for the Disabled
one is more special than anybody else"
-- Charlotte Darbyshire
most certainly is life after disability. Everyday we come
across acts of courage, discover new talents and abilities
among those in danger of being written off by society. With
painstaking efforts, many physically and mentally challenged
individuals have rehabilitated themselves. In the process,
they have amply proved that they have the potential to be
productive citizens of the country.
for this metamorphosis must go to numerous dedicated people
and institutions that work in tandem with the challenged.
One such indefatigable personality is Charlotte Darbyshire,
a UK-based dance artiste who performs, teaches and choreographs
for both the able bodied and disabled. Currently she is teaching
dance at Laban University, in Southeast London. This is one
of the leading contemporary dance schools in Europe. Along
with her colleague Juliet Robson, she was recently in the
country for three weeks to work with the Centre for the Rehabilitation
of the Paralysed (CRP) in Savar and an orphanage called Shishu
Polli Plus in Sreepur, 100 kms from Savar.
first aim was to create an atmosphere where everybody could
enjoy dance and creativity," says Charlotte. "The
by-products were to help the body in terms of mobility, stability,
and stamina. It affects your psychological states such as
self awareness, self esteem, social skills, spatial awareness."
her modus operandi, she says that Juliet and she worked closely
with members of CRP and Shishu Polli. Using the genre of contemporary
dance, the aim was to build a relationship of trust, drawing
on techniques such as contact improvisation (a technique based
on touch, using each other's weight to make a movement). "Basically
we started to learn and listen to each other's bodies. We
developed our own movement language," she says.
on this theme, they targeted a group of 14 people from CRP.
Half of these were disabled and the other half able-bodied.
The disabled people were a mixture of staff and patients.
The able--bodied were a mixture of students from CRP's Bangladesh
Health Professionals Institute, students of physiotherapy,
occupational therapy-- and special needs staff.
Polli, they worked--with a group of about 40 (a mix of able
bodied and six disabled). The first element that is necessary,
says Charlotte, is to create a good working atmosphere. As
she asserts, "I strive to build an environment where
there is mutual respect for each other. In sum, surroundings
which are safe, encouraging, supportive and respectful."
are almost immediate. Take the case of the 20-year-old Shahnaz
(not her real name), from CRP who used to hide from public
view because of her disability. "When she began moving,
we discovered that she was a beautiful dancer. She had never
danced before, certainly not creative dance. She certainly
never choreographed before. She formulated a duet with a patient.
Now when I see her around CRP, she is so proud and confident,"
another case, she says, there was a group of two deaf children,
two visually impaired and two wheelchair users along with
13 able-bodied children at Shishu Polli. Within five minutes
of beginning the special exercises, says Charlotte, it was
impossible to tell the difference between the able -bodied
and disabled. By the end of the session, they were ready to
talents, together with members of CRP, were on view on February
17 at a fund-raising evening at Heritage restaurant in Dhaka.
This occasion featured a contemporary dance performed by the
children and residents of CRP and Shishu Polli. Charlotte
and Juliet choreographed the dance. This programme was held
on the heels of a performance by CRP in mid-January and Shishu
Polli in late January.
at CRP, according to Charlotte, was "simply fantastic".
A major success was an exercise about using different parts
of the body to write one's name. In one of the early sessions
a couple of weeks ago, the team of 14 from CRP had completed
a warm up. "The energy was really good and I decided
to start creative choreography. I said I am going to teach
you a way to write your names with any part of your body not
just hands," recalls Charlotte. Starting with writing
her own name with different parts of her body--chosen by the
children--such as her head, hands, hips and knees, she wrote
'Charlie'. "This was just a small creative exercise to
create movement, increase awareness and use of the whole body,"
points out Charlotte.
was trickier to get the children to likewise follow suit with
their own names. The initially unresponsive and silent children
had to be coaxed into action, Charlotte reminisces. "
I suddenly realised that despite their fine learning minds,
no one had ever solved a creative problem independently before.
After much effort, a girl called Shilpi wrote her name with
her whole body and used her chair as well. Her courage infected
the room. Suddenly the whole group was working and getting
excited and creating their own plays. We had four such classes,
this was the second session which was my favourite, "
why she chose integrated dance rather than special classes
for the disabled, Charlotte points out, "The mix offers
many more creative possibilities and I think that the able-
bodied can learn from the disabled. It is more interesting
when everybody is different, interprets their movement differently
and shares their diverse experiences."
to from here? She plans to return to Bangladesh next year.
Her target is a collaborative venture with Aniket Paul, a
dancer. This team effort--which will culminate in a big performance
in Dhaka--seeks to bring together the synergies of Paul, with
his dancers, the women from the Gonokbari women's centre of
CRP, a group from CRP and children from Shishu Polli Plus.
also hopes to make more time for teaching dance to both the
able bodied and disabled. She is not overly ambitious about
numbers. As she says, " I would rather opt for quality
than quantity. If one person understands it very deeply then
they can work on it, instead of 20 people with an insufficient
understanding. It will last six weeks and then die."
Charlotte's dedication to dance has proven that, whether able-bodied
or disabled, new avenues of creativity are sure to open up
for those with the will to learn dance.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004