In some of the most challenging phases that I have experienced in my life thus far, I have somehow found myself pulled towards the dance studio to ease my mind. I was drawn to the idea of leaving all aspects of my life, apart from that of a dancer, outside the studio. I was fascinated by the thrill of creating something beautiful with my own body in the moment. I loved blasting music out loud and being able to completely lose myself in it, and express myself the most at the same time.
I recently realised the reasoning behind this feeling. Last year, on two of the virtual talks that I was invited to share my experiences on, I chatted with Poppy Jaman OBE (City Mental Health Alliance), and ‘Mental Mantra’, both of which had asked me about the intersection of dance and wellbeing. I was introduced to the UK’s “Five Ways to Wellbeing”, and the idea of dance therapy. I realised that dance as a form of wellbeing worked so well because in a single activity, you touch on all five ways to wellbeing.
1. Keep Learning:
Especially with classical dance, Riyaaz (rehearsing) consists of constant repetition until perfection. You are constantly learning about the dance form as well as your own body.
2. Take Notice:
Again with Riyaaz, you focus on the tiniest of movements. What is each finger doing, how is your eyebrow curving, what arch is your waist forming? This helps you to be fully present and involved in our actions and creations, leaving other stress factors behind.
3. Be Active:
It is well-known enough how exercise aids with both physical and emotional wellbeing, and dance as a form of physical activity is often under-rated. My fellow kathak dancers know how many calories even 10 minutes of tatkar can burn and how many months/years of stamina training a one-hour traditional recital requires.
Connect with yourself, with the musicians, with other dancers, with the audience. Dance at its core is all about the connections that you make to your inner self and the world around you.
You are giving your time, your presence and your creativity to the art form. With each time that you enter a space to dance, you are giving a part of yourself to that space. With each performance that you share, you are committing an act of service by sharing joy, entertainment, and tradition.
Above all, dance forces you to be kind to yourself. In a world where we are constantly analysing how we look, the journey of classical dance teaches you to appreciate the beauty that your body can create, the limits it can push, and the steady improvement that it supports you to make over time. Apart from kathak being purely a beautiful form of art, these are the benefits that I hope to share when I teach, and when I share my dance with the world. Also, the reminder that it is never too early or late to prioritize your mental wellbeing or start your dance journey.