EVENT The All India Dance Competition for the visually challenged held recently in Madurai had some spectacular performances on stage. Metro Plus went backstage to capture the action of the young dancers and the joy of their proud teachers.

Ten-year-old Revathi breaks into peals of laughter as Shukla Sugandha, her teacher asks her to flap her hands like the wings of a butterfly. “Now you rest on a flower,” says Sugandha and Revathi squats spreading her wings out. “She took a week to learn just these two steps,” says the teacher from MahaNAB School for Blind, Nashik. “We teach them dance through the touch-and-feel method. It consumes lots of time and patience.”

“It feels nice to dance. I want to take it up as a career,” says Revathi, focussing her bleary eyes aimlessly on a random wall.

There’s music, lights and crowd inside the Lakshmi Sundaram Hall. The region’s first and the country’s fourth national dance contest for the visually challenged has brought in a large audience. People break into occasional cheer waiting for the event to unfurl. .

Back stage there is a buzz of activity. Teachers are helping the children to rehearse, brushing up few steps here and there. Some are busy giving final touches to the makeup and few others a pep talk to their students. “How do I look,” asks Prabhat, a young boy with low vision, who has trained himself in the Marathi dhangra dance. His teacher from Pune School for Blind Boys, Ganesh Patil takes time to describe the look and the colour of the costume. “They can’t see colours,” says Ganesh, “but they can imagine forms and shapes and are good at observing movements.”

“Normal children learn dance by seeing their trainers and imitating them. But those robbed of sight visualize the movements in their mind and realize them through touch-and-feel,” explains Manoj Kumar Rath, a faculty from a blind school in Odisha whose students gave a Sambalpuri folk dance performance. He says it is unfair to expect them to carry out a step to perfection. But, he adds, they lend anindividualistic addition to the dance.” If normal children take 10 days to learn a dance, these kids take almost a month. To choreograph and synchronize their movements in a group dance is most challenging for the teachers.

Pinky Khatun, a participant from Kolkata says she makes a mental note of the number of steps she has to move in each direction and the hand movements that have to be done simultaneously. For lingraj from Bangalore, the lyrics in the song guide the corresponding steps. “Initially I was frightened of falling and hurting myself. But now I have overcome that fear. I enjoyed learning the mudras and the facial expressions,” he says. The young lad who has been doing Bharatanatyam from the age of seven gauges the crowd strength from the level of applause at the end of his performance. “It encourages me each time I go on stage.”

Vasanthi of Samarthanam Trust in Bangalore, explains, “Though we give them enough training, blind children have to compulsorily know the dimensions of the stage they are performing on. Hence, we bring them to the venue a day before and make them rehearse on stage to avoid any mishap.”

Students of Rehabiliation Centre for Blind Women, Tiruchi, integrated acrobatics in Karagattam and received a rousing response from the audience. Kothai went up a ladder with a flair and displayed swift movements on it. “Special children are generally inclined towards art forms. Their creative abilities are striking and they are more sensitive to touch and sound. Dance is a way for them to learn other subjects too. But learning acrobatics was strenuous. Their hard work needs to be appreciated,” says teacher Valli.

Sri Sharada Devi Blind School, Shivamoga, exclusively trains its students in Yakshagana. A group of six boys staged ‘Mahishasura Mardhini’, a performance that required

heavy expressions and overt emotions. “We first narrated to them the mythical tale in detail and encouraged them to imagine the scenes. Later, we fine-tuned it,” says Paramiah Hegde, the trainer. Danyakumar who plays the Devi part widens his eyes to express the anger of Durga. “I have never seen an image of Goddess Durga, he says, “but I visualise her in all her fury and try my best to match it.”