It’s a phone call I anticipate with excitement. When Zuleikha calls to announce her presence in Delhi, I know I can look forward to several interesting conversations over tea and lunch. This American storyteller, dancer and healer travels to several countries to help marginalized communities with her special brand of bodywork, and always has inspiring experiences to recount. She has enabled thousands of men, women and children challenged by life’s circumstances worldwide to develop an awareness of their health and body using her simple technology of movement, rhythm and melody. “We become helpless and disempowered in some circumstances. But there is always something we can do to help ourselves,” she says.
The first time I saw Zuleikha was at a CanSupport event, demonstrating some exercises from her award winning program entitled The Relaxation Therapeutic health exercise program (RTHEP), developed under the auspices of her US based international artistic health resource organisation, The Story- dancer Project (TSP). Apart from her work as a movement therapist, Zuleikha is also a mesmerizing dancer and performs solo for diverse audiences. Soft spoken and waif-like, Zuleikha grew up in a musical family and studied classical piano and flute. She was a student at the Ali Akbar College of Music and Dance in San Francisco (established by the great maestro himself), where she studied the classical dance form Kathak. Along the way, she also worked with the American dancer and avant-garde choreographer, Anna Halprin, West Coast pioneer of natural movement.
More than a decade ago, Zuleikha found her way into the Nizzamudin basti when a friend who started the HOPE project in this slum roped her in to teach movement therapy to the girls in the school. Gradually Zuleikha began working with the women attending the clinic too, teaching them to use movement to improve their health. “I created a special programme for them since space was limited,” she says. One of Zuleikha’s special qualities is her ability to tune into any person or group she is in the company of, and devise specific movements that would enable relaxation. “Since most people’s emotions are reflected in their bodies, I can tell what’s happening by looking at the way they hold themselves.” Her creativity is apparent when she is confronted by someone with an achy back, head or knee, and uses whatever movement comes to her in the situation to help ease the pain. “I can invent because I have had so many wonderful teachers,” she explains modestly.
In addition to her work with HOPE, Zuleikha works with the NGO Cansupport, providing direct support to those with the disease and training nurses, counsellors and doctors on palliative care teams in simple core wellness exercises intended to promote self-care. “The idea is to teach easy to do core exercises to as many as possible,” she says.