A development initiative for South Asian Dance in the North West

Reflections on the journey

In my conversation with my grandson lies the essence of what I learnt from my visit to Canada as a Churchill fellow.
My exchange with colleagues working with senior citizens and contact with older people who attended my practical sessions highlighted the value of cross cultural communication.  

I have always been interested in searching for connections between apparently disconnected subjects. Cross cultural artistic initiatives excite me.
I believe that whenever a person connects with another, whether as an individual or a member of a group it uplifts the collective spirit and promotes a general feeling of Wellbeing, rendering cultural differences redundant.
Most of the establishments that I visited in Canada invited me to give workshops, even the round table meetings arranged for discussion and exchanges of information turned into joyful practical sessions.
What surprised care staff and my peers in Canada most was the animated response of the participants to the activities created drawing from Indian dance practices.

All the professionals, therapists, social workers, medical practitioners, researchers and older people at hospitals, care homes and drop in community centres that I worked with were familiar mainly with western theories and arts therapy. I was not sure if we can find a common point of reference. At first I was apprehensive about how older people in Canada would react to my appearance, accent and dance techniques.  To my great relief I found that every time we could reach out and discover common grounds and shared moments of enjoyment.
The appreciative response from those I met at workshops gave me more confidence in my practice, at what can be a self doubting period of life for a dancer.

“Bisakha danced amongst them, taking hands, making eye contact, encouraging them to make the dance their own. That is when the magic really happened…strangers dancing together, making eye contact, smiling at each other…expressing their joy. I was surprised and delighted to see that most of the men were dancing and enjoying themselves...During the workshop she shared her love of dance, her culture and, how she came to be here on the Winston Churchill fellowship to follow her dream to come to Canada to inspire us with her love of dance. And she did."

Barbara Karmazyn, independent arts provider for the seniors.

In the Confederation Centre ,Vancouver, I walked into a hall where over 50 people of mixed ability and different cultural backgrounds ,were sitting around the room . The workshop was arranged specially on a day when the Asian Elders group meet at the centre; so that they can join in . I had to find a way to make all of them welcome and engaged ,even if it is to be at different levels. The session was enjoyed by all and I received a range of different compliments, for example , “you reminded me of my childhoods in India”, “I can do this new way of exercising at night in front of my TV.”and “ this is helping cross- cultural communication “. The comments came from both Asian and First Nation  Canadian participants .                                                                                                                         

So we can see that the workshop materials had a connection with a past in India as well as in the common activities of present day Canada .

Upon reflection I realised that there is a difference between the dance technique and the methods of its application. Because of the paucity of collaboration between Indian dancers and the those responsible for providing arts activities for older people, often no distinction is made between the two.
My technique is culture specific but my practice is inclusive.
When I deliver a session on dance for older people I use my Indian dance training to find appropriate movements but I aim to link them to the five ways of wellbeing and use them within the scope of the relevant duty of care constrains
Indian dance is regarded as an exotic and highly stylised form of dance . This overshadows the fact that it can be very successfully used as a tool for community dance initiatives.
As an independent artist I intend to work with other organisations and through lectures, CPD training opportunities and my own practice draw attention to the importance of developing high quality Indian dance based work for the older people in the community, irrespective of cultural background.
I wish to take this idea of communication and exchange a stage further and explore ways of communicating with another marginalised group, the people with early stages of dementia and their care givers.

In my role as the Artistic Director of Chaturangan, I have established partnership with venues, funders and other arts organisations to produce Fleeting Moment - the first dementia inclusive culturally diverse performance in a mainstream theatre venue in Liverpool.
In Canada whenever I discussed this initiative I received a wonderful response.
"As you said more than once, you cannot cure illness but you can use dance and the arts to draw people away from their suffering, give them a sense of connectedness rather than isolation and a feeling of mastery in situations where they are vulnerable and feel that they have lost control. You showed us how you raise awareness of dementia and make those with dementia participators in rather than observers of the arts. Particularly meaningful was your discussion of creating performances that are “dementia friendly” and welcome all who want to attend and take part."

Virginia Wesson, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto

Most of the Dementia related productions seemed to be issue based work, highlighting the loss and despair and raising the aware of this condition or participatory work by the people with dementia.
Fleeting moment is a performance by professional artists .It brings Indian Chinese and contemporary dancers together to create an uplifting experience
This inclusive performance aims to offer people living with dementia and their families an opportunity to continue to take part in usual social activities. The first performance was covered by the UK based Indian dance magazine Pulse(
www.pulseconnects.com http://issuu.com/sanjeevinidutta/docs/130902_pulse_122_web )and The Alzheimer society Canada has invited me to write about this new work for the I can, I will section of their magazine.
The inspiration of the new found friends and colleagues I met through my fellowship has reenergised me to continue this work of communicating through dance to take away the sadness of isolation and loneliness.

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Page last updated 03-Dec-2013 - Comments on the website welcome by Eric Foxley at the Dunkirk Arts Centre
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