Have spirit, will dance

Dancers on wheelchairs performed to inspire athletes with special abilities who will participate in the upcoming para-Commonwealth Games

Published - September 22, 2010 07:18 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Artistes perform at the event.

Artistes perform at the event.

“Sometimes, I sit in a wheelchair for 8 to 10 hours in a day, just to get a feel of what my students undergo,” says Guru Syed Sallauddin Pasha, who, through his Ability Unlimited Foundation has brought about a silent revolution in the field of empowering differently-abled people in India.

Speaking at “Commonwealth On Wheels” — a repertoire of four performances in different genres — held this past week at Kamani auditorium to a packed house, Pasha said, “The idea is to ignite the spirit of Commonwealth, or wealth of the common man, by motivating athletes with special abilities who are participating in the soon to be held para-Commonwealth Games and spur them to win medals for the country.” Interestingly, in the exposes and controversies that have marred the run-up to the Games, which ideally should have showcased India's prowess as an organisational powerhouse, “Disabled sports have hardly received the recognition it deserves, especially in a country with 70 million disabled people,” says an anguished Pasha. “When people see such shows, their mindset changes and their sensitivity also goes up.”

Ruefully, very few people outside the fraternity are aware that para athletes shall be competing in 15 events and vying for honours that shall be included in a country's medal tally.

And he could not have been more accurate in his assessment. Each performance, with age of performers ranging from 17 to 25 years, was an exercise in perseverance that culminated in scaling peaks of excellence. The evening started with Sufi Dance on wheelchairs that saw the troupe experience spiritual bliss, as they imbibed teachings of Sufi masters from Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere. As Pasha explained, “Sufi mystics leave no room for prejudice about religion, race or caste.” Calling it “sheer advaitism”, he followed up this presentation witha very energetic display of Yoga asanas performed sitting on the wheelchair that required a very high degree of training.

To choreograph India's traditional and classical dance form Bharatanatyam, wherein the performers use the wheels of the wheelchair instead of their legs to ensure movement, has taken “years of meditation, service and dedication to God,” says Pasha.

Indeed, each movement, including adavu (steps), jati (combination of adavus), teermanams have been “specially devised for the wheels and are performed with absolute precision”. Explains Pasha, “Wheelchairs have several advantages to perform several steps like bhramari (spins), and sharukkal adavu (sliding), wherein the spinning speed of wheelchairs is even faster than that of an accomplished dancer's steps — the speed of the wheelchairs can exceed 100 kms per hour.”

The showstopper was the marshal arts display from Manipur, Thangtha, that had the spellbound audience bursting into raptures. “From 5th to 7th October we plan to have an interactive session with guests who shall be coming to view the Commonwealth Games,” says Pasha, “where the gap between the performer and the audience will be wiped out; millions of guests coming to Delhi will get to know about our ancient culture and traditions — on a wheelchair — something that is unique. The soul of the artist shall be connected to the community as a whole.”

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