Swapnokalpa Dasgupta: Dance and Disability

Artists before the show Miracle On Wheels dance performance on Wheel chairs by Ability Unlimited at Tata Theatre,NCPA on 07/06/2013. Photo by : NARENDRA DANGIYASwapnokalpa Dasgupta: ‘My experiences with disabled children completely changed the way I looked at dance.’

As Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, Head of Dance Programming, at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai, prepares to participate in the Unlimited festival at the Southbank Centre (2nd – 7th September), she shares her experience of working with disabled dancers and how perceptions towards disability in India is changing.

Disability and dance: a different mode of expression and appreciation of physicality

My background is in Science and Education and I am also an Indian classical dancer. I did my teaching qualification in India and worked in the UK as a teaching assistant in various schools and Special Education units around London I began to see how I could use dance in an educational setting and the particular impact it had on the disabled children. Dance allowed them a different mode of expression and appreciation of their physicality.

These experiences have stayed with me and I am really excited about the potential of disability arts programmes in India. The dance department at the NCPA started to work with disabled performers last year. The response from the audiences was incredible; we have realised that there really is an appetite for disability arts. We are now aiming to curate a festival for disabled dancers in the near future as we think this would be a great way to showcase their talent and share their experiences with more people.

Changing perceptions

Traditionally, it has been taught that Indian classical dance is the reserve of the able bodied and this was how I was conditioned to think from my classical training. However, my experiences with disabled children completely changed the way I looked at dance. I began to see that dance was not a competitive sport where one should strive for perfection. Nor is dance an end-result; it is the process that is important. I realised how powerful dance was as a medium of expression and thus is a birth right of every individual.

More investment needed

People’s perceptions of disabled dancers are slowly changing in India, as we have seen more disabled performers on our TV screens and in our theatres. However, disabled performers are still held back from achieving their full potential as there is not enough investment or support for their training. Generally in India, when disabled people tend to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and attain lower educational standards, it is even more important that there is investment in scholarship schemes, for example, in order to address this imbalance.

Read more about disability arts

Find out more about Unlimited

Read an interview with Ruth Gould, artistic director of DaDaFestand chair of the commission panel for the Unlimited festival. She talks about how arts can change perceptions of what D/deaf and disabled people can do.

Post by: Emer Coyle

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