for Holistic Development (THD), coined by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Ph.D. PDF,
Director of RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya) focuses on using 'Natya', theatre,
dance and music for the empowerment of people with special needs. From a
childhood impulse to do more with dance than merely enjoy performing was born
RASA, Centre for Theatre Arts and Special Needs. Dr. Kameshwar has a Post
Doctoral Fellowship on the "Application of Natya (Theatre Arts) as a Developmental
Tool" and is the author of "My Thoughts on Movement Therapy" and "Theatre
Arts for Holistic Development". The musician, dancer, artist, educator and
director of RASA, Dr. Ambika Kameshwar imparts the noble grandness of her
Q. When did you start actively involving
with people with special needs?
My first exposure to special needs happened when I was in the first-year of
college, a fellow devotee of Ramana Maharshi, saint of Thiruvanamallai, started
an academy Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind, for children with visual
impairment. Since my sister and I were artists, dancers and musicians, he
requested my father to have us train his students to dance and sing for the
upcoming Annual Day programme. When we got there the music was the easy part
because the students could hear but dance being a visual art, sitting and
giving instructions was impossible. In dire need to transfer the visual art to
the students I devised techniques where the only way was for them to feel the
'mudras', the gestures. Once they replicated with ease, I was amazed at the way
they could retain it, imitate in a perfect manner and follow verbal
Q. As a person what did you get out of
the experience that set you to find your calling?
I remember this visually challenged girl I was training for the Annual Day. I
trained her to run and stand at the end of the stage. During rehearsals I took
the students around to get to know the stage, measured the stage, familiarised
them with the corners, instructed them how many steps they have to go and where
they have to stop. After all the efforts taken on the day of the programme,
while playing the cassette the music started but was inaudible and she stood
there waiting for it. I had a real turn in my stomach. I was scolding myself as
to why I had to teach her such a move in the first place. What if she were to
fall? While these thoughts were running in my head, she came running, stood at
the right spot and in the correct position. There was absolutely no faltering
and she emanated such confidence. I thought to myself, "This
is magic". Here is something that can empower in a grand manner - to empower a
person who cannot see to see, who cannot express to express, who cannot talk to
talk, who cannot socialise to socialise
, so what is
this all about? It's about Holistic Development.
Q. What is the added advantage art gives
over other disciplines?
My brother-in-law's wife had started Vidya Sagar, a Special School, formerly
known as 'The Spastic Society of India'. I did explain that I had experience
working with physical challenges but confessed none with mental challenges. I
wanted to try dancing, music and drama with these children as well - Children
with neurological impairment
- and here the
success story was even better. The joy with which they would respond to arts
and the empowerment was holistic. Simple thing, physiotherapy is absolutely
required for person with spasticity and it's a painful process because you are
regenerating movement - a part which is not there, so it can be very difficult
for the child and they used to cry when they saw the physiotherapist. But the
physiotherapists have to do their job, so they came, did the exercises and
left. So I said "How can I make this task easier for the children?"
Q. How did you make it easier? Could you
give few examples of the activities you created?
I wanted to make their sessions easier, so then, say I had to do an exercise to
move the hands up and down, I devised a simple songs and some simpler dance
movements. 'Chinna china paraiviyana chttu kuruvi' (a sparrow is a small bird)
then they move their hands up and down to imitate flying, they think they are
dancing but then the exercise is happening. The attention is on the music and
dance than on the exercise, so the exercise happens, the dance is learnt and
the movement happens. I started modifying my dance and music knowledge and
techniques to suit specific developmental needs. Suppose a child needs mobility
training, then we use a dance activity, suppose a child needs vocalisation, we
use a music activity, a child in need of socialising skills, skills where one
gets more comfortable with societal needs and inputs- then drama is a good
activity with role plays.
Q. How do you assess a new comer?
We would make a complete assessment when a child with special needs comes to
us, we answer questions such as, where is the child today? Where does he need
to go tomorrow as far as empowerment is concerned? We then structure THD
activities whether it is dance, drama, storytelling, arts or crafts. We
structure activities to meet developmental goals. At the end of the year,
depending on the child's progress, we review and then set fresh goals. The
child learns non-locomotive skills such as stretching, leaning, more comfort
with the body, walks comfortably, learns new songs, new words, increases
vocabulary and learns to face new situations in life through drama activities.
There are three kinds of students, children who will need life-long custodial
care, children who work independently but will need sheltered workshop and then
children who can face the demands of the real world. Our youngest student has
been 2 and a half-year old, but now our youngest is 5 and a half year old,
early intervention is good. Oldest is about 55 years old.
Q. How do you put them in a group? What
do you prepare your students for?
We assemble them into homogenous groups, where the students who are on the same
functional level will be together and have group and individual activities.
Areas under focus are: mobility, physical skills, cognitive skills,
comprehension, social skills, language and communication, moral and spiritual
development, cultural development and academic skills as well.
Q. Do your students bring anything from
the outside world?
Yes, when they attend a wedding, they narrate the experience and we enact them
in class. We stage a play and the next day, when we attempt the same play, we
come up with an incident we might have intentionally missed in the previous
day, let's say the ice-cream guy who offered ice-cream at the end of the meal.
We teach about the different roles people play and the role they are able to
relate to, such as the post-man, police man to merge class room learning and
RASA has come a long way in 29 years and in Dr. Ambika
Kameshwar's opinion the world has also changed its attitude towards people with
special needs. When she started out, people raised eye-brows with an 'Oh' and
this was the time when people with special needs were shut away and kept out of
public sight. Today people raise eye-brows with a 'WOW' in lieu of Dr.
Kameshwar's work especially with the positive progress her students make. The
ambience at RASA is filled with energetic, warm, empowered and inspiring