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Dancing with Cancer

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Dancing with Cancer

On July 1, 2008, the renowned Indian classical dancer, Ananda Shankar Jayant, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ananda dances two major classical dance forms, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. Both originated in Southern India, and equally emphasize the technical aspects of dance, as well as emotions and storytelling. They draw on popular myths and symbols to create elaborate and highly ornate dance routines. 

On that fateful day, Ananda decided that while she was going to follow all the recommendations of modern medicine, psychologically, she was going to give a higher priority to her dancer self, than to her cancer-patient identity. Over the next two years, while she went through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted (Herceptin) therapy, she also pursued a therapy of her own. She danced. She performed, she taught - she engaged with the cancer raging in her body with the metaphoric energy of the Indian Goddess Durga. Durga, the myth says, was created by the combined energies of all the different Gods. In her ten or eighteen arms, depending on the particular version of the myth, are weapons that were given to her to vanquish the demon, Mahishasura - the buffalo-headed demon. As she engaged with her cancer, Ananda Shankar Jayant embodied this energy of the Goddess. In 2009, she presented a TED talk which features her dance as Durga (please see the video below) and an interview that describes her journey with cancer in her own words.

So, what exactly happened? Would she have responded to the medical treatment in any case, and this entire engagement with the Goddess energy was just a coincidence? A wishful thinking? Or was there more to it? Of course, as we like to say in the scientific circles, we will never know the answer, "because the control experiment cannot be done." Ananda herself credits much of the healing to her relationship with the ritual of dancing in general (she sees it as a form of deep, embodied prayer), and to her engagement with the Durga energy in particular. I leave you to make the final decision for yourself.

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