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     Volume 6 Issue 29 | July 27 , 2007 |

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Dancing Away Their Worries

Elita Karim

The Nederlands Dans Theater with the street children, in between their rehearsals at Hotel Sheraton.

"Minu!” “Prateek!” “Next!” cries the dancer, keeping in time with the heart-thumping music blaring out of the speakers in Winter Garden of Hotel Sheraton. The child immediately gets up and dances along with the rhythm and melody. A little girl of about 6 jumps up as soon as she hears her name and moves her shoulders in time to the beat, not losing her balance even for a moment. She runs back to her place on the floor and sits down as another name is announced and this time a boy in his teens does a Govinda impersonation, covering the space with his artistic leaps.

It is the second day at Hotel Sheraton, where at least 75 street children have gathered together to rehearse for a grand dance performance, which will be held in January 2008. Collaborating with Padakhep, an organisation supporting these children, dancers from the Norway Theatre / Dance Troupe train these kids for a week till they fly back to Dhaka again a few days before the show in January.

The troupe had come the year before to work with poor street children of Dhaka as one of their charity projects. “We are professional dancers and our troupe is one of the most popular and sought after groups in Europe,” says Sol Leon, one of the dancers.

The trainers feel that the children's talents should be explored and
developed by the government.

Established in 1959, the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), created by a group of 18 members of the former Het Nederlands Ballet (Ballet of the Netherlands), moved away from the more traditional-orientated company. The new group dedicated itself to experimentation, exploration of new dance forms, expressions and fusing ideas from all around the world.

The idea to work with poor children sprung up amongst some of the members of the NDT when the manager Marjan Van Lier had come to Dhaka a couple of years ago to work with Padakhep. “After I flew back home, I would keep in touch with the organisation,” says Marjan. “One day the organisation emailed me asking me to arrange some kind of support for the children. I gave it a thought and figured that sending money all the way to Dhaka would probably not be a good idea. How would I know how the money would be used or where it would be spent? That's when some of the dances from NDT and I got together and decided to fly to Dhaka to help these kids out ourselves.”

The purpose is to do something fulfilling and self-satisfying by helping out these kids, says Sol. “As a mother, I can understand that children have so many questions and desires within and are always ready to experiment. The children we are working with are so honest and are grabbing onto anything that will distract them from their everyday lives. These children are all working together, interacting with each other and discovering something new together. Their dedication towards this programme is so strong, that one of the older kids decided to bunk work and attend rehearsals today.”

Away from the cruel reality of the streets.

This unique endeavour transported the children into a world of make-belief, where they could do whatever they wanted to. The five-day rehearsals, which were held in Hotel Sheraton and Padakhep, the children were made to explore themselves by meditating, theatre exercises and simply venting out their pent-up feelings. “Some of these kids are truly talented with the gift of dancing and expressions. We are thinking of sponsoring a few of these children to take with us for further training in Netherlands after the grand show next year,” says Marjan.

“We are going to make videos of our rehearsals so that these kids will be able to practice for the next few months with the help of audio visuals until we come back in January,” says Sol.

These children have been brought into this fantasy world away from their woes on the streets for a temporary period of time because of the Dutch dance troupe. What is going to happen when they go back to facing reality in the next few days? Sol says that they have planted the seeds of something that can be further explored and developed by others, especially at the state level. The workshop will of course not solve their problems; perhaps it will only help them escape from their harsh reality for a while. At the same time, this effort to bring out the creativity of children who would otherwise be left to fend for themselves, at least gives a hint of the possibilities that lurk within each individual, if only given the opportunity.

The grand show which is being planned to be held at Sheraton in January will also have brochures where a profile photograph of each child will be published along with a biography. “One of the little girls were very happy to hear about the brochure,” says Marjan. “She was lost a few months ago when she and her mother had come to Dhaka to visit relatives. Her mother lost her in a crowd and a woman living in the area later on took in the child. She is hoping that maybe through this brochure, her real family will probably be able to locate her.”

Each child has a sad tale of his or her own. But watching them fly in the sky, do somersaults on the ground and worry about the next step what is evident is their unlimited energy and enthusiasm - things that are inherent in every child.



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