Blind martial arts expert dances into audience's heart

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By Alkesh Sharma

Chandigarh, April 26 (IANS) Thirty-year-old Rashpal Kaur, who lost her eyesight to a brain tumour in 2004, overcame the handicap and danced her way into the hearts of the viewers of television reality show "Dance India Dance", thanks to her training in martial arts.

"I do not have any formal training in dancing, but the moves of gatka (a Sikh martial art) help me in my performances. I love to mix the steps of gatka while dancing. I managed to perform on the show by counting the dimensions of the stage and by psychologically evaluating my steps," Rashpal told IANS.

Although she had to opt out during the last stages of the show as choreographers were finding it difficult to teach her the steps, Rashpal had managed to impress the judges and nationwide audience by then.

The judges gave her a standing ovation after her last performance.

"I was very happy to meet dancing legend Mithun Chakraborty on the show. He was so touched with my story that he hugged me and encouraged me to do well in the field of dance. He even danced with me on the number 'Singh is King'," said Rashpal.

The Chandigarh resident began learning Gatka at a local gurdwara in 1996.

"I went to Baba Deep Singh Ji Akhara to learn gatka with my elder sister Kuldeep Kaur. At that time not many women were learning this martial art and people raised questions about our decision to join a male-dominated field," she said.

"Since that time, I have been religiously practising Gatka and now I even train young girls," she added.

Rashpal's coach Kuljeet Singh is all praise for her dedication.

"Rashpal and her sister were my first female students. She was very shy and an introvert in the beginning but gradually her talent came to the fore," said Singh.

"She has attained the highest level of gatka. None of the men can match her agility, moves and jumps," he added.

Rashpal danced for the first time for theatre personality Rani Balbir Kaur's play on Sikhism in 2000.

"Balbir Kaur was taking auditions of girls for an important scene where she wanted to depict the martyrdom of Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur through fast dancing. Despite taking auditions of over 100 girls, she was not convinced.

"Then Rashpal performed the scene to perfection and got the role. She performed in that play all across the country," said Singh.

Four years later, a brain tumour ruined Rashpal's eyesight.

"Losing my sight made me more dedicated. I do not want to become an object of sympathy and let my handicap hinder me from attaining my life's goals," said Rashpal.

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at alkesh.s@ians.in)

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