Dance that is mindful

Shabari Rao looks at the body as a source of abundance, learning, knowledge and as the way of engaging with the world

Published - February 28, 2018 04:50 pm IST

 Shabari Rao

Shabari Rao

Dance-maker, educator and researcher Shabari Rao, says she is currently directing a play with a group of actors called The Big Fat Company, who are a group of plus size actors.

“The piece looks at their connection with their bodies, their sense of identity as actors, individuals and how that is connected to having a large body in today’s society,” explains Shabari, who is a faculty member at the Sristhi Institute of Art and Design. The play will be debut later in March.

“I have been working on teaching for over 15 years, and have realised how much potential the body has. I often work with non-dancers or students who might be artists, designers, or students in subjects other than dance. When they begin to work with the body, by paying attention, a whole world of experiences and connections take place.”

Shabari, a disciple of Maya Rao, has a Professional Diploma in Dance Studies from Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance (UK) and holds an MA in Dance and Education from the Royal Academy of Dance (UK).

She says she didn’t perform for several years because she wasn’t comfortable with the way the body was supposed to behave as a dancer, in terms of what it needs to be ‘able to’ look like and dance.

“The work that I made last year was a solo dance performance and it looked at the body, the experience of the body as a liability and as an asset. We often experience bodies as liabilities, something that needs to be fixed. It is not good enough in the eyes of the media, the beauty industry, the entertainment industry, even medicine . They say it needs constant maintenance,” she explains.

“I was looking at the body as a source of abundance, learning and knowledge and as the way that we actually engage in the world. This is closely aligned with the philosophy of somatic practices, which is about paying attention to the body and looking at the wealth the body holds.”

What she means by abundance, is that the body is the fundamental asset that we born with. “Instead of experiencing it as a liability in terms of size, my work proposed that we experience it as a source of joy and of holding knowledge and experiences.”

“We are always in our heads, paying attention to the things we need to do, to conversations with people. With the chatter that goes on in our heads, we slowly begin to ignore the body and only pay attention once something is breaking down, like a chronic pain somewhere.”

Through dance, one starts looking at how the body is feeling, what’s happening to the body. “When you engage in dance, you attune your mind to observing the body, even breathing is an important part of connecting with the body. You then begin to understand simple things: what you choose to eat can be formed by not what is in your head but what is in your stomach, for instance. How you take care of yourself becomes informed by the fact that the body is your friend, not your enemy.”

Somatic practice, she says, also helped her as a performer, especially in the way she looks at dance.

“I am not interested in tricks or spectacle. I am interested in what the body has to say. Dance to me is about voicing the knowledge of the body.”

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