International Dance Day: Wheeling towards an inclusive future
Martha Graham rightly said, ‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul’. This International Dance Day (April 29), we speak to some artistes who are ensuring that the happiness that dance brings, brightens lives of even those who are differently abled.
Dancing with wheels as limbs
Syed Sallauddin Pasha, a Bharatanatyam and Kathak exponent, is known for his work at Ability Unlimited Foundation. Perturbed by the treatment meted out to the differently abled, he started this foundation and has been working for the cause for almost three decades now. “I belong to a family of healers, and it was sad to witness the discrimination against those who were differently abled. Being a dancer myself, I understood the therapeutic effect of it on those who practised it, and chose to start Ability Unlimited Foundation, where I have so far trained thousands of students in wheelchair classical dance. We need to understand that the differently abled don’t need us, they just need the right opportunities,” says Pasha, who has also invented a unique dance wheelchair that is customised to the needs of the differently abled dancers.
From hearing impaired to polio afflicted, his students have battled it all to show their talent on the stage. And with an aim to provide dignity, inclusion and equality to them on a world platform, Pasha has taken his dance troupe to various countries. He adds, “During the pandemic around 25 students stayed with me at the studio, and through dance, I’ve maintained their physiological and psychological well being. We even conducted virtual shows, and are raring to go back!”
Dance that has no barriers
Enter We Are One, a Delhi-based dance institute for the differently abled, and get to witness artistes on wheelchairs or some with hearing and speech impairment, who prove that dance has no barriers. “As a differently abled dancer myself, I understood that people in my community had almost no access to dance as a profession. There are an abundant number of talented people in India whose potential is undiscovered because they do not conform to the traditional expectation of what an artist should look like due to their disability,” opines Husnain, who founded the organisation in 2016.
The male artistes in the group perform on wheelchairs and crutches accompanied by female artistes who are mostly hearing and speech impaired. “From martial arts to yoga and Bharatanatyam, we perform all dance forms on wheels. At the academy, we also provide couple dance classes, which are offered to individuals with ambulatory disabilities and their able-bodied spouses.Our motto is to create an inclusive society where people with and without disabilities dance, learn and grow together,” adds Husnain.
Of diversity in arts
“From exquisite poses to intricate steps, these dancers convert wheelchairs and crutches into different props, such as bow-arrow, sword, chakra, and chariot, to suit the dance themes. Our aim is to enhance integration and diversity in the arts with works that unite people of all abilities,” says Rani Khanam, Kathak dancer who founded AAMAD Dance Centre in 1996, and has been training differently abled individuals for two decades now.
Khanam believes dance and music can be vehicles to build social bridges, and that is why able bodies and differently abled dancers are trained together here. She adds: “There is nothing that a differently-abled dancer can’t do. Our dance productions are the amalgamation of traditional, creative and modern styles. At AAMAD, dancers participate in various events to create awareness among the people about differently abled, and their journey while trying to generate employment opportunities for them in the area of performing arts.”
Author tweets @bhagat_mallika