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Can’t dance? Says who? On World Dance Day, make dance part of your life

29 April, 2022 18:31:10
Can’t dance? Says who? On World Dance Day, make dance part of your life

When she settled in the USA for good in 1999, dance was not uppermost on Kolkata girl Raili Roy’s mind. The Presidency College (now University) alumnus, now a scholar in Gender Studies and Comparative Women’s History, is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, but she could not have foreseen that dance would one day help her promote women’s empowerment. Today, the PhD holder from Ohio State University runs a Facebook group called Let’s Keep Moving Virtually (LKMV), where nearly 90 women of all ages and from diverse backgrounds bond over a shared love of dance and dancing, though not all of them are trained dancers.

And that is the point we wish to make on International Dance Day or World Dance Day, celebrated annually on April 29 ever since the Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute established it in 1982 to highlight the diversity and talent of dancers all over the world. The date was chosen because it marks the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), the creator of modern ballet.

Austrian writer Vicki Baum once said, “There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.” Raili and the members of LKMV would heartily agree. Particularly during the two years of the Covid pandemic, says Raili, with long hours cooped up indoors, it occurred to her that dance could be a medium to express all manner of emotions, as it has always been for her. So she created LKMV, primarily to provide a platform for women who wished to express themselves, but couldn’t owing to a variety of reasons. 

Led by Raili Roy, members of LKMV perform a recital

“Dance has never been just another interest for me. It has been a source of strength, peace, and empowerment. I wanted to share that with other women, irrespective of their level of expertise or backgrounds,” Raili explains. Her group includes women seeking to rekindle the dancing skills of their younger days, or those who still dance whenever they can, or even those who dance simply because they like to. “Your body type doesn’t matter, training doesn’t matter, age doesn’t matter. Just dance as you can, dance for yourself, and the rest will follow,” she says.

A simple Internet search will throw up hundreds of results on the mental health benefits of dancing. A typical result might tell you that dance can increase self-esteem, help you meet new people, improve your mood and attitude, and ease depression and anxiety. All of which Raili and the members of LKMV can vouch for. As she says, “I have made lifelong friends through dance, and I’m now seeing the same happening with members of the group. We even have an example of a mother and her grown up daughter who dance together, creating a special bond and special memories.”

While India is no stranger to globally renowned classical dance exponents, its ancient dance tradition also means that the majority of us have dance in our DNA, in some form or other. While dancing on a public stage would require a certain level of training and skill, nothing stops us from dancing behind closed doors, sharing our joy only with close friends if we are afraid of being judged by a larger audience. 

“I have seen radical transformations in the mental health of many of our members ever since they joined. We are not aiming for a public performance here, but even dancing in front of a mirror in your own room will reinforce your self-love and self-belief,” says Raili.

Raili with daughter Ennika

Her own teenage daughter Ennika, who gravitated toward Bharatnatyam under her mother’s “gentle guidance” as Raili laughingly describes it, is preparing for her ‘arangetram’ in June, remarkable for one so young. In Tamil, the word arangetram literally means ‘ascending the stage’. A momentous occasion in the career of any dancer, it is a solo dance debut – the first time a student performs a full concert on their own. Ennika, whose Bengali heritage has blended seamlessly with her American environs, is training under Guru Sanjeeta Mukherjee.

Not all of us will have the good fortune of being similarly trained. However, that ought not to stop us from expressing ourselves through dance, a gift that anyone can enjoy.

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