As a part of the Save the Children creative arts therapies pilot project at a government home in New Delhi (to be referred to hereafter as “the Home”), I worked with a group of adolescent girls, primarily between the ages of 14-17, across 33 sessions between the months of February through August 2016, to provide a safe space for them to explore, express and heal through dance/movement therapy activities and discussion.
Within the overall project themes of enhancing self-expression, cognitive skills and group interaction, in the adolescent girls group, we introduced a variety of sub-themes, including confidence-building; trust; expanding our personal body language; understanding our bodies, sexuality and gender views; expressing our emotions and dealing with situations. The girls themselves stated that they learned a lot and have applied what they have taken from the sessions in how they deal with people, how they view themselves, and how they resolve issues. As a therapeutic movement facilitator, I noticed a change in the way they carry themselves, their maturity level, excitement level, and level of acceptance of self.
The average size of the group in a session was around six girls, taking into account participant turnover and absenteeism due to sickness, court hearings and other reasons. Below are brief case studies on two girls who attended the most number of sessions across the six-month intervention. The names of the girls have been changed in order to maintain the ethical practice of confidentiality and privacy.
Please note that this assessment is a result of my personal observations, discussions and interpretations of what transpired over the course of the 33 sessions. This analysis is not meant for generalisation or extrapolation to a larger population. Furthermore, much like any pilot project working with marginalised communities, there were many challenges and learnings that should be taken into account in this assessment, which have not been described here.
From my early observations and conversations with Maitri, I noted certain characteristics. She was quiet, reserved and did not interact with the rest of the group as much as some of the others. When asked to move during some of the earlier sessions, she sometimes chose not to participate fully or would sit and prefer to draw instead. When she would engage in movement and dance, she enjoyed it and even said she benefited from it. However, she still continued to avoid full engagement. She preferred the verbal processing parts of the sessions.
Maitri regularly expressed feelings of sadness, helplessness and hopelessness. For example, Maitri had expressed a deep desire to study and become a lawyer. However, she said she felt very discouraged and that with the current situation of her life, she would not be able to pursue her academic dreams. She tended to repeatedly feel sorry for herself.
At times we used writing as an initial way to pen down thoughts, feelings, dreams, perceived limitations, etc. and then used movement to go deeper into the emotions around them. During one of these sessions, Maitri wrote down her frustrations with herself in not being able to study or concentrate and how this was linked to her past. When she moved she was rigid and unable to fully release. However, as we built upon this activity and during the subsequent discussion, she was able to recognise how she was viewing life (glass half empty vs half full), and that although she blamed her circumstances, including the Home for not getting her the books to be able to study in 10th, she had enough facilities to be able to make herself mentally stronger and ready to study. Maitri expressed that she started to realize how much work it will be for her to be a lawyer so we came up with small steps she could take. These included checking books out from the library, meditating for 5-10 min every day, borrowing textbooks and studying with other girls who are serious about pursuing an education. Maitri promised to start implementing some of these methods and in a later session, told me that since she has been taking action, she has been feeling much more positive.
During and as a result of the approximately 27 sessions Maitri had attended, she verbalised improved levels of clarity/focus, hope, confidence, and sense of belonging. I noticed a change in her outlook on life, sense of empowerment to live a happier life, and level of openness, including in her personal movement language.
Bina probably had the most dramatic shift as per my observations and conversations with Bina as well as her welfare officer. When she first started the sessions, she was known to have behavioural issues, primarily anger issues and would pick fights in which she would use abusive language as well as violence. She would act uninterested at times in the sessions but then would be thankful and would apply much of what she gained for herself. She wanted to prove herself and even said that she always wanted to be a heart surgeon because then she would get respect.
During one distinct session, we were working on emotions and finding ways to express anger, loneliness, jealousy, joy and love. During that, she had a hard time expressing anger, which was an emotion that she very easily showed outside of the session room. She said it was difficult for her to invoke the same sense of rage that she feels when she is in an argument. At the next level, I asked the girls to think of a situation from their past and act it out but react to it differently. Bina enacted a situation that happened in her hometown where she was not given her turn justly. During that, in the original scenario, she had used a brick to hurt the lady that had said things to her. In our session, I encouraged her to try reacting differently. Initially, she was unable to do so. After a few tries and some guidance by her peers, she embodied a different way to handle the situation. Although uncomfortable with it, she did say that it was something that she couldn’t imagine doing earlier. When we were discussing the activity, she said that by not showing anger, she felt that people would take her as being weak. After further discussion, she started to understand that this may not be the case and that you can still express yourself without using violence. She took this back to her daily life at the Home, and started ignoring those who were triggering her, practiced walking away from situations, apologizing to others before the situation got out of hand, etc.
At another session where we worked on personal space and territory, the girls used streamers to draw borders for a safe space that they made for themselves in the room. Once comfortable with their own space, at some point, they were asked to go into another’s space. The person whose territory they were invading would not want to accept it and then they switched. Bina said that for her this was a moving experience because she saw that while she wanted to destroy the other’s home/space, they didn’t do the same back to her space. She saw that revenge wasn’t the answer and she was touched by the love, acceptance and forgiveness.
With this group, we also looked at body image and discussed menstruation and sexuality. Bina was very curious and asked questions. She wanted to learn she said so she can understand her own body and make decisions knowledgeably.
Through the 29 sessions attended by Bina, she learned how to express and get her point across to others without reverting to anger/violence in common situations, avoid conflict more effectively and apologise in order to avoid escalation of matters. Her acceptance of self dramatically improved through her understanding of her own body, which allowed her to see her softer, more caring side, even in friendships made at the Home.
Reetu is a certified Therapeutic Movement Practitioner and an Indian American dancer/choreographer who has trained and performed internationally for over 25 years. Her repertoire includes Indian classical & folk, Ugandan folk, American Tribal Style belly dance and Flamenco. She was a founding member of the Urban Gypsy tribal belly dance troupe in Texas and has instructed classes and performed around the US, India, Singapore, China and other countries, including a performance in a Bollywood film with legendary Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah. As a therapeutic movement facilitator, Reetu has co-developed a curriculum to address gender and sexuality related topics through innovative movement and discussion-based workshops. She has primarily worked with underserved adolescents and the transgender (hijra) community by creating an open and safe platform for self-discovery, dialogue and expression. She was selected as an ADTA Talks’ speaker at the American Dance Therapy Association’s 50th Annual Conference held in Oct 2015. Reetu has facilitated CMT workshops at NGOs, educational institutions and corporates across India.