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Dance: A Powerful Tool to Release Trauma

13 August 2012 2 Comments

Sohini Chakraborty

Sohini Chakraborty
Kolkata, India

“Kolkata Sanved’s approach has been developed to break prevailing boundaries of patriarchy by using dance as a vehicle for learning life skills, renewing a healthy mind-body relationship, addressing psychosocial handicaps, and developing new community bonds.”


I always had a rebellious streak in me since my childhood. That streak enabled me to protest and fight any hurdles I encountered. For example, in college I challenged authorities by forming a group to perform dance at cultural events in my conservative Islamic college—I persuaded them to allow the girls to dance. My mantra is “Always be bold with ideas and action.”

I believe that my entire life has been a quest for new ideas and new actions to create change. It started with the solace I found in dance after losing my mother at a very young age. However, classical dance forms were not enough to quench my thirst for the art of dance. I yearned for a dance form that could fulfill my desire to communicate easily with an audience about difficult and contemporary issues. I found solace in the modern dance form of Nava Nritya of the Dancer’s Guild, formed and nurtured by the Late Dr. Manjusree Chaki Sircar and the Late Ranjabati Sircar.

I found my true purpose in life while studying sociology and reading about violence against women and children. I instantly decided that dance and sociology together would guide my efforts to do something for the children and women who are suffering from abuse, violence, and trafficking.

Women and children are ‘easy’ victims of torture, violence, and exploitation in society since their birth. Many are so accustomed to neglect and deprivation that they often unknowingly accept violence as a normal behavior pattern. This leads to self-blaming, which in turn results in complete loss of self-respect and identity. Dance can be a powerful tool to help these women and children overcome their conditions by developing a comfort level through which they begin an emotional and physical bonding with their own self, thereby releasing their trauma to recover and develop the confidence to start a new life.

I decided to work with trafficked survivors, and my first day at work was not easy. Although I was quite confident as a sociologist and dancer, I realized that a contemporary dance approach did not quite click. As I worked to find a new way, I also began to grow with the process of dancing with trafficked survivors. It is two-way learning – implementing my learning and experience and also learning from the day to day implementation with the participants in the shelter home. When I began this work 15 years ago, people told me it was a “crazy idea”… but with my mantra in mind, I held onto it and pushed forward.

I developed a curriculum called ‘Sampoornata,’ which was a full model for dance as a tool for healing, and I formed the organization Kolkata Sanved in 2004 with five survivors.

My journey led to recognition of two key points:

  • Psycho-social rehabilitation demands an alternative healing and recovery process for the survivors, which can be provided by a creative therapeutic approach
  • Psycho-social rehabilitation also demands innovation in creating livelihood opportunities through which survivors acquire skill for economic empowerment

On April 29, 2004, Kolkata Sanved was established with the mission that all individuals from marginalized and mainstream populations should live with dignity and self-respect. This basic sense of empowerment and integrity can be achieved through Dance Movement Therapy (DMT).

Society always focuses on class and gender-based livelihood options. Kolkata Sanved attempts to break this barrier and develop an innovative approach through the Dance Movement Therapy process. We believe that empowerment cannot be a spoon-feeding process; rather it should be a process through which a person can feel the change from within. We often give women the task to think about their lives as they are, rather than giving them the freedom to think about how they want to transform their lives. This kind of freedom of thinking will give them the power and confidence to envision their desired lives. Through this work, we have observed that Dance Movement Therapy can be of immense help in achieving this goal.

Dance itself has been marginalized across social, political, and cultural contexts. Dance has certain specified roles to play in society – usually as a source of entertainment, or for worshipping the Gods and Goddesses (Devdasi pratha) and ‘nachhnewalis’ in some communities in India. When seen from certain cultural and religious perspectives its practice is considered by many as parallel to committing a sin.

Many do not believe that dance can be a medium for social change. Social norms in India, which are largely patriarchal, perceive the bodies of women and girl children as objects, symbols of purity and/or agents of reproduction. Their bodies are never seen as creative, free agents of life. In fact, dance itself has been often used as a medium of exploitation of the female body.

Kolkata Sanved’s approach has been developed to break prevailing boundaries of patriarchy by using dance as a vehicle for learning life skills, renewing a healthy mind-body relationship, addressing psychosocial handicaps, and developing new community bonds.

This experiment of Kolkata Sanved has yielded results, proving that body movements, when used sensitively, can become a powerful tool for advocacy, confidence building, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

Kolkata Sanved works with marginalized populations, of which the majority are female victims of sexual, physical, and mental violence & abuse. We help them release their trauma to recover and develop confidence for beginning new lives. Kolkata Sanved helps them to identify their own potential as human beings rather than as victims.

Social transformation is not only for the marginalized communities. We all need to take part actively in this endeavor for change to come.


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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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2 Comments to “Dance: A Powerful Tool to Release Trauma”
  1. donna says:

    I love reading the Dance: A Powerful Tool to Release Trauma, I’am from Papua, Indonesia, many women and children traumatized by the ongoing conflict in our country, particularly violence by the military presence in the village that became daeran military operations. The lasting trauma makes usual there is a downside to haunt them. One time we did the documentation of cases of violence against women and found that it was 20-30 years of trauma they have not disappeared. Then one prohram which we do to these women are victims of Healing Of Memory (HOM​​) with a “Plaits Noken”. Noken is one of the tools used women to hold everything. Noken same bag. There noken dalamanyam stages, where the first stage, the victim came to meet them, and encourage one another, and then talk about what happened to their past. The next stage after knowing each other, there is no suspicion of them, then they told me again to others.At the stage of telling others (NGOs, church, government, women’s organizations), the victim will usually tell you what are the things they need, such as health care, clean water, improved household economy and needs are then created for the program and help them.

  2. Daniel S. Moskowitz says:

    The Tradtional Indian Dancing is quite Sophisticated, and Learning this form of Dance can BUILD CONFIDENCE, as well as Releasing Trauma.

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