Words and Movement

Classic Arts Features   Words and Movement
Dyslexic dancer/choreographer Aakash Odedracollaborated with choreographer Lewis Majorto create Murmur, about how Odedra's learningdifference enables him to find new ways tocommunicate. We asked him to share hisexperience with dyslexia, how it informs hisart, and why it has opened up new pathwaysto connect with others.

I grew up thinking my name was A-K-A-S-H, with one A. When I was 21, I discovered there was another. Even though I'd flicked through my passport a million times, I'd never noticed, and no one had ever corrected me. To learn that you're spelling the basic, most fundamental part of your identity incorrectly for 21 years is a strange experience. But somehow, when I found that second A, I found my sense of control.

For me: maybe not for everyone: dyslexia became a blessing. I came to believe that it is about perspective and how you view the world, how interpretations can change and warp. Studies have revealed the dyslexic brain processes information 400 to 2,000 times faster than average, and we often have super-high IQs. Dyslexics can be especially creative as well, in part because our visual processing works differently.

Language "lies within that creative realm: it's a method of communication that has the power to express thoughts, or to command action, or to break you down, or to elevate you emotionally. And dance, for me, is categorized among the languages we speak: it's a mode of expression that operates on another plane, but can make a statement just as clearly as text.

The title of my piece about dyslexia, Murmur, refers to the way a flock of birds comes together to create a huge shifting and changing swarm, similar to the way dyslexia, optically, causes letters on a board to move around. I include spoken text in the work because there was a point at which movement wasn't enough to convey everything I wanted to express. And as verbal language is a key component of dyslexia: whether you're learning, speaking, or writing it: not including it would have ignored a major aspect of the story.

Murmur also utilizes text because dance on stage, for me, isn't just about dance; it's about communication. It's about being able to convey an idea, and that's the basis of all human interaction. At home, when I get stuck for a word in one language, I'll switch to another language, and then to another, until the precise expression I want comes out. Or, when I am writing something down and get stuck on a spelling, I'll form a new sentence to compensate for that missing word. Dyslexics become especially creative at developing pathways around an obstacle, and for me in particular, this talent helped me enhance my sense of communication with people through the language of the body, rather than the language of the tongue.

Dance also has an ability to commu- nicate universally, so an audience can understand the nuances and arc of a piece even when the dancer speaks a different language. It's almost as if we reach back to some primal human instinct we had when there was no sense of structured language, and this body language still exists somewhere within us. When I talk I use my hands a lot, and they often arrive to the point of what I want to say before my mouth gets there. Movement has become an extension of vocabulary, and my dyslexia, perhaps, helped enhance that.

A British Asian raised in England (my family left India five generations ago), I grew up in two different cultures, and I speak Hindi, Gujarati, English, and Urdu. Subconsciously, a natural sense of interplay developed between my Eastern and Western sides, and became like an on-and-off switch that influences my thought process. That reciprocation informs how I process dyslexia, and is present in my choreography as well.

Indian dance originally developed along geographical boundaries, bound by its culture and the people who understood that particular language. Kathak, the style of North Indian classical dance in which I am trained, was initially presented in temples by performers interpreting the ancient dramas from epics like the Ramayana. When Muslims invaded India it moved to the courts and started to incorporate Islamic poetry: it adjusted to its new environment. Today it is no longer performed for kings, there are no patrons, and we are on a stage. To speak to its new audiences, Kathak has evolved yet again. "Kathak" literally means "to tell a story," and my contemporary take on the art form is perhaps another step in Kathak's evolution; while not necessarily traditional, my goal of sharing a narrative is the same nonetheless. As an artist, I try to adapt to whatever environment I'm in, so when I'm in front of an audience that doesn't speak Urdu, Hindi, or Sanskrit I can communicate: as a dyslexic or as just a fellow human being.

For me, the most powerful form of communication is to be able to tune in and touch people. During post-show discussions, other dyslexics have said how affected they are by Murmur: it speaks to them quite strongly. But people who don't have dyslexia relate to this piece as well, because it's really about being human, connecting with each other, and sharing a story. The world is reaching a place where communication can be very fast. We have TVs, computers, and the Internet, but we're losing contact with the essence of humanity: touch, taste, smell, sound: and the reality of having someone in front of you is van- ishing. So doing something that shares ideas directly, in person, becomes very important. Even through the medium of a dance about the subject of dyslexia, a work like Murmur still makes universal connections with all of us who may have had a struggle at some point in our lives. I hope my own experience, which is so deeply and creatively part of who I am, can move others to know that their resourcefulness and individuality is a glorious thing.

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