Q. Please tell us about yourself
She’s always done things her own way: learnt Bharatanatyam at the famous and acclaimed Kalakshetra, but found the technique rigid and limiting for her, so went on to work with Chandralekha’s group, and even then, she went scouring libraries for books on Dance Therapy. In a dance domain that lay emphasis on a traditional movement vocabulary, she went looking for an unorthodox, fluid expression. Way back in the ’80s, Tripura Kashyap, then 48, claimed the fledgling Indian dance therapy sector as her own. After choosing Bharatanatyam to get rid of a squint, she let her love for Dance Therapy take her to the Hancock Centre in Wisconsin, USA, where she watched how it healed the depressed and the delusional.
As she embarks on a new affiliated course on Dance Therapy for educators across India, the choreographer and movement therapist speaks to Avantika, on why the discipline is now more relevant than ever before.
Q. What pushed you to take up dance?
A. I had a squint as a child. Someone told my parents that if I take up Bharatanatyam, the squint would go. So that’s the funny reason why I took up dance. Of course it went away. We were living in Mumbai at that time, but soon shifted to Nigeria. My parents wanted me to continue with dance and I used to keep coming back to India to learn. Eventually, I started choreographing my own pieces for audiences in Nigeria. Then I joined Kalakshetra and stopped choreographing.
Q. Did Kalakshetra prove to be a culture shock?
I had a strong reaction to it. Because I had come from Africa, Kalakshetra seemed very rigid, conservative and orthodox. It was about having to look like a Brahmin girl and having to dance in compositions only about Hindu gods. Even the shringar needed to have bhakti in it. But I finished my diploma and surprisingly got a First Class too.
Q. What triggered your interest in an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career such as dance therapy?
A. I had a brother who was wheelchair bound. Whenever he heard music, he would always jump out of his wheelchair. I used to always ponder on ways to make him dance.
Q. How did you end up enrolling for a formal course?
A. In my 10-year-stint with Chandralekha’s group, I used to travel between Bengaluru and Chennai. In Bengaluru I worked in a library called Indian Institute of World Culture, where I accidentally met the American dance therapist – Dr. Grace Valentine. She invited me to study Dance Therapy at The Hancock Centre for Movement Arts and Therapies, in 1988.
Q. What was your introduction to dance therapy like?
A. The experience was mind blowing. For the first time, I saw non-dancers moving so gracefully. The whole idea of movement therapy has been developed to help people who don’t know how to dance. One is made to understand, that he or she is not dancing to escape from problems, but rather to confront them. I saw dance therapists working with different populations, like special kids, elderly and mentally challenged people, battered women and so on. My first movement class was very interesting. I went into a dance class when the teacher put on some music and asked us to move. While I froze completely, I could see the rest of the students moving though it happened to be a first class for everyone. After the class ended, the teacher said something very interesting. She said the scene resembled a beautiful choreography, since I was standing still and everyone else was moving around me. But once I started attending the classes, I found something breaking loose within me. All these years, I have been told how to dance. For the first time, I was dancing the way my body wanted to.
Q. How did your work with Indians shape up after the Hancock Centre experience?
A. In Bengaluru I worked a lot in rehabilitation centres with special children, schizophrenic adults, hearing and visually impaired people as well as mentally challenged individuals, among others. I did this to see how Dance Therapy can really change with different groups.
Q. Who should go for Dance Therapy?
A. Movement is something primal to us. In the womb itself, we are somersaulting and kicking. Even before we learnt to make sound, we moved. But as we grow into adulthood, the range of movement shrinks. Since it is so primal, every group I have worked with, including a normal functioning one, has benefited.
Q. What kind of teaching modules constitute Dance Therapy?
A. You have something called movement activities and games. In my sessions, I usually have something called the movement activity basket to help people open up their bodies in different ways. For instance, there are activities targeted at individuals who have difficulty expressing emotions. Initially I get them to make just body statues and then ask them to make emotional statues, expressing feelings of sadness, happiness and anger. Occasionally, you realise that people are using their bodies but not their faces. There’s a disconnect. The faces are often blank. Subsequently, I ask them to forget the body and just work with the face. Then other layers are added including sound, space so on.
Q. Is there a way out of stress and fatigue, integral components of an urban existence, through Dance Therapy?
A. I have been working a lot with multinational executives. The idea is to take them through a range of activities, where they learn how to move and to express themselves. The second segment of the program is aimed at stress release, where activities are arranged to help the participants calm down. The issue of trust building is also tackled, since there’s a lot of suspicion among people in this day and age.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. Apart from workshops, there’s FCAT (a one-year-foundation course on creative arts therapies) by SMART (Studio for Movement Arts and Therapies, Bangalore), encompassing psychotherapy, dance, drama and visual art therapy. It’s affiliated with Parivarthan, a Bangalore-based counselling centre.