Wellbeing through dance for one and all in lockdown

The Founder of the Mahananda Dance Initiative, Priyanka Chauhan, is a passionate community facilitator on a mission to bring the benefits of dance to the most vulnerable members of our society.

From domestic violence shelters to nursing homes, cancer support groups, autistic schools and dementia day centres, Priyanka's work with national charities and community organisations has thankfully continued into lockdown.

Greatest bliss

During her time studying Psychology at University College London (UCL), Priyanka's curiosity for the art form led her to conduct a literature review on the impact of dance on emotional wellbeing. Her inquiry spanned across 20 years? worth of research papers; the top impacts identified were in expression, mood, socialisation and confidence. Priyanka started to see a way in which she could use her interest in dance to help her local community, and thus, the Mahananda Dance Initiative was born.

Mahananda in Sanskrit means greatest bliss?. The organisation seeks to shift the focus away from perfecting physical movements, towards delivering a holistic and wholesome experience.

Joy is the goal, dance is the vehicle, Priyanka shares. Every time we work with autistic young people and adults, we are overwhelmed by the joy they express while dancing.

We want to create safe spaces for dance to be enjoyed by all people, regardless of physical and mental constraints or previous dance experience.

Dance is a set of strategic movements, carried by flow and rhythm in music. Adding new meaning to dance and learning new ways of moving can help with tremors, falls, balance, confidence and mood. It can help with Parkinson's by bypassing the blocks to automated movements that patients often face.

Urban Indian Style

Priyanka's semi-classical and urban Indian style is strongly influenced by her training in Kathak with Pagrav Dance. She has seen great success through the fusion genre. In 2019, she was the lead dancer in Raxstar and Firstman's hit music video Time?, and not long before that, she featured in Jan Rufus? award-winning short film The Lyrics That Took Me Home?, which explores the importance of culture and identity to artists in the diaspora.

Her love for live performances has taken her to prestigious stages across the country, including Arjun's For Natasha? concert with The Bollywood Co. earlier this year, and it has opened doors in unlikely industries, such as the tech industry. She delivered a series of workshops at Accenture's Women in Tech forum, helping delegates to build confidence and presence in a male-dominated workspace.

Priyanka's next virtual dance class will take place on June 14, with tickets priced at 5 and 100 per cent of the money raised from the session to be donated to two charities which are doing important grassroots work during the crisis SGV Cancer Support and a centre for domestic violence. Our heart goes out to all our collaborators at this time of isolation and healing. We want to bring some form of joy and release to you in the only way we know how, through dance.

by Vidhu Sharma

* Info on Priyanka's virtual class and to support her chosen charities here

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