How dance therapy keeps your body active and free of stress

Luisa Spagna   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Imagine you are entering a museum. Some of you are the sculptures and the others can be the visitors,” Luisa Spagna is in the middle of a workshop with a group of children at Prasanth Narayanan Kalam in Thiruvananthapuram. The kids take turns for the role play, grooving to a jazz number playing in the background. At the end of the three-hour session, which had a lot of dance, the children tell Luisa that they feel relaxed. “But the truth is that they weren’t idle during the three-hour session. So relaxation comes from releasing tension from their bodies through dance. That’s what dance therapy does to you. Keep your body active and the stress goes away,” says Luisa.

This Italian dancer and dance therapist, now based in Thrissur, has had a long connect with India ever since she came to know about the country and its art forms. “While studying anthropological theatre in Italy, I came across art forms in this part of the world, such as Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, Odissi and the like. I fell in love with Odissi, mainly because of the line of the body postures of the dance form,” she says.

In 1995, she came to India with Paolo Pacciolla, then her boyfriend and now her husband, and started training with Odissi exponent Sanjukta Panigrahi. She stayed on in India after receiving a scholarship and continued to shuttle between the two countries, learning Odissi from various gurus. In between, she learnt Seraikella Chhau from Shashadhar Acharya.

Dance to heal

While learning dance, especially ballet, her interest turned to dance therapy. “I realised that there is more to dance than just performing. I felt that it could be made a part of life. Art is a powerful way to educate a person. The principle of dance therapy is such that you are made to feel strong from within,” she says.

Luisa completed a three-year dance therapy course in Italy at the school of Expressive Relational Dance Therapy of Vincenzo Bellia. “In European countries, the three-year post-graduation course is mandatory to practise as a dance therapist. After the course, you have to work on a thesis and then become part of a professional association where you can register your name as a dance therapist,” she says.

Luisa Spagna at the dance therapy workshop at Prasanth Narayanan Kalam, Thiruvananthapuram

Luisa Spagna at the dance therapy workshop at Prasanth Narayanan Kalam, Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Explaining the methodology that she has studied, Luisa says that each movement has a purpose. She gives an example of two participants holding the ends of a string as they dance or move together. “The string must always be straight when they move or dance. It involves micro movement of their hands and might look easy. But as they ensure that the string doesn’t slacken, their span of attention comes into play. Also, they are empathising with one another. As they keep it stretched, they are working within a limitation. Amidst this, they are building a relationship,” she says.

In Italy, Luisa runs a school where she mostly works with women, especially those aged 25 and above. “The sessions are mainly meant to help women to take a break from their stressful life, running households, taking care of husband, children.... They need a space for themselves to express and explore,” she says.

Fact file
  • A visit to the Hirapur Temple in Orissa dedicated to 64 yoginis, or feminine spirits, inspired her to study the yoginis and create Yogini of Hirapur Oracle, a set of round oracle cards inspired by them. She came up with Yogini Ritual Dances, inspired by the characteristics of the yoginis.
  • Her productions follow the ethno-contemporary dance style. Among them are the trilogy Shakti-Matrika-Shekara, ‘The dance of the five Dakinis’, ‘Dancing Yoginis’, ‘Yogini Circles’, and ‘In the land of Mahamaya’.
  • In 2003, she formed Performing Arts Sutra, a cultural association with her husband, Paolo Pacciolla, a musician and ethnomusicologist.

One of the collaborations she is excited to talk about is her sessions for Alpha Palliative Care in Irinjalakuda, Thrissur. For the last two months, she has been working with patients recovering from stroke. “You should see how they do the movements sitting on a chair. Even if they can move only one hand, they try their best,” she says. The weekly sessions have over 20 people and sometimes relatives also join in.

Luisa adds that the sessions with these patients inspire her. “You meet these people with a heavy heart because of their physical condition. But once the music starts, the mood changes. I usually play jazz or blues numbers. They smile and there is hope in their eyes because they want to move and come back to life. There is joy in the room. My ambition is to continue working with them. Actually, there have been instances when dance therapy was tried on patients in a coma. When a therapist touches the patient, the movement and rhythm are transmitted to the patient,” she says.

Even though dance therapy can be applied in several illnesses, it should be done only in consultation with doctors and physiotherapists, she adds. “I work with physiotherapists in Thrissur. They also translate what I say to the patients,” she adds.

Luisa Spagna

Luisa Spagna   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

She has been having sessions with students of the School of Drama in Thrissur. “I encourage them to work more on creativity with the body,” she says.

Luisa emphasises that dance therapy doesn’t pertain to any particular style of dance. “We follow a methodology. We use techniques involving movements and analysis of movement and space. When you translate that into a creative way, it becomes dance therapy,” she avers.

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Printable version | Oct 10, 2021 5:05:48 AM |

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