Fitness

When life gives you an encore

Octogenarian Sundari Siddhartha is always the first to run to the door when the doorbell rings at home. “ I never walk, but swirl like a swan and gracefully dance my way towards the door and greet the visitor,” she says.

When life gives you an encore

Such is the influence dance has on the personality of Sundari, who had taught Sanskrit at Indraprastha College in Delhi for 43 years. “ Eight years ago, my sister, who knew about my deep desire to dance, came across a newspaper advertisement about an institution that was conducting classes for older women, and I immediately joined,” says Siddhartha.

Take two

In Chennai, many women are pursuing their childhood passion of learning classical dance a little late in their lives. For many, dancing was a dream that ended post-marriage or childbirth. After a certain age, their desire to dance cropped up again. There weren’t many schools for adults. This is where Atmalaya (Adyar and RA Puram) and Om Nrithyakshetra (Sastri Nagar) come in.

Atmalaya, a centre for dance and meditation for working and senior women, was launched in 1998 by Mala Bharath, with a mission to de-stress working women and create a space where they can meet and interact. “My classes are intended to be stress busters, where the focus is not dance, but fitness,” she says.

When life gives you an encore

Techinques and steps are not stressed upon when it comes to seniors. Instead, they are trained in age appropriate movements. Typically, these classes focus on stretches, steps, expressions, choreography and meditation. Classes are conducted one hour a week, on Saturday or during the weekdays. “My students practice steps for one folk or classical song over two or three months.”

When life gives you an encore

Nrithyakshetra, founded by Bhagyashree Satish, started accommodating senior women in her classes in 2006 when she got a request from a 73-year-old. “Looking at her enthusiasm and energy, I decided to teach her, and in order to give her company I roped in my 68-year-old mother as well,” says Bhagyashree. Today, she has about 10 students, all over the age of 55, learning Bharatanatyam.

When life gives you an encore

“My senior students are not here to prove anything, but purely out of passion. That is why I am not keen on perfection, but respect their passion and teach them easy to adapt dance steps. I also teach them folk dances such as kummi and kolattam and Bharatanatyam steps,” says Bhagyashree. Two of her students, Vaidehi Raghavan (63) and Malathi Shivakumar (58) had their Arangetrams in January.

“Dance is a challenge to my memory: I forget my steps, but cleverly manage with my expressions,” says Sundari, who never misses her classes at Atmalaya. “Dance classes take me out of my shell, I feel like I am connected to society. I am active on social media and I have 150 friends. I am no longer alone,” she adds.

“Most women come with some health issues that restrict their movement. Some are not permitted to dance due to medical reasons. But over a period of time, they overcome their setbacks. In older women, the motivation to perform comes naturally: they set their own benchmark, there is a fire within them and no external motivation is required,” says Bhagyashree.

The advantage of life

“They may be restricted by body movement, but am amazed by their ability to express so many emotions effortlessly, abinayam and bhavam is their strong point. It is possible only because of their age and experience in life,” says Bhagyashree.

When life gives you an encore

For Vaidehi Raghavan, who took voluntary retirement from her banking job in 2007 to take care of her ageing in-laws and parents, it was a gloomy situation when they all passed away within a couple of years. Then in 2012, she faced a major health issue which only aggravated her state of mind. She started to learn yoga, but when she came to know about Nrithyakshetra, she preferred to go there instead. “The day I performed my salangai puja, in March 2013, I felt so elated. At 63 my body was not so fit, and my memory not great either, but I could perform non-stop for an hour. That day I decided to take up dance seriously. I have never danced in my life, and when the chance came I did not want to miss it,” says Vaidhehi.

“I notice that dancing with make-up and costume is a thrilling experience for them,” says Mala, who makes her students perform on the stage every year in April as a group. “It is such a wonderful sight to see the grand children and sons and daughters clicking away photos while they are performing on the stage, so proud of their achievement. It is such a sight to behold.”

When life gives you an encore

“Initially they have reservations about dance itself. Once they overcome initial inhibition and shyness, they hesitate to apply make up or wear the costumes. So they just drape the simple cotton sari a little above the ankle, go for a simple hair-do and make up and dance. Once their confidence builds, they themselves begin to wear bright costumes and accessories and anklets and also pinnal with flowers,” observes Bhagyashree. Another way of getting them involved is by making them perform to popular devotional songs. Bhagyasree also takes her students to temple in the neighbourhood to perform during festivals. “Dancing in temples seems to go down very well with these senior citizens as it gives them the satisfaction of pilgrimage, and fulfilment of performing for God.”

When life gives you an encore

According to 75-year-old Ambujam Pillai, a retired science teacher who has been learning for the past six years, joining such classes boosts confidence. “I make new friends, and plan movie and shopping outings together and celebrate birthdays.?” she says, adding, “A few weeks ago I took all my dance class friends to watch Aruvi,” she giggles. As Mala puts it, “For this age group such social interaction is immensely valuable as it enhances emotional well being.. Dance has therapeutic value which rejuvenates and soothes the mind and body.”

In search of identity

In 1999, Tamil writer Sivasankari (75) performed Bharathanatyam at the 50th anniversary of her guru KJ Sarasa’s dance school. “I was 57 then, and had completely lost touch with Bharathanatyam. As I was her oldest and senior most student, I was invited to perform. I trained for three weeks and performed for one hour. What an exhilarating experience it was. I felt like a young girl.” She goes on to say that her novel Naan Naanga written in 1989 is about a woman, who after her 45th birthday, informs her family that she wants to go in search of identify and in her journey she realises that dance is her passion, her childhood dream and begins to learn it. While the entire family attributes her strange behaviour to menopause, her mother-in-law comes out to support her and makes the son understand his wife.

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 9:55:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/senior-women-take-to-dancing/article23957158.ece

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