By Rumya Natraj
“Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it” – Martha Graham (American dancer and choreographer)
We often take our day-to-day movements for granted. In the process, we take our body for granted. The glance of the eyes, the shrink of the eye-brows, the flaring of the nostrils, the shrugging of shoulders, etc. convey a lot more than spoken words. Movement is the outward, physical and visible manifestation of man’s intellectual, emotional and spiritual state. Movement is a link between a human being’s inner reflexes and intentions and their realization through outward actions. The human body is like a machine which is made up of extremely complex and complicated parts. Certain normal regular movements performed by an individual is either ingrained or incorporated since birth and becomes systematized overtime with age, maturity and social requirements. However, when it comes to certain specific uses of the body to achieve a specific goal, a very specialized knowledge based on well-conceived, scientifically planned training regime would be required. One such use of the human body is ‘Dance’. Dance is the product which results out of a specific system of training based upon certain systematized principles and which belong to the realm of art. Dance is concerned with movements of the body which are specific and purposeful. The movements are specific because, they hold on to a particular order. In other words, the movements adhere to the principle of succession wherein, one movement naturally and logically follows the other. Therefore, all Dance is Movement; but all Movement is not Dance.
The use of body movement as a therapeutic tool is perhaps as old as dance itself. Dance-Movement Therapy (DMT), is rooted in the idea that ‘the body and the mind are connected’. The basic premise of Dance-Movement Therapy is that, “body movement reflects inner emotional states and that, changes in movement behaviour can lead to changes in psyche, thus promoting health and growth. Helping individuals to regain a sense of wholeness by experiencing the fundamental unity of the body, mind and spirit, is the ultimate goal of dance-movement therapy (DMT).”
So how different are the movements used in DMT from those used as part of a “Dance”?
Well, to begin with, as mentioned above, movements in dance are based on a specific system of training. Here, the body is trained to move in a particular manner within constraints of the set techniques of the dance style being practiced. On the other hand, movements involved in DMT, are neither planned, nor taught to the participant. The practitioner’s body automatically generates certain movements based on the cognitive and emotional state of the person at a given time. For instance, at a given time, if the practitioner is undergoing certain disturbing negative emotions, it could reflect in the physical self through movements that could appear to be more vigorous, fast paced or at times, even completely still. In DMT, stillness is also considered to be a movement, as the emotions and inner bodily functions are still moving although the visible physical self might not.
Dance and/or Movement, is one among the few activities calling upon the whole individual to use his/her physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual powers equally and in unison. It will be far more advantageous to individuals, if more attention were given to the influence of the body on the mind as the two are interdependent on each other. Dance therapy is based on the belief that, our body language reveals various facets of our personality. Our bodies are like canvasses on which the essence of our history is inscribed. In other words, movements, gestures and postures reveal our passions, insecurities and emotions.
Since dance therapists work across a wide spectrum of groups, communities and individuals, they have evolved several styles and techniques to initiate and develop movements for their clients. DMT, has an overall philosophical framework within which certain principles are ingrained. These influence the directions that therapists take in their individual work using concepts of DMT.
As a practitioner and instructor of the Indian Classical dance form – Bharata Natyam as well as Dance-Movement Therapy, the current researcher incorporates the principles and techniques of DMT within the realm of teaching conventional Bharata Natyam. Currently, the aim of the researcher is to help the current students of Bharata Natyam sustain interest in the dance and enjoy and learn the various theoretical aspects of Bharata Natyam and their practical application in performance. A blend of DMT techniques alongside conventional methods of teaching Bharata Natyam, therefore, seem to create the magic here. Bharata Natyam, with it’s rich traditional background and principled movements serves not just as a form of on-stage entertainment or a hobby or leisure activity, but by itself, it is also rich in it’s therapeutic values if studied intricately. Thus, when DMT methods are combined to these, it only enhances and adds-on to the existing therapeutic effects of Bharata Natyam or Classical Dance as a whole.
As mentioned above, DMT practitioners work with various groups and communities. From toddlers to teenagers to young adults and senior citizens, DMT is applicable to all. In addition, from the current researcher’s own experience, it can be definitely put across that DMT has worked wonders with groups involving Children with Differential Abilities and those living with physical challenges. The flexibility provided within the techniques of DMT help in cultivating and enhancing not just physical body awareness, but understanding it’s connection to one’s psyche as well.
“The next time you look into the mirror, just look at the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way the hairline grows; think of all the little bones in your wrist; it is a miracle. And Dance is a celebration of that miracle.” – Martha Graham
Author is the Founder of Nrityasamarpanam Institute of Classical Dance & Therapeutic Movement, Mumbai