript Kolkata Sanved office deep inside Jodhpur Park, the slim, soft-spoken Sohini Chakraborty hardly seems the kind of woman who, with her Sanved team, is driving a relatively unique concept – dance movement therapy (DMT) – that appears to have the potential to actually heal broken minds.

A student of Sociology, who took a special paper on criminology, Sohini is also a trained dancer who was with Manjushree Chaki Sircar’s Dancers’ Guild. “But I always knew I wanted to do more with dance than just perform or teach,” she explains. And the idea took firmer root as Sohini began studying such issues as women’s trafficking and violence against women. “There is a tendency to view dance as either entertainment or, if it’s a classical dance form, as elitist,” says Sohini. “But dance is much, much more. In its purest form, dance is total catharsis.”

The dancer-cum-social activist realised she could attain her goal when she came across a poster for the NGO Sanlaap at the Kolkata Book Fair, and took the first step towards a life-long dream of working with survivors of trafficking and violence. And yet, when she first began teaching the women how to dance, she realised she was not connecting with them. “I was using stereotyped, traditional dance moves, and I realised I would have to devise something new,” she says.

One thing led to another, and Sohini finally set up her own NGO, Kolkata Sanved, in 2004. Today, she can proudly say that many of the girls whom she worked with during those early days are now dance therapists themselves. “We sort of discovered dance therapy without realising it was already a valid therapy tool in the West,” she laughs, describing the time in 2000 when she helped organise Rangeen Sapne, a physical theatre performance comprising dance and mime, with 120 children.

Once they did realise it, however, there was no looking back. From training 10 dancers initially to propagate what Sanved calls ‘saving lives through dance’, Sohini and her team have now devised a whole DMT curriculum that focuses on ‘body awareness’ and ‘integration’.

“Being a trained dancer helped me, but if you look at it another way, dance is in all of us. We can’t survive without movement, and dance is nothing but a series of coordinated movements,” Sohini says. “And movement is in itself a liberation.”

Based on that principle, Sanved has been working with inmates of the city’s Lumbini and Pavlov mental health centres and has commissioned a study on the effects of DMT on mentally challenged individuals. “In terms of rediscovering the body, discussions reveal dance brought in an element of magic and fantasy that energized and inspired the participants,” says an extract from the abstract of the study.

“We like to think we have broken the elitist approach to dance,” smiles Sohini. “Of course, Sanved is not a miracle worker, but we do recognise that DMT has had an impact on people living with mental illness, as well as helped numerous women live purposeful, dignified lives.”

On March 27, Sanved launched the Kolkata Sanved Curriculum – Dance Movement Therapy for Mental Health & Recovery. For details, call +91 33 24174093 or write to sanved_india@rediffmail.com

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