Therapy/ Dance: Tripura Kashyap: Healing through dance
Tripura Kashyap: 'We are all born with movement in our bodies'
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
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
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
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
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.