(Excerpt from TEDx JBS talk by Tripura Kashyap
Movement Therapist / Dance Educator / Choreographer
‘Creative movement’ is a discipline that I have been practicing throughout my dance career with a variety of groups and individuals. As the term suggests, it is not about learning a dance form or a technique but it is about discovering our own movement language and expressing our thoughts or feelings through it.
It’s a bit like going to an Art class – the teacher gives you colour pencils and asks you to draw whatever you feel like on paper – you might scribble or create a doodle, an image, anything at all and that’s your art!
In the same manner, I offer movement ideas and images for people to build and develop their own personal movement vocabulary for creative self-expression.
This brings to me a memory of my first ever creative movement class eons ago – our teacher asked us to move freely, in silence, using the space around us, the way we felt like – and with these instructions I froze!
Firstly my body did not know how to move freely (coming from the background of Indian classical dance), secondly I had not danced in silence before and neither had I thought of taking space around the body to dance. Yet when I looked around, I saw the other students dancing in complete abandon. After a few hesitant steps, I too began to move and gradually forgot myself in this ‘spontaneous’ dance.
I felt connected to the space around me, I felt connected to my own body, myself as well as to the others dancing with me. Gradually a whole range of movements trapped inside my body emerged and exploded out into the space. For the first time, I felt that improvisational dance could be an incredibly cathartic expression that releases emotional material buried in our bodies – it does not always have to be about learning a dance technique, replicating, practicing and perfecting its form and narrative content.
Since then, I have learnt that my body is an important part of my personality and the movement that gushes out is an integral part of my body language – My body expresses who I am – based on the way I sit, stand, walk, run or lie down. And imagine! This movement language is spoken continuously by my body throughout its life!
I gradually realised what I had constantly heard a hundred times before – that 75 % of all our communication happens through this amazing body language of ours! – It hit me that our bodies can speak, express, think, memorise and communicate our stories, thoughts and emotions.
After I trained in different forms of dance and began working with people, I felt it ironical that though India is blessed with thousands of dance forms and styles, most people are petrified of the word ‘dance’. Rekha, a new participant in one of the classes initially said “Please ma’m, I only want to observe the class, I have never moved my body creatively before and I feel like a puppet gone wrong when I try to dance”
Yet after being gently persuaded by all of us in the class, she hesitantly moved at first but slowly articulated different parts of her body with ease, She moved across space in different ways – she jumped, skipped, walked backwards, rolled, crept and leapt through space as thought it was the most natural thing to do and she had never done these movements before – For me this was the magic called ‘Dance’.
And I thought to myself – how could something like this be possible? That someone who was so reluctant to move can produce such beautiful dances out of the blue! The answer is simple – Movement is the Medium we all live in! It is primal to our existence and we were all born with it! In our mother’s womb we stretched and contracted our body parts, we somersaulted and explored the womb through our bodies. Let’s fast forward from this foetal stage to being children and finally growing up into adults – our movement language shrunk, we felt alienated from our bodies and lived at a distance from it. Societal conditioning of what kinds of body attitudes we should hold affected our body language which got stilted and stiff. If you look around you will observe that most of our movement capabilities have got reduced to our finger tips, thanks to our Smart phones!
So what Rekha had done after few hours of dancing, was to reclaim her body through movement which I would like to term as our ‘Universal mother tongue’. I say universal because everyone can move in whatever shape, size or form – regardless of body types, personality types or people across different age groups. I have used my movement practice with people across sociocultural divides, linguistic zones and urban-rural divides, or even across communities with different religious beliefs – Movement practices can also be used therapeutically with people who have mental / physical or emotional disabilities or challenges.
I remember Archana with whom I spent many magical moments, or should I say movements? She was depressed, constantly anxious and highly stressed out. Someone told her that she could get rid of these feelings by dancing, but she had no idea how to begin and so came to me. I gently led her through different developmental stages of my movement practice over a period of a few weeks – in the 1st stage, I seeded movement into her body and she got in touch with her own movement language, she began to understand her movement potential as well as her movement limitations.
In the 2nd stage, she explored her movement language further by taking pleasure in being a spontaneous mover, experiencing the joys of movement and trying a variety of movement patterns. In the 3rd stage she expressed emotions which she had repressed for a long time – sometimes sadness buried deep in the musculature of her body or anger in her shoulders or anxiety in her stomach – she actually began to understand in which part of her body she stored these emotions.
Through all these stages, she would move in different levels and directions in space, she created different kinds of body rhythms, she made body statues of different shapes and sizes and also relaxed her body through integrating her breath with her movement. She shared that words were not enough to express what she was feeling – movement made her feel alive, happy and she felt like re-connecting with her old friends again. She began to take pleasure in life, laughed a lot more and felt much calmer than ever before – all this because dance acted like a stress buster and melted away her anxious thoughts each day!
Recently I worked with a group of corporate professionals. After we went through a warm up routine to music, we tried out different movement activities and games, we also cooled down our bodies through relaxation exercises and ended with a verbal reflection in which everyone shared what they felt or thought during the session and what came up for them.
One experience that many shared was that they were enslaved by the virtual-digital world of mobiles and laptops. As they moved and danced to music – in solos, or with a partner or in small clusters they felt they were in the ‘here and now’, with a deep self-awareness. There was also a beautiful interpersonal bonding between the group members and creative movement brought back in them the thirst to live in the real world and connect with real people.
Like others, Jaiveer shared that while dancing, he felt he had actually escaped from this ‘digital trap, He felt human and relieved not to be connected with his ‘electronic leash’ (mobile phone) This for all of us was a powerful experience of how dance and creative movement could become a form of digital detox’ which we all sorely need to carry on with our meaningful lives!
I have noticed it in my own life too! if it was not for dance, I would have perhaps moved my body in a boring functional manner to mechanically perform my daily chores. Whenever I have danced, toxic feelings and thoughts have been released from my body, I have felt excited about life and relationships in general and have been liberated from repetitive movement patterns that limit my communication with others.
A daily dose of dance puts me in a positive state of being for the rest of the day! There is a scientific reason for this – creative movement and dance causes the brain to release a mood-lifting neurotransmitter serotonin among others – Any creative and fun-filled physical activity also releases endorphins, a brain chemical that promotes satisfaction, euphoria, and make you feel positive and high on life. So you see dance and movement act as a natural Anti-depressant!
You might now ask how can you bring this movement practice into your own life? The way to do this is really simple! Push yourselves for 21 days to move 20 minutes a day to any kind of music you like, doing any kind of movement. Believe me on the 22nd day on wards, your bodies will crave and demand movement from you each day and you will gradually experience the positive effects of movement on your body, mind and soul.
So do Move, do express and do transform your lives!
Tripura Kashyap pioneered Creative Movement Therapy in India in 1990. She studied Dance Therapy at Hancock Center for dance/movement therapy (Wisconsin, USA) and subsequently obtained her MA in Psychology. She worked intensively for several years using dance therapy with children and adults with therapeutic needs. She trained in classical dance at Kalakshetra (Chennai) and jazz, ballet, modern dance, choreography and dance theatre in the U.S. Tripura has received fellowships from Ashoka Foundation and Indian Ministry of Culture for her innovative work in dance therapy and contemporary dance. She authored the book My Body, My Wisdom published by Penguin. Tripura was also Projects Coordinator for Bhoomika Dance Company (Delhi) and Creative Consultant for the ‘Dance- in-Education’ program at Attakkalari Center (Bangalore). She conceptualised CMTAI’s movement therapy courses in Delhi and Bangalore is on the teaching faculty of other dance & expressive art therapy courses in Pune and Bangalore.