The Weekend Leader - Joy in theatre

Ambika Kameshwar finds joy in making special children hold their heads high

Hema Vijay   |   Chennai


Vol 2 | Issue 24

The young girl loved dancing and singing. Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music lifted her soul. So when young Ambika was asked to help out with the annual day dance presentation at the Ramana Academy for the Visually Impaired in Bangalore, she took up the challenge enthusiastically.

But Ambika did not expect the experience of teaching a visual art like dance to visually challenged students to be so overwhelming and rewarding. "The students would feel my 'mudras' and stances and reproduce them so well. We would measure the steps to coordinate the dance steps. There was the risk of falling off the stage if the steps were mistimed, but the students executed the steps perfectly. It was such a joy," recalls Ambika, 46.

Talented artiste: Ambika Kameshwar is a classical singer and dancer with a doctorate in Natyasastra (Photos: WFS)

There was something else that Ambika noticed at the end of the session. "They were walking more confidently and communicating better." So she continued teaching dance to the visually challenged girls, even after the annual day celebrations.

Two years later, marriage to Gowrishankar Kameshwar, a software engineer, brought Ambika to Chennai and into contact with Poonam Natrajan, her sister-in-law, who was at the time setting up the Spastics Society of India (now named Vidyasagar) in Chennai. Here she started using theatre as a rehabilitative tool for special children. Later, she developed a system of rehabilitation that used dance, music, theatre, crafts and games to improve the motor co-ordination, cognitive development, language, communication and social skills of special children.

She also came up with a name for her system: Creative Movement Education (CME). This culminated in a methodology known as Theatre for Holistic Development (THD). Next, Ambika set up a centre to rehabilitate special children by THD. Being a great believer of Ramana Maharishi, she registered the centre as RASA - Ramana Sunritya Aalaya or Ramana Temple of Cosmic Dance - in September 1989.

Happy learning: Ambika uses theatre as a rehabilitative tool for special children  

The response to RASA was phenomenal, and in 2004, RASA HOME was started with two residents, where adult boys with special needs were taught to cook, clean, shop and manage a home independently. Now, RASA even offers a one-year post-graduate diploma programme in CME for people interested in working with special children. .

At RASA, theatre is a great healer and a teaching tool. Explains Ambika, "Children cry at the sight of a physiotherapist, but they run forward when a theatre teacher walks in, because learning happens in a joyful way here; it is not exercise, speech or mobility therapy; but all of it is happening. Instead of asking a child to repeat words or do exercises, we teach a story through music and dance."

As a much sought-after singer, Ambika also cuts music albums. Having performed in Holland, Switzerland, UK, USA, Canada, countries in Southeast Asia, among others, Ambika - who has been honoured with many awards like the Bharatha Kala Ratna, Stree Ratna award and Pancharatna Award - gives dance performances, runs a dance school, conducts workshops and lecture demonstrations to spread the word about her therapies.

RASA's success is not just because its creations involve the Four Es (Explore, Experience, Express and Enjoy); it is not just because some of its students have switched to mainstream education and even got jobs; its success lies in getting hundreds of special children to find joy in theatre and begin to hold their heads high.

Ambika sums it up, "Nobody in the world is spared of trauma, I think. But if you see a purpose behind it, transcend it without getting carried away by it and understand that we are beyond both joy and sorrow...that is life." – Women’s Feature Service

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