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A Danseuse Trains the Specially Abled

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A Danseuse Trains the Specially Abled

Guru Alpana Nayak

Guru Alpana Nayak who was born and brought up at Balasore, Odisha, began her training in Odissi at the age of seven. She gained her ‘Nritya Shree’ degree at the tender age of 13 and ‘Nritya Visharad’ when she turned 19. She has enriched her Odissi style under Guru Hare Krishna Behera.

She has performed brilliantly in Odishi dance at almost all major cities and cultural festivals in India and abroad. Now, she is the mother of many disabled students. Alpana Nayak is one of the very few exponents of Odissi dance, who trains children with disabilities (physically and mentally handicapped) in Indian classical and folk dance forms without expecting anything in return.

Odissi is one of the eight classical dance forms of India. It is the oldest surviving dance form of India, which is very difficult to learn for the physically challenged students.

Why did you decide to train the specially abled children?

In 2003, I shifted to Delhi with my husband. Dance has been in my blood since childhood. It was my dream to open a dance school. So, I started to teach dance to some children at my home. One day when I was taking the dance class, my neighbour came to me and asked whether I could teach Odissi to her son Tanmay.

I agreed but her mother said that her son is different from others. At that time, I could not understand what her mother was saying. The very next day when I met Tanmay, I was surprised. Tanmay was a boy of 16 years but his mental age was still 6 or seven years.

However, I took it up as a challenge and started providing training to Tanmay under my guidance. A few days later, he gave his solo performance on stage. His mother was surprised to see this. She also told me that there are lots of kids in Tamay’s school, who are just like him and deprived of happiness.

When I went to his school, the principal told me that teacher like me do come but they soon quit as it’s not easy to train these children. However, somehow I convinced him and started teaching those special children. The initial four days were very tough for me as I had not seen such children before.

Few of them were very aggressive. I was confused about what to do. Their works were very different from the normal children. However, in a month’s time, I could know how to manage and deal with them. After teaching dance for a few months, I prepared an entire show where these special children performed. I never looked back after that. It became my goal to bring those children to mainstream society.

Tell something about your NGO

After my success with Tanmay, I opened an Odissi dance institute in Delhi for both physically challenged besides for normal students and named it ‘Association for Learning Performing Arts and Normative Action (ALPANA)’. In this institution, we do not take any money to teach physically challenged students.

Personally, I like to call them special children. Here, we have different types of arts and skills departments. First of all when a special student comes to us, we try to teach them all skills like dance, music, instruments, sewing, handicrafts, arts and crafts for a month. In this period we identify his special skills.

Accordingly, we start their training. The best thing about this institution is that we train both special students and normal students simultaneously. Because all the students are equal before me and they should get equal opportunities. So whenever any parents express reluctance to let their children learn with these special children. I refuse to train them.

How did you establish this ‘special children dance’ form globally?

In 2006, we started a special program ‘Indradhanush’ where both physically challenged and normal students performed together. After that, we tried to organize this program at the national level. Therefore, we invited students from five different states of India to participate in this competition. We named it ‘Sambhav’ festival.

This program was very successful. After that, a new idea hit our minds. We thought there must be organizations in other countries, which would be working for the disabled children and we could associate them. Subsequently, in 2008, we invited countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka to participate in the competition.

They came and participated in this event. It was a grand success. We have been organizing this event since 2008. Every year, participants from around 35 countries all over the world join us. Earlier, it was a one-day program but now the program is organised for three days.

What kind of difficulties you faced for this?

It was difficult to bring awareness among parents of special children. They were thinking what they would do by learning this. Even they were ashamed of their children. They were ashamed to introduce their child to others. But now when they see their children as a dancer, musician and many more and when they see them performing outside India, they feel happy and proud of their children.

What are the unforgettable moments in your life?

I cannot forget the day in 2006 when the special children performed in front of our former President of India, Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam. He was impressed with the performance of our special children. When the performance was over, Dr Kalam called us to his drawing room and placed his hand on the head of every disabled student and said very well.

He explained to me that we all have two parts in our brain, one for intellect and the other for artistic talent. He said that the artistic talent of in these students are sharp and if their artistic talent is honed, their intellect talent will also develop.

Images Source: InterviewTimes

Written By Subhra Kar

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