Therapeutic Dance: Charan Pradhan

June 23, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, 1 Comment
Therapeutic Dance: Charan Pradhan » My Dreams Mag

Charan Pradhan celebrated his 50th birthday last year. When asked how he wanted to mark this special milestone, he said he wanted to perform a dance. The choreography was a story of Charan’s growth as a dancer. It is hard to describe in words a person who expresses himself so much through movement, but this 40 minute set showed his beginnings in Nepali folk and classical dance, his studies in Edinburgh on contemporary dance, and later his own innovative style that combines his varied influences.

Interestingly, his passion for dance is surpassed by his passion for people. He is a performer, choreographer and teacher but has created his own special profession by knowing where his true passion lies: in connecting people. Bearing the gift of dance and his exceptional ability to connect with people, he has brought together people of different abilities, interests and cultures.


before the dance showCould you describe your current style of dance?

It’s a combination of my varied influences. Its not contemporary, but isn’t completely Nepalese folk dance either. It’s something different; I just present it as my own style.


Some people believe that we should be preserving our traditional forms of art, whereas some might say that an artist should explore new ideas. Do you make an attempt to balance both these sides?

When I first came here, my intention was primarily to learn how to preserve traditional dance. I wanted to learn dance notation so we could record our dances. Also I wanted to learn how to conduct research. But 6 months into my study, I started realizing that it would take 4 years for me to learn notation. Even if I made notations for our traditional dances, there should be someone who can understand it. The fact is that western notational system cannot express many of the nuances of our traditional dances. My teacher told me that I should make videos of the dances instead.

However, I was studying on a half scholarship in Edinburgh wherein I had to teach a class as an assistant tutor for people with Down’s Syndrome. It opened my eyes to the possibility of helping people through dance. My dissertation was also on the therapeutic use of dance. So now I have changed my field and lack time for other commitments.

When it comes to preserving traditional dance, yes, I would have liked to do it. But as an artist, I want to know myself and express myself too. Preserving means that I would have to imitate others. Yes, I do Nepali folk and classical dances but when I perform my own creations, that is me being myself.

I do think there is a problem for Nepal as many of the traditional art forms are disappearing and there are not many people who are capable of preserving them. Nepali dance is not very popular in the West and it is us Nepalese that are to blame. There is no support for artists or even mere curiosity into art. You hear big speeches from them about preserving culture but in practise there is no support for art and artists.


You have opened the first Nepali dance academy and I understand you taught dance there as well?

Yes, it was called the Natya Sargam Dance Academy. We had many great performers but it is very hard to run a production commercially in Nepal. I was teaching there but to be completely honest, I got a little bored of teaching the same dance over and over to every batch of students. So I thought, this is not my cup of tea. I’m always drawn to creating new dance. That is why I take up different projects instead, as it gives the opportunity to work on different themes and ideas and to collaborate with new people. Some people are doing great work as teachers, but I prefer to go on creating and exploring new things.


Charan PradhanSo would you say that we can serve society in a better way if we do what we are really interested in? 

Yes, if you find something monotonous, your work will seem boring and burdensome. I also realized that there are other people who can do teaching better according to their preferences.


You’ve also done many collaborative dances. Could you tell us about these experiences?

Yes sure. The thing is the people out here are also in search of something new so we can do many collaborations. In Scotland, my style is considered very different. I have learnt traditional Nepalese dance and here I have learnt the dances here too. And they appreciate the input that I can give.
The process of creating choreographies here is very different to that of Nepal. In Nepal, all the steps are created by the teachers and the students copy it. But here, when I worked in a dance company, the teacher merely gave me the theme and the rhythmic pattern. I had to create my own dance based on just those two things. There were five other dancers who also worked on their own dance for the same theme. The teacher then merely edits our dances and takes up parts of all the dancers’ creations. He would piece our creations and teach it back to us.

That is why they can come up with such innovative choreographies. But in Nepal, mostly it’s just imitation and copying from films. Here the choreographers use the dancers as tools and they make art and its always new. That is why I think they have developed so much.

There is also mutual respect here; respect towards the dance directors and towards the dancers, realizing their value. Many other people who work on the set, stage manager, light-man, sound-man are consulted when doing a production. I worked for 7 years in Nepal. Apart from my guru, there wasn’t even a single day that I can recall any of the dancers discussing dance.


Apart from the lack of discussion about dance, what other things need to change to develop dance further in Nepal?

There is one very important thing. In whatever you do, you need to ask what your intention is. Until you don’t have intention, what you create does not have value. When dancing, every move should have an intention. When you raise your arms, for example, what is your intention? How passionate are you in that move? What do you feel in your hands? Is it cold? Does it feel like you are picking up a fruit?

I am making a simple analogy here. In your life as a dancer too, you have to realize what your intention is. So the teaching methods and the environment in which the dancers learn, should include this soul-searching about why you intend to dance.

Charan Pradhan-4a

I am sorry to say, though I was considered a good dancer in Nepal and the dance academy was respected, I felt ashamed when I came to Edinburgh (laughs). I didn’t know a thing about the most important tool for the dancer: the body. The body’s anatomy and physiology. The preparation and finishing, like warming up and cooling down, we don’t know any of that either. Those things actually make a lot of difference. Nobody taught me those things in Nepal and now my knees hurt when dancing.

On top of that, you weren’t allowed to be too curious (laughs). You weren’t encouraged to ask the guru about anything more than what he taught. This also needs to change in Nepal.

