Dance to Heal Ailments
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12 June 2010
By Mitali Parekh
After suffering a slip disc in April 2008, dermatologist Preeti Savardekar was frustrated by the limitations it brought. “I was six years into my practice when this happened,” says the 34–year–old. The blame lay squarely on the long hours she spent on a wooden chair in the clinic and standing while delivering lectures over the weekend. “It’s hard to maintain an upright posture while consulting patients,” says Preeti. “I have to look sympathetic and convey it through my body language. An upright back projects the image of being cold and strict.”
Preeti did only 15 days of the recommended three months of bed–rest and to avoid relapse, cut down her work hours. However, she was asked to lose weight to reduce pressure on the spine and tone the supporting muscles. “I had put on 4 kg due to bed–rest,” she says, “and couldn’t do all yoga asanas, lift weights, go to the gym or do any jumping or running.” And then she heard about Dilshad Patel’s dance therapy sessions, which are considered to be a ‘neuro–muscular workout’.
Problems within Dilshad, trained at the Harkness Dance Centre and Garth Fagan Dance School in New York, works by analysing a participant’s movements, mirroring them and then altering them to bring about a deeper change, without verbal communication. “We do exercises, such as embodiments of concept,” says the 30–year–old who has trained in Bharatanatyam and jazz ballet. “A person’s movements reflects their boundaries, feelings, awareness of surroundings and what place in life they are in.”In Dilshad’s own words: A person who sits slouched with chest caved in and stretches a bent arm in greeting is in a different state of mind than a person who has a puffed chest and an outstretched arm.
By mirroring a participant’s movements, Dilshad gets on the same space as them, cementing a bond and then slowly alters the movements for them to copy and explore their boundaries and feelings. The result is catharsis with gentle physio–therapy. Though Preeti’s intention was to make her spine limber and lose weight, she also managed to shed psychological shackles. “When Dilshad asked us to embody a form of water,” says Preeti, “I thought of waves and really went for it with large spanning arm movements. Dilshad pointed out that I wasn’t using my lower body.”
how it works “Preeti’s movements were vertical and all above the waist,” jumps in Dilshad, “she needed “grounding” and was very conscious of her position in the society. It stopped her from leading her life fully.”
“I was very aware of public opinion,” confirms Preeti, “I was embarrassed about being seen in gym clothes or socialising publicly with men. I would always think, ‘What will people say about Dr Preeti?’. I had joined Bollywood dancing classes and would shy away from jhatkas and matkas because of my age. After the instructor shouted at me, I left the class. Also, I was very scared of sitting on the floor as that’s one thing I was warned against doing after the slip disc. As I learned to move my lower body, I shed inhibitions.” The physical effect was such that her gluteal and thigh muscles got toned, and yes, she lost weight.
Dance therapy works as each person develops movements subjectively and individually. There is no right or wrong move. The sessions are not structured. “Change in movement is communicated physically, not verbally,” explains Dilshad. “It’s all extempore. This took away Preeti’s fear of spontaneity.”
I used to be stressed before presentations and keep the audience waiting while I double–checked slides. It’s not that I wasn’t confident, I was just anxious. Now I can deal with goof–ups,” she says. “I wasn’t up for impromptu outings, but now I’m the one who eggs everyone on!”
Preeti’s twice–a–week sessions include gentle swinging motions that stretch the spine and the upper and lower body movements strengthen the muscles that support it. “We do a lot of swinging, lunges and squats, but gently and with graceful movements,” says Dilshad. The sessions leave her energised as the day’s emotions are purged. “There is a direct connect between the mind and body,” says Dilshad. “If the participants are angry or depressed, it reflects in their movements. As a therapist, I have to work with their movements without reflecting my own emotions.” Not very different from a psychotherapist.
After nearly eight months of therapy, Preeti has not had a relapse and goes back home energised and eager to make plans for the night.