BENGALURU: That dance is an effective means of communication is a well-known fact. And without eye movements, Indian classical dance forms have been widely considered incomplete. But does that mean someone with a visual impairment can’t pursue their passion?
“No,” says Dr Suparna Venkatesh, dancer and guru. She is also a mentor to visually challenged dancers in Bengaluru. Besides having trained nearly 50 students in Bharatanatyam and Kathak, she has also helped 20 visually-impaired dancers showcase their dancing abilities. Her class consists of 15 girls and five boys, of whom, two are completely blind. The boys are aged above 30 years and they had their initial dance training at the Ramana Maharishi School for the differently abled at JP Nagar.
“I started training these boys in 2006. We had classes thrice a week and the girls joined in 2008,” recalls Venkatesh. Today, the men are established dancers who assume different job roles as well. The girls are students who are below poverty line and study at Deepa Academy for Visually Impaired. “One day I went to the school and saw them engaged in various creative activities. I spoke to their principal and then tried to convince them that they can learn dance too. They were reluctant in the beginning,” she adds. After much convincing, five came forward and then a few weeks later, five more.
Venkatesh taught the students through tactile perception methodology, where the students would touch her to understand the body posture, mudras and hand gestures. “I taught them certain yoga exercises too and showed them how their body can be flexible. They were shy at first but later understood dance is nothing but body language, through which once can communicate effectively,” explains Venkatesh.
The students had their rangapravesam in 2012, which was carried out in groups. White tapes made of clothes were used to draw a T shaped line on stage. “In front, just before the edge, the tape runs from end to end and in the middle there is another long tape that divides the stage. It acts as a boundary to keep the dancer safe,” says Venkatesh.
She also spends adequate time getting the dancer used to a stage by making them walk around so they understand the spacial dimensions. “Even the speakers on both sides are kept facing the back stage so that the sounds waves do not cause any problem,” she explains.
Though accomplished in Bharatanatyam and Kathak, she feels Kathak may not be suitable for her students. “Kathak has vigorous movement, especially the chakkars. They may not be able to withstand the speedy movements. So, I am not trying Kathak with them but they know that style as well,” she says.
While the boys have performed in the US four times, the girls team has performed in various cities twice. Due to reservations organisers have, they have not been seen much on Indian stages. “They think these visually impaired children cannot dance. But in a recent performance at Reva University on the World Dance Day, they danced for nearly an hour and received a lot of praise,”says a proud Venkatesh.
The author is a dance critic based in Bengaluru.