There were some exceptions from whom we can learn. One of the gurus that I learnt a lot from, Bhairav Bhadaur Thapa, I love him! He used to go to different villages and learn their dance. Amazingly, he would remember these dances, and every move, after 5 years as well. This was very important at a time when there was no notational system and no video recording technology. However, the art academies did not recognize these dances, let alone preserve it. The Nepalese government policy, did not support such projects and we couldn’t document the dance forms of Nepal. That is another reason it hasn’t developed.


In your website charanpradhan.com, you have mentioned that connection is the most important element to your work. Could you please elaborate more on that?

I lead the Interactive-creative dance movement which includes a lot of interaction among the participants. I have worked with the NHS (National Health Service) among mental health patients. In Western societies, interaction between people is very low. There is a growing question of how to connect with people. And I feel like my gift is to connect with people very easily. There is a difference between a dancer and a performer. A dancer maybe very skilled, but a performer connects with the audience. The dancer is passionate about dance, but the performer is passionate about people. I think I am more of a performer here. I can’t do the moves that the dancers here can, like raising my feet over my head (laughs), but I am more capable of connecting with the people.

Charan Pradhan-3a

Could you tell us more about your venture DanceNamaste and your experience working with people with disabilties?

My friends here advised me to give a brand name to my service. I chose “Dance Namaste” because people can instantly connect “Namaste” to Asia. But “DanceNamaste” is not an institution, it’s just me and sometimes I hire other people.

My job is to help people open up and express themselves through rhythmic patterns and imagery. Because, everybody has a different way of expressing themselves. For example, even the way we speak the same language is different; we may have different tones, accents, idioms and phrases. Similarly in dance, people have their own ways of expression. As I’ve mentioned already, they also have their individual intentions for the same dance movement.

Every year I choose two schools, one special school for the differently abled and one mainstream. I train the two groups then I bring them together. This is for them to understand each other’s body, so there can be mutual respect between people of different abilities. Though the West is considered to be ‘civilized society’, there are still people who are superstitious and scared of people with disabilities. I can’t understand how they can think in such a way. I am sure it’s not from the children, but passed down from the parents. So my intention is to bring the two groups of children together, so it can have a lifelong impact on how they perceive each other.

Again, I work as a facilitator. I conduct the sessions in a circle as if I am one of them and we can all learn from each other. This way I have connected with them personally and they look forward to meeting me. It has been a wonderful experience for me. This cannot work if you are just a dancer, you will only be showing off your skills and passion. You have to be passionate about people. For me, I love people. Of course, I show off as well (laughs). But I love people more.


While you are working in Scotland, you have also continually served Nepalese society in many ways. Can you tell us the specific ways in which you have been able to do this?

One of my works in Nepal is the “Peace is our Aspiration through dance” that was completed in 2010. I spent 2 and a half years in Nepal to share what I had learnt so far, including my studies in Scotland. Just as I learnt dance from many sources, I wanted others to learn too. A French friend had offered to support my studies. I said I couldn’t take his money. But when he told me that if I wouldn’t take it, he would give it to somebody else anyway, I agreed to take his help with the promise that one day I would pass on what I gained, my knowledge, to others.

After my studies though, I had to find a job. As it is human nature, after I got some stability through the job, I started forgetting this vision. However, it was my wife who confronted me with the question “When are you going back to Nepal to teach?” Mind you, she’s from here. She’s English. I replied, “Yeah, I should go but what about the job?” My wife and I discussed the pros and cons of going and came to the conclusion that this was the right time to go. My son was little and he may not want to go after he became a teenager. Politically, Nepal also had a climate that was open to change and growth. So I made the very hard decision to leave my job and we left for Nepal.

While we worked on this project, we lived on and used up our own savings, with a bit of help from friends. During this time, I trained 4 organizations. There was CWIN, who work with victims of trafficking and street children who are traumatized. Secondly, SIRC (Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre) who are very important because a lot of people have spinal injuries in Nepal. I had a spinal injury myself a long time back. I also worked with SOS, specifically their disability division. Lastly there was Asha Bal Bikas who work with children with intellectual disability.

What I taught in these organizations in Nepal, was how dance could be used to help people of different abilities. I hadn’t even thought of doing a production, but Nhyoo Bajracharya prompted me to do it. So I brought the different groups of children together, they were shocked that they would be performing, with new people, that too in Rastriya Naachghar in front of renowned personalities like Ani Choying and MaHa jodi. The audience was very moved to tears and said that they had never seen anything like it. The event was covered by Kantipur Television so it was a great way to raise awareness about disability and the potential of dance as well.

But the difficulty for an abroad-based Nepali to do this kind of work is that people expect us to have lots of money. I wanted to train dance teachers and pass on my skills, but they asked to be paid. I couldn’t afford that and neither could I understand why I had to pay someone to teach them. However, I am currently financially supporting a teacher in Nepal who is currently teaching in different organizations.


In Conversation with: Jerusha Rai


  • Charan Pradhan
  • Banner
  • before the dance show
  • Charan Pradhan-2a
  • Charan Pradhan-3a
  • Charan Pradhan-4a
  • charan pradhan Vajrapania


Categorised in: Arts

One comment on “Therapeutic Dance: Charan Pradhan

  1. Kiran Ghimire says:

    Charan Ji it is creative and amazing dance which i always lot to watch. Although i don’t know meaning…

    Kiran Ghimire

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