By Shilpa Datar
Art for me means to have the urge to attain satisfaction by creating something beautiful and visually appealing! In addition to the basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, the drive and energy for creativity has formed an important part in the evolution of man from apes.
I understood the real meaning of this philosophy after I entered the field of dance and this boosted the feeling of social responsibility which was already imbibed in me. I started with my dance career at the age of 15yrs, which is quite late! I started with my formal dance education under the able guidance of Guru. Maneesha Sathe, by taking admission for B.A and completing my M.A from Pune University (Lalit Kala Kendra). During one project, I got a chance to meet the deaf and dumb children of the Red Cross School for Deaf in camp area, Pune. I was bewildered by their world where, dialogue was established without saying any words and, even if any words were said, nobody could hear them. In spite of this the children were happy, cheerful and enthusiastic! This made me all the more awestruck by this "silent" world of communication. When the Principal of this school came to know that I have chosen dance as a career, she immediately asked me if I could teach these girls to dance. I said yes! I still can't forget the look of satisfaction, happiness and most importantly the feeling of acceptance that reflected on their faces!
I was welcomed with the same enthusiasm and energy when I joined the school for my first "dance class". I had prepared myself with all the routine questions that everyone normally asks on the first day. But I was left with all these 'routine, simple' questions crowded in my mind as I couldn't ask them a single question, and even when I tried, none of them understood. Thus started the long battle of communication - a dialogue of silent conversation.
That day I returned home with endless thoughts gathered in my mind which led to confusion and a feeling of helplessness. The thought that prevailed was, how am I supposed to teach these girls to 'dance', when it is so difficult to even have basic conversation with them. I thought it was next to impossible. The dark clouds of thoughts kept hovering over my mind. I felt angry with myself as I didn't have the skill set to establish a dialogue with these children. That's when I decided to take this as a challenge, as the children were not responsible for their state, and that challenge has turned into something beautiful in the last 20 years. Even today, we share this unique bond of love and understanding through dance and have this 'tuning' with each other that, 20 years seem like nothing!
Every human being has some sense of rhythm and any form of art as we all know, is rhythm oriented, so the first step was to make them aware of naturally occurring rhythmic patterns and rhythmic sense in their own body. With the help of different folkdances, the children were taught to channelize their energy. They were shown different slides, dance videos, books to make them familiar with these styles. The next step was a crucial one for them and me...to teach Kathak. As this was more precise and traditional, it took a lot of efforts to teach. The teaching style had to be modified and customized for them without losing the authenticity of the style. To teach the basic hastaks, the language Ta Thai Thai Tat was replaced by 1 2 3 4 numbers as they were easy to show by hand and the children could associate the movement with the number. The hastaks were then taught by actually holding their hands and moving them in different speeds. This was done for endless number of times till they remembered the movement and its association. While teaching the barabar, dugun, and chaugun laya, each girl was taught independently. To incorporate the correct speed within her I had to hold her hands so that she senses the body movement and speed in which I was doing and move her feet accordingly. Later on the girls held each other's hands and it was like magic to see them sense the rhythm from each other. The feeling of achievement and happiness showed on their faces which taught me a number of valuable things, one of them being...nothing is impossible!
A great boost of encouragement was given by Guru. Maneesha Tai, when she suggested that these girls should perform in one of the programs held on account of Gurupournima. I again accepted this as a challenge and after 2 months of rigorous efforts and practice, the girls presented a small bandish for 5 min on stage! It was more challenging as the bandish was abhinaya oriented and based on Radha-Krishna. To make them understand the meaning of words, feelings expressed through those words, the different sounds of tabla, flute, sitar, and various other sound patterns, it was necessary for me to learn their sign language to some extent. In addition to this conventional sign language, a special set of signs was developed by me which helped in communicating my thoughts to them and a special 'tuning' can be achieved. The teachers of the Red Cross School proved to be of extreme help during this period. The music was broken down into different set of bars and each girl was taught individually by holding hands. It was extremely physically tiring to make each and every girl independently understand the music patterns and the choreography but at the same time immensely satisfying.
These girls also performed at different national level competitions and even won accolades at YMCA Youth Cultural Festival for Special Children-Delhi, Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrutik Sangh-Cuttack Mahotsav and Pune festival, to name a few!
Everyone forgets his own worries when they see these girls perform and every individual has a tear of appreciation when they hear the announcement, 'to raise their hands in appreciation instead of clapping' as the girls can't hear the 'loud applause' they receive...
The girls from the institution in which I teach Kathak, come from extremely poor families and so I consider it my responsibility to make the needed expenditure for dance purpose for these girls, to be with them in case their parents don't come to pick them up after a show and at times take them to my residence for the night as it is risky for they can't communicate on phone or in person.
In order to be able to keep the classical dance tradition flowing, to inculcate self confidence and most importantly to make them feel complete and accepted by the society, in order to lead a happy and satisfied life ahead, I have established a charitable trust for this purpose. 'Shilpa Nrityalaya Trust' offers scholarships to inspiring young dancers from financially backward class.
I consider myself lucky and feel grateful that I was able to reach this neglected part of the society through dance. I pray to God to give me the knowledge and strength required to make this small step into a giant leap!
Watch the performance at : http://youtu.be/D6RRDFTsTbE
It took me some time to recollect my thoughts and proceed with the conversation.
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