We as dancers always believe that music makes us move and words make us express. But I would like to talk about dancing in silence today. Yes you read it right dancing in silence. Recently I was called on a special mission to Nepal. It was a ten day assignment where I was asked to teach Latin American dancing to deaf and mute boys and girls. I did not have any idea that being there and training people will change the way I feel and look at Dance completely, I was more than amazed by the results.
Before going to teach the deaf and the mute, I decided to do a short course in sign language myself so that my communication with the deaf dancers in Nepal gets better. Learning the sign language in India was fun and it gave me a wonderful way to act out and express my feeling while I never spoke a word.
Anxious and nervous like a school boy going to his new school for the first time I boarded my flight to Kathmandu. For me this assignment has been the most memorable one more than even teaching dance to Hollywood and Bollywood stars. Mrs. Sarah Giri, wife of the former Prime Minister of Nepal who is a good friend of my star student Bollywood beauty Manisha Koirala, runs an institution for these special children. She was the one who invited me to teach deaf and mute dancers Latin and ballroom dances for their annual programme to be held in December this year. Of course, I did not know what to expect, as I had never taught dance to a group of deaf and mute, but at the end of my 10 days stint I term my experience as ‘Simply Unbelievable.’
The children were between the ages of 15 and 25 years and strangely none of them have ever danced in their lives. And for the first time, I danced to silence, there was no music, not even for Mrs. Giri and me. The students only danced to counts, the counts that they would see when I raised my hands. It was just amazing to watch them dance and turn performers so soon.
Another interesting aspect about the deaf and mute that I learnt was that they have no sense of balance. So for some steps that required a lot of twists and turns, it was a bit difficult. But by the end of their training, they effortlessly mastered every move taught to them. I remember when I told them to dance at a particular tempo which can be slow medium or fast, they could not understand the meaning of tempo or speed in dance. Then Mrs Giri showed me astonishing trick to teach the deaf and mute children the speed of music. We played the music, raised the volume very high and stood so close to the speaker that our heart beats increased due to the super high volume of the music. Later what happened was astounding, each dancer came and put his and her hand on my heart, felt my heart pacing to the music and turned around and danced to the beat of the music. I was shocked as to how could they hear and later I understood it was the heartbeats that they felt when they touched me and my pace of heartbeat due to music volume made them realise the beat of the music being played.
Just as in any other rehearsal, these students too practised for eight hours at a stretch, but the difference was that there was no talking or gossiping or breaks or idle chat. I realised that dancing to silence really helps you appreciate the dance form better. I think we waste a lot of time chatting endlessly about things that really don’t matter but here I realized that once the rehearsals began, they concentrated on their dance and nothing could distract them. Strange, how we never thought of it that way.
In Mumbai when we do our rehearsals we are so concerned about what music we dance to and how we express that emotion to the music. But for these children music is in the heart and the emotions are expressed through the experience of life. As a choreographer I often ask dancers to feel the music to express. However, now I have stopped using this sentence as I realised that feeling the music is not important but sensing the movement is what the beauty of expression is.
To help understand these students better, I had taken a few lessons in sign language, but in Nepal I realized that there was a very difference in the language I learnt and the language they communicated in. It is strange that for the blind the Braille language is same all over the world, but there is no standard sign language for the deaf and the mute. Still, I tried and somehow I managed to explain to them what I needed. The children could not lip read, so there was no point in me talking either. After rehearsals when I would return to my hotel, I too would not communicate with anyone around, the silence was so beautiful I did not want to come out of it.
The most important aspect of this assignment was making a difference to their lives. They may not have their so called all the senses but I think by the end of my stay they achieved much more than they or I could have imagined. And in that sense, I think I achieved what we set out to achieve. The programme is scheduled for December end and I will be visiting Nepal prior to that for monitoring their progress. Mrs. Giri wants to show the people of Nepal that despite their so-called drawback and disability, these students are still capable of doing so much more. And I am sure it is going to be one fabulous world of dance, so all I can say for now is that ladies and gentlemen get ready and ‘Welcome to the World of Silence’
(Sandip Soparrkar is a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected])