How Ananya Agarwalla's dance of hope is breaking barriers

The day is a little too humid for September when I meet with Ananya Agarwalla, a young dancer and student of The British School. She is bursting with an infectious energy and her passion for dance reflects in every word she speaks. We talk at length about the many dance forms she is well-versed in, her journey of learning them since childhood, and her process of evolving personally and professionally through dance. However, in all these stories, the experience that clearly stands out is her work with autistic children.

Ananya began working with children on the autism spectrum in 2015, and in four years, has made tremendous progress with them. Her motivation behind the initiative is to help children with autism break the barriers that restrict and impair their ability to express themselves through dance. I ask her to throw light on her process and she tells me that the way she does it is simple and straightforward. She picks up words for her classes which she gives her students to explore through dance movements, thus helping the youngsters express their understanding of them via non-verbal methods of communication. Such a methodology helps students channelise their emotions into non-verbal language and form connections with her and their classmates through shared rhythms.

As impressed as I am with her hard work and determination for the noble cause, I want to know more about the challenges she faced during her endeavour and how she overcame them. A major challenge Ananya says she faced was keeping students interested in the activity, since children with autism have a short attention span and get distracted easily. Improvising her classes according to the needs of every student, which were various given the diversity of the autism spectrum, was another big challenge, she says. She also suffered from an excruciatingly painful, as she stresses, tailbone injury last year that put complications in her sessions. However, she utilised the injury to her benefit by incorporating her limited movements in the routine. Sheer patience and devotion, is the answer she gives me when asked what kept her going through the challenging initiative.

Our conversation comes to a wrap with coffee and cookies that her mother insists on us having as she proudly adds on to the anecdotes of her daughter. The day settles by the time I take her leave, bringing the reassurance that as long as the world has young people like Ananya, who are willing to work towards the good of others, no problem is insurmountable.

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