Meet the Artist | Jesal Patel & Priyanka Chauhan
Kathak artists, Jesal Patel and Priyanka Chauhan, have been deeply involved in our Dance Well programme for a while now. In a recent interview with Akademi’s Learning and Participation Manager, Peter Laycock, they let us into their experience of delivering South Asian dance and movement workshops in community settings, aimed to improve the health and well-being of the participants.
What is your dance background?
J: My mother took me to Kathak dance classes at the age of 10 when I started dancing in dance dramas. I started learning Kathak from Gauri Sharma Tripathi straight after the drama productions Meera Shyam Dulari in 1995. Soon after Gauri ji Introduced us to Akademi, that’s when dance became larger than life. I have been performing around the UK with ANKH UK and Akademi for over a decade now. Having worked in the health industry for 12 years, I have also been getting my hands into any dance opportunity that enables me to help older people living with dementia or other health/mobility conditions.
P: After university, I went to the annual free open day at Pineapple dance studios and from one of the drop-in classes was invited to join the training season with The Bollywood Company. Soon after, I realised I wanted to train in Kathak and so I went to The Bhavan to start and I now train with Urja Desai Thakore as part of Pagrav Dance Company. I started formal dance training later in life so the movement and musical influences from where and how I grew up have remained a large part of me.
How did you first get involved with Akademi’s Dance Well project?
J: I was already leading several dance workshops organised by Akademi in different settings. When Akademi started Dance Well, I informed them that I already worked with people with dementia on a daily basis and often delivered dance workshops for them. I then attended Dance Well’s artist training to get an understanding of the project and soon after started working on it.
P: I saw the Reach out and Reveal job online and I knew instantly that using dance in community spaces was my goal, so I applied and was lucky enough to work on the project based in a Special Education Needs (SEN) School. I have continued continue to work with Akademi’s Learning & Participation team after that!
How has your experience been of teaching and performing in community/health settings?
J: My experience has so far been the most rewarding, especially when I get a positive reaction from someone who hasn’t smiled and felt warmth of company in a while.
P: I have had some wonderful experiences in these settings. One of my most memorable one was with a young girl in SEN setting who did not feel comfortable enough to make eye contact with me at the start of sessions but by the end of the course was voluntarily taking my hand and leading me to move! It clarified my belief that dance, movement and play can create amazing changes in all of us and that we should all be able to access it.
“It clarified my belief that dance, movement and play can create amazing changes in all of us and that we should all be able to access it.” – Priyanka Chauhan
What skills and qualities do you think are most important in these settings and how did you develop them?
J: Communication… The way in which we encourage participants to take part in activities, re-phrasing instruction in a non-demanding way. I learnt this through months of experimenting with the way I approach the same activity in different ways with participants with different abilities. Positive mental attitude, always smiling, being friendly and radiating good energy are some of the other qualities that have helped me a great deal in this work.
P: Flexibility, awareness of your audience and being personable are key to me. As dancers we have a huge vocabulary of movement that can be shared but without these three things I think a session doesn’t truly reach it’s potential to engage others. I have developed these skills through other non-dance related jobs that are based on your ability to build connection and excitement around an activity or event. I also love to read up and keep training on the how to best work with different ages, groups and conditions so that everything delivered is done so safely.
What are the next steps for you? Where do you see your career heading next? What are your interests for the future?
J: I live for the moment, I want to carry on helping people in need of happiness through dance, music and art. I enjoy being in direct contact with patients and participants, I feel that it is really important for me to also experience first hand feelings of joy and rejuvenation from each individual. I get a sense of immense satisfaction out of it. I would love to create choreography using different artistic media like fine art and dance, and to enable the participants to express themselves publicly through sharings, shows, festivals and film. I also want to create a workshop that collaborates dance and fine art for adults.
P: I am in the midst of a big change at the moment with many of my main contracts coming to an end so I am looking forward to taking on new responsibilities and hitting higher targets. I am hoping to push my presence, knowledge and skill in community arts and engagement.