When art heals

When art heals

Not for show

When art heals

Most often people gather to dance, sing, act and narrate stories, working towards a final performance. But these arts are being recognised as forms of therapy too.

Nirmitha J, former HR executive, had always loved dance. “It was always my thing; I’ve learnt bharathanatyam and salsa,” she says. A couple of years ago, after a 12-year stint in the corporate world, she felt her life had gone out of balance, thanks to stress factors at work impacting her on a physical and emotional level. “I often fell sick,” she adds.

She wanted to set this right and she instinctively thought of dance. “But I didn’t want it to be limited to that. When I talked to a friend about this, she immediately suggested I get in touch with a well-known movement art therapist,” she says. Her health improved; as did her ability to deal with emotional problems.

“Earlier, when I was upset, I would just come home and break down, but now, I play music, do different movements and write,” she says.

A year after she started therapy, she began training to be a therapist herself. “Now, I also work with members of my family as well as corporates, who are glued to their seats all day. It’s almost as if they (corporates) are discovering they can move again,” she explains.

While this form of therapy draws from dance, it’s not limited to those movements alone, says expert Tripura Kashyap. “I might use some footwork from kathak, hand gestures from bharathanatyam or eye movements from a folk form. And the activity depends on the needs of the group; it’s problem-oriented,” she adds.

And you don’t have to be a dancer to do this, she holds. “In fact, professional dancers have to unlearn a little bit, sometimes,” says the therapist and trainer. “In India, dance is associated strongly with performance, so people often want a show in the end.” That’s important too, she thinks, particularly to boost confidence. However, she asks for a few extra months with the group for this. “And I try to keep the performance related to the issues we have been working on,” she elaborates.

The performance often brings out strengths in people they never knew of, says Nilanjan Choudhury, writer and theatre artiste. When he directed special children recently, he found that what they expected from themselves increased, thanks to the awareness of an upcoming show, and they pushed themselves to achieve that.

This is also true of other people he has worked with, he observes. “There was this girl who was so self-conscious and diffident who had to play someone vain and arrogant. She would get flustered during rehearsals, but pulled it off magnificently on stage,” he says.

Working together builds loyalty, trust and empathy as well, he adds.

Mubin, another therapist, combines visual arts and storytelling to make learning fun and stress-free. In addition to working with special children, she also makes it a point to apply these concepts with her nephew and niece, who are 10 and six years respectively.

“It helps with language and understanding of a variety of concepts,” she says. “You use rhythm, props, anything depending on the needs.”

If visual art therapy takes care of a particular need, music, movement and theatre helps deal with another set of problems, says Sarbani, who runs Bubbles, a school for special children.

“We use them to teach the children academics as well as to help them understand social cues,” she adds.

Teacher Smriti Rajesh’s eight-year-old son has had the benefit of this sort of holistic approach. “Movement and art therapy have made him a happier and calmer child,” she shares.

“And thanks to music therapy — the therapist has composed special music for my boy — he sleeps better at night.” Having realised the power of this approach like many others, she has also trained in it so she might help others. Finally, it all comes down to spreading love, right?

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