When mentally challenged students took to the stage and danced to popular tunes, it was nothing short of an achievement.Do children with mental disability lack life skills? With proper training, support and motivation, we are second to none, showed the children of Bethshan Special School for mentally challenged children, in Madurai.At the venue of a placement programme, 25-year-old S. Karthikeyan, a mentally retarded student of the school, and many other students like him, danced for half-an-hour continuously for a mixture of popular songs. Their uniform movements and graceful style made it difficult for the audience to believe that the children were challenged.Dance as an art form can help the life of the mentally disabled children towards personal independence besides helping them use their body as an instrument of self-expression, says A. Jeyapaul, founder-coordinator of the school.Dance has a therapeutic use for these children, as it facilitates their physical health, mental coordination and improves span of attention, memory, and even enhances their overall personality, he adds.
Five studentsTo cater to students' interest, the school trained five students — M. Sudan, J. Karthik, R. Gokul, V. Rajkumar and B. Dinesh — who had proved their skills on many occasions. All the students showed a keen interest in being trained, says S. Raja, driver-cum-dance coach of the school. After his post graduation in sociology, he had learnt karagam and classical dance.In 2003, after witnessing these students perform at a sports meet, Raja hit upon the idea of training them in dance. As a first step he trained them in folk dances and later moved to other forms. All that you need is patience and stamina to teach the children. Sometimes a single step might need months of training. Many a time they would forget the steps. But, when you see them on stage you forget your toil, he says. The dance session is also meant to help the children improve academically.The five dancers just smiled with pride when the audience stretched their hands to congratulate them for the brilliant performance.