“Disability is not an obstacle, but an opportunity to exemplify that nothing is impossible.”
We dance to express ourselves, to communicate, or simply because we delight in movement. Most of us associate dance with music and rhythm, but what of the deaf? “I feel that dance is one of the most natural things for deaf people, because deaf people are visual and more attuned to body movement” (Nina Falaise, ballet dancer and teacher).
To find out more, Pulse interviewed Leicester-based dancer Nehal Bhogaita, a member of The Nautch Girl cast, and Sanghamitra Datta, who works with Child In Need Institute (CINI), an India-based humanitarian organisation.
Nehal, 26, has been profoundly deaf from birth. One of her greatest passions is dancing.
How did you come to dancing?
When I was small I would watch Bollywood films and just wished I could dance the way they did. I attempted to do so many times in front of the mirror. The day my mum saw me she decided to send me to dancing classes. This was around the age of 11. I have been dancing ever since. Though I can’t hear the music, I dance by feeling the vibrations through my feet and count the beats in my mind.
How have you pursued your training?
I have trained with numerous dance academies to reach the dance level I am at today. I also have qualifications in Indian Classical Dance.
What obstacles have you had to overcome and what was the hardest?
I have had to overcome numerous obstacles and face many rejections throughout life. Many people still look down on deaf and disabled individuals and feel that we are not as capable as the hearing; however, I have broken many barriers in society to prove that this is not true. An example is when I made history by becoming the first deaf girl to be crowned Miss India Worldwide 2013 in Malaysia.
I still remember when my dance teacher refused to allow me to take a classical dance exam as she felt that I was incapable due to my deafness and strongly believed I would fail, which would make her dance school look bad. However, I took the exam elsewhere and passed.
I am still facing rejections today. There are instances where people are in contact and are really keen to involve me in their work, but as soon as they realise I’m deaf they withdraw. It truly is a shame as we should all be treated equally. Having a disability isn’t an obstacle but an opportunity to exemplify that nothing is truly impossible.
Could you say something about your ambassadorial roles? How did you get involved and what do you do?
I work as a community support worker at Action Deafness [a Leicester-based charity that offers diverse services throughout the UK] where I support other deaf individuals in gaining more confidence. Throughout my reign as Miss India Worldwide I acted as an ambassador for Action Deafness and spread the message of Deaf Awareness everywhere I visited [including South Africa, Switzerland, South America (Guyana and French Guiana), the USA, Sweden and Dubai]. I also visited numerous deaf and disabled schools worldwide to inspire children to reach their dreams.
Tell me about your involvement in The Nautch Girl.
It’s truly an honour to be part of The Nautch Girl as it is something very new to me, nothing like I have done before. The process has taught me a lot and has really helped me enhance my skills and knowledge in the area of dance. I am really excited to perform!
Children In Need Institute
CINI – whose motto is ‘Help the mother, help the child’ – has been working across India for forty years. Its expertise and pioneering work in the areas of education, health, protection and nutrition are internationally recognised. Support from Deaf Child Worldwide has enabled CINI to widen its focus to address the particular needs of deaf children and young people. Sanghamitra Datta wrote from CINI’s headquarters in Kolkata.
Is dance part of a wider creative arts programme?
The holistic development of children is central to CINI and different forms of creativity are provided through various projects. Among these, dancing has always been a favourite among the children to help vent their emotions and pacify their minds. Regular dance classes take place at CINI, and the same applies for the deaf children and young people since we have started working with them. Apart from dance, the deaf children also practise karate.
It is also worth mentioning that in our programmes for the children of red-light areas and for platform children, CINI has introduced Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) to help children overcome their stresses and to bring a behavioural change among them.
How do you reach people?
Our method is to use available resources and identify local solutions at the level of the family and the community, so we work with local groups such as rural Panchayat institutions and urban local bodies, service providers such as health personnel and teachers, and adult and child community representatives.
The deaf children and youths between the ages of 0‒24 years have been identified from different slums of Kolkata. Child-friendly centres in the communities provide regular help with communication and educational and vocational support.
What ages are the children who learn to dance?
We are reaching out to deaf children and young people between the ages of 9‒24.
How are they taught and what style(s) of dance? Could the volunteer teacher please describe a class?
The main dance styles that are being taught to these groups are Indian folk-dances or ‘Rabindra Nritya’ or ‘Nazrul Nritya’. Volunteers and staff help this group to learn dance by showing them each step and counting. Since the world of sound is unknown to them they cannot follow the tune or lyric of any music with which they will dance, but by counting numbers according to the steps, our target groups remember their dance steps. It takes almost eight to ten classes (one hour each) for the deaf children to master the dance for a single song.
Could the children make some comments on learning to dance? How does it help them?
Dance enables them to exhibit their creative talent. They take part in different awareness programmes organised by CINI in its different fields by performing dances. The deaf young people have formed a youth club, ‘Anandadhara’ (‘stream of joy’), where they meet once a week to share their thoughts and future plans. In this club they often share dance steps. Dance helps them to unwind their tensions and negative feelings.
Deepa, a deaf girl of 18 years who is practising dance regularly at the centres, shared that the centre has given her the opportunity to mix with others, to learn dance, to perform on stage in front of others and to get applause. She loves to express her feelings through dancing.