As a 65-year-old Veena Iyer from Mumbai stood outside the psychology department of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in 2014, she felt dejected and wondered if this was a sign to go on the conventional route and be like just every retired person.
Her post-retirement wish of studying Counselling just been shattered, just like it was when she was in her twenties. Back then, studying Economics was considered a lucrative career and she succumbed to the pressure.
Decades later, she stared at a similar dilemma.
Veena had missed the course deadline, so now the only option seemed to be to go back to her mundane life of doing household chores, joining senior citizen groups and counting the days till she died.
Veena is not sure if it were her disheartened facial expressions or just a staff’s duty, but as she stood there she was introduced to a Diploma course by the staff she had never heard of before – ‘Dance Therapy Movement’ (DMT).
After about five minutes of debating with herself, the retired banker mustered the courage to charter into unexplored territory – dancing.
Her heart pounded faster and hands shivered as she filled the application form of the course to heal people and help them cope with their mental health via dancing.
Against her expectations, this course did not require her to be a trained dancer and neither did it involve a particular dance style. It was basically using random dancing movements to express emotions.
At an age where she thought life couldn’t surprise her anymore, Veena underwent a life-changing experience.
Today, five years later, Veena is a professional facilitator of DMT who is helping senior citizens, disabled and people with Parkison’s disease transit from ‘illness to wellness’ with one-hour sessions.
“The aim is to help people overcome their insecurities, inhibitions, and trauma through healing exercises that involve dancing, music, and playing games. There are no prerequisites to DMT and anyone can attend. I always wanted to spread awareness of mental health and I am lucky to be doing exactly just that,” Veena, who worked in the banking sector for 35 years, tells The Better India.
Her innate curiosity to learn and spend time in service of others is mirrored in our telephonic conversation as she excitedly asks me about my lockdown experience.
After a short detour, Veena tells me about the course and shares how her life alters every time she interacts with a client.
What Happens In Dance Therapy Movement
Veena works with psychiatrists or therapists of her clients and patiently studies each of them, from their history to behaviour.
Generally, she is invited by local organisations or citizen groups to conduct DMT that specifically works in a particular arena like Parkison’s disease or the disabled.
Depending on the group type, she designs the exercises and dance movements. The sessions are usually non-verbal where clients are encouraged to participate in activities at their own pace.
“Sometimes, the clients take days to open up due to several reasons like their traumatic past, dysfunctional family background or simply their inhibitions for not being whole-heartedly accepted by the society. We give them props like balloons, balls, scarves so that they can use them to express what they feel. Many end up depicting their childhood or connecting with pleasant memories. Through the activities, they learn to let go of their anger, disappointment and other negative emotions,” explains Veena.
Watch Veena Iyer’s DMT session here:
Take for instance Aruna Pai, who retired three years ago. She has attended the classes multiple times and she feels this is a productive way to spend her retirement.
“The exercises are easy to do and they are designed in a way that I feel happy and relaxed after every session. Meeting other retired people and understanding their journeys helps me broaden my perspective,” the 63-year-old tells The Better India.
The transformation is not just for her clients.
“Whether it learning what unconditional love is from the disabled children or knowing what courage is from rescued sex workers, Every interaction with a client leaves a mark on me,” adds Veena.
Due to the lockdown, the sessions had to be discontinued. However, Veena has now entered the digital space to help people in the pandemic. She imparts knowledge to the family members who then conduct the same exercises at home. While this is all new for her but then so was the course she took up at 65. Learning never stops, she says.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)