During the August 15 Independence Day celebrations at the St. Joseph’s College, at Bangalore, dance therapist Andrea Rios, from Spain, was having an enjoyable time with a group of girls. She took photos, played games, watched a cultural programme and laughed a lot. “Thereafter, we had lunch together,” she says. Suddenly, in the midst of all the fun, Preethi (name changed), an eighteen-year-old girl came up to Andrea, and whispered, “Please take me with you to your country.”
Andrea was shaken and upset. “Preethi saw how free I was,” says Andrea. “She felt that she could enjoy the same kind of freedom in Spain. In India, society has boxed Preethi in. She is unable to express her personality.”
This is more so, because Preethi is a victim of sexual abuse. Through the NGO, Street Heroes of India (SOI), Andrea had come to Bangalore to impart dance therapy to these troubled girls, who ranged in age from 13 to 19.
Says Olga Martin, the founder of SOI: “Sexual violence often occurs in secrecy, which increases the victim’s sense of helplessness. The attacks on children’s bodies can leave them with physical scars, but, more often, with psychological ones. They feel a sense of fear, shame, and self-blame. It can create a separation of the mind and body.”
But in dance therapy, girls are encouraged to get in touch with their bodies by making spontaneous movements. “It is not necessary for the patient to imitate the trainer,” says Andrea. “They can do whatever they want, as long as they can express themselves.”
When girls are hesitant, Andrea uses dance styles like contemporary or the Brazilian zouk. “Zouk is a dance which you do with a partner,” she says. “There is a contact with the body, mind and spirit of the other person. In contemporary, you can connect with the essence within yourself. The objective is to unite the person’s mind and body.”
While this is going on, Andrea does a bit of psycho-analysis. “By studying the movements, the use of space, breathing, and body configuration, I can get an idea of the past history of the girl,” she says.
Here is one past history: Sunita was about to get married off. But at the last moment, the boy called it off. The parents got very angry with their daughter. They felt she was at fault. So they abandoned her. “Suddenly, Sunita had no husband or family,” says Andrea. “She did not want to speak about it, but expressed her anger through a drawing. She drew a heart and filled it with angry images.”
When asked to compare the troubled girls in Valencia and Bangalore, Andrea says, “In Spain, when girls are abused, they are able to go to the police, who will treat them sympathetically, or take the help of teachers and their families.”
However, in India, if a girl says she has been abused, the reaction is different. “It is like as if it is her fault,” says Andrea. “The attitude is, ‘One more girl, nothing new.’ There is a lack of seriousness and concern. Society tends to blame the girl and condemn her. She carries a sense of culpability throughout her life.”
Not surprisingly, rehabilitation takes time. “It varies from individual to individual, the type of trauma, the age of the person, and how intensely the patients have participated in healing activities,” says Andrea. “There are some girls who are able to express their feelings through words after doing a session of dance therapy. But this does not happen to everybody.”
After the Bangalore stint, Andrea came to Kochi and conducted a two-day workshop for social workers, nuns, teachers and counsellors.
Thus far, it has been a learning experience for Andrea. And it happened rather accidentally. One day, the idea occurred to her to do psycho-social projects in different areas of the world. “I wanted to understand hows the mind works in various countries,” she says. So Andrea searched the Internet and came across SOI. She got in touch with Olga, who asked for Andrea’s resume, and enquired about her interest in India.
Eventually, Andrea passed Olga’s scrutiny. “It has been so wonderful to be in India,” says Andrea, who is a well-studied professional. Apart from a degree in clinical psychology from the University of Valencia, Andrea has got a masters in the behaviour of children and teenagers, a masters in emotional intelligence and expressive arts, another one on sexuality and sexual education, and a fourth one on dance from the professional conservatory in Valencia. Today, Andrea is working in a private centre of mental health at Valencia. And she is only 24 years old.
“Please don’t call me a superwoman,” she says, with a laugh.