Dance is a symbol of empowerment for this Delhi-based differently-abled Bharatnatyam dance troupe

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The group ‘We Are One’ performed a Bharatanatyam dance act on wheelchairs in Visakhapatnam as a tribute to frontline COVID workers. They talk about their journey so far

The group ‘We Are One’ performed a Bharatanatyam dance act on wheelchairs in Visakhapatnam as a tribute to frontline COVID workers. They talk about their journey so far

The Bharatanatyam dancers struck elegant poses, maneuvered classic steps while slowly and steadily switching to a mudra. The flow was common to the dance form; except that the dancers were differently-abled. Six boys on wheelchairs and three girls who were hearing-impaired left the audience spellbound with a 30-minute show that was a tribute to frontline COVID workers in Visakhapatnam. The performance was by Delhi-based group ‘We Are One’ (WAO) and a part of the recently-concluded Vysakhi Nrithyotsav, the 13th All India Dance Festival organised by Nataraj Music and Dance Academy. 

“For us, the wheelchair is a symbol of empowerment. People think of it as a mode of transport for the differently-abled. But we want to show the world that this is our strength and showcase Indian dance forms like Bharatanatyam with a message of inclusivity,” says Husnain, founder of WAO and a differently-abled artiste.   

All through the performance, Husnain and his team reminded the audience that wheels can replace legs and the only thing they resented was being pitied upon. Their moves were perfected by Husnain and the team’s choreographer Gulshan Kumar. 

 Delhi-based We Are One, a group of differently-abled dancers, performing Bharatnatyam at the recently-concluded Vysakhi Nrithyotsav organised by Nataraj Music and Dance Academy in Visakhapatnam.

Delhi-based We Are One, a group of differently-abled dancers, performing Bharatnatyam at the recently-concluded Vysakhi Nrithyotsav organised by Nataraj Music and Dance Academy in Visakhapatnam.
| Photo Credit: K Bhaskar Rao

A differently-abled dancer, Husnain faced several challenges to battle stereotypes for choosing dance as a profession and using a wheelchair. Working as a freelance dancer for many years, Husnain used to perform in functions in educational institutions. “But we never got the respect and recognition that we deserve,” he says. In 2013, he started a dance school called Life’s Success. But two years later, due to a crisis in his personal life, he had to close it.

Instead of getting bogged down by the challenges, Husnain channelised his passion to create an inclusive environment with WAO in 2016 for other differently-abled persons. “There are abundantly talented people in India whose potential is undiscovered; simply because they do not conform to the traditional expectation of what an artiste should look like due to their disability,” says Husnain. The group today has members from six years to 65 years of age, all differently-abled, who are being trained in dance and other aspects of dance production.

Founded with a team of six differently-abled persons; today the troupe has grown substantially and now has close to 95 performers. The group’s choreographer Gulshan also made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for performing the most number of manual stunts in a minute on a wheelchair. Specialising in Bharatanatyam, the WAO troupe is now undergoing training in the Lucknow gharana of Kathak. 

Delhi-based We Are One, a group of differently-abled dancers, performing Bharatnatyam at the recently-concluded Vysakhi Nrithyotsav organised by Nataraj Music and Dance Academy in Visakhapatnam.

Delhi-based We Are One, a group of differently-abled dancers, performing Bharatnatyam at the recently-concluded Vysakhi Nrithyotsav organised by Nataraj Music and Dance Academy in Visakhapatnam.
| Photo Credit: K Bhaskar Rao

“Performing on a wheelchair for the past 15 years has made me realise that the view of the world is beautiful even from a wheelchair. Dance is a liberating expression for me and my wheelchair has become my asset. My motto is to work towards providing dignity, inclusion and equality for differently-abled dancers,” says Husnain.

“Any society will progress only when people with and without disabilities join hands together. For that we ensure that in every performance of ours, there is one dancer without disability. That is our way of passing the message of inclusivity,” he adds. 

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