Sense of rhythm is his vision

Buse Gowda (centre) and his group practise for long hours to ensure that the timing is right.  

BUSE GOWDA is one of those persons who inspire us to believe that nothing is impossible. This dancer has over 1,000 performances to his credit, he has been given the Cavinkare Ability award this year, besides a national award in 2001for outstanding achievement in the field of creative arts, and a plethora of titles such as Natya Kala Kaushala, Kala Premi and Mayura awarded by various organisations. He is also an auditioned artiste of Bangalore Doordarshan. Remarkable, because Mayura, as Buse Gowda is referred to now in dance circles, happens to be visually challenged.

It all started 17 years ago at the Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind when Buse Gowda, as an inquisitive eight-year-old boy, chanced to meet Ashok Kumar, a dance teacher who was just then establishing his school, Natyanjali.

Invited to teach dance steps to the visually impaired students, Ashok Kumar was stumped. How could one teach a highly visual and movement-based art to such children? But then, one of the children happened to be spirited. Buse Gowda simply asked Ashok Kumar to demonstrate a step and to hold the pose, and went on to feel the guru's limbs to experience the intricacy of the posture. Thereafter, he slowly started feeling every movement of the guru and tried to imitate him. "When I started feeling his every movement and posture, he realised that we needed a different method to learn dancing," recalls Buse Gowda. Ashok Kumar went on to refine this technique, eventually patenting it in 2000. He calls it the "touch and feel" technique which, he proudly says, he learnt from his student.

With so much enthusiasm in flow, within 12 days, Buse Gowda and a few other visually challenged children at the academy learnt to execute renditions of kolata, the folk dance, and even performed it on stage without bumping into each other. "I was amazed," recalls Ashok Kumar. And when an invigorated guru announced that he would teach Bharatanatya to these children, it was Buse Gowda's turn to be stumped. "I didn't even have an idea of what the word meant," he recalls.

Eventually, Buse Gowda summoned enough courage to take the training and within two years mastered all the basic footwork and hand gestures, which a person with sight generally achieves in a year.

How does he do it? How does a person without sight deliver an elaborate performance on the Dasavathara, for instance, for over two hours without a fumble or a collision with others? "By a sense of timing," says Buse Gowda. "Most visually impaired persons have a love for music, which in turn gives them a sense of rhythm and consequently, of timing," elaborates Ashok Kumar. And intensive practice. Buse Gowda and the others practise for long sessions to ensure that their timing is just right.

Ten of them are now giving professional performances around the world. They started off with a 15-minute recital, but now have extended it to the regular two-and-a-half hours. Ashok Kumar choreographs dance recitals with a mixture of sighted and the visually impaired dancers. "I don't announce that some of the dancers are visually impaired and nobody can guess who they are." And even among these outstanding dancers, Buse Gowda stands out, because he can give even elaborate classical solo performances. His arangetram was held in 1995.

But while Buse Gowda has been recognised, the other 10 visually impaired dancers of Natyanjali too merit some kind of recognition, insists Ashok Kumar.

Buse Gowda excels in facial expressions, the most important aspect of his art. "I learn by touching the eyebrow, the lips, the angle of the face and so on with the guru explaining the emotion and the mood involved," he explains. "All this would not have been possible if our guru had not given us free training," he acknowledges gratefully.

Buse Gowda wants to establish dance schools for the visually challenged, besides taking dancing to schools for the visually challenged. "We have to reach out to the grassroots level and create awareness about dancing among the visually challenged," he says. "We'll show that nothing is impossible," he and Ashok Kumar say. They already have.