The phenomenal dancer and educationist, Alokananda Roy transformed the lives of many prison inmates. She shared her incredible experiences and thought with BE’s Ellora De.
Q.What is ‘dance’ to Alokananda Roy?”
A. I call it my lifeline. I breathe dance. It is also my source of freedom. In my Odissi dance style one can observe the essence of Russian ballet. When I dance I feel free.
Maybe because of that I could understand that dance could be a source of freedom even for the prisoners. They can experience a freedom of their spirit. Unconsciously that helped them to feel free from within.
Q. Before Alokananda Roy nobody thought that the lives of life sentenced convicts could be transformed through dance. How was it possible?
A. I do not follow any theory. Because as I have said that dance to me is nothing academic. It is more to do with my spirit. I did not go to the prison to transform them. I just went to share the joy of rhythm and music. So that, within the world of prison which is actually a very depressing place, there will be at least a few moments of happiness. We are all born with rhythm in us – our heartbeat. When you are out of sync with rhythm, you suffer physically also. So once rhythm is lost in those prisoners’ lives, their lives have changed for the worse. Perhaps with the rhythm and music they feel intoxicated and feel good. I was not there to teach a rigid form of classical dance. I tried with them martial and folk dances. These are dances of celebration. You do not need a formal training for it. All you need to do is to understand the rhythm and be in sync with the music. May be that is why it helped. If I had tried something more difficult or stylised or theoretical, it would not have worked in the same way. I value freedom for myself and maybe that is why I value other people’s freedom as well.
Q. Is it dance therapy or love therapy that helped the lives of the prisoners?
A. I always call it the love therapy. It actually became therapeutic. But what transformed their mind set, was the bonding between them and me. At one time I used to call it the touch therapy, because nobody touches them. People do not touch them out of fear or out of disgust. I always treated each one of them as one of my children. I always felt for their mothers. I keep saying that no child is ever born a criminal or an offender. As I have not been in their situation I do not know exactly what they have gone through. But it is so painful for a mother to see her child imprisoned. And once you are imprisoned the whole society looks down upon you – no matter what, whether you are proved guilty or not, you get stigmatised once you are in jail.
One day a boy fell sick in prison, he had a blackout while he was dancing. I put his head on my lap and applied water on his face, forehead, back of his neck. When he opened his eyes I asked him whether he was feeling better then. He nodded but kept staring at me. I asked him whether he wanted to say something to me. After a couple of days when I visited them again he wrote in a piece of paper, ‘I have been here long, I do not remember my mother much, but when I shut my eyes and think of her, I see your face.’ Then he said that ever since he had come into prison, nobody had touched him in that way. So I suppose it was that ‘touch’ that helped him. That is why I named my organisation ‘Touch World’ – let it touch the whole world. Let people connect through just a little touch and feel good.