A Collaboration of Hearts: TSP & New Light in Kolkata, India, February 2014

Zuleikha & Urmi buying food for ‘the Mothers’ program

washing grapes

When The Storydancer Project came into partnership with the Kolkata-based organization, New Light, ( under the directorship of a remarkable woman, Urmi Basu, we began to work with the daughters of sex workers. We have done several kinds of seminars and trainings, and slowly, many girls are having an opportunity to explore what we call “Core Wellness and Movement Arts.”

Last year, I began to wonder about how to reach out to the mothers of the New Light girls. Urmi and I discussed this, and as you may recall, we did a small, successful pilot training program for some of the mothers. This year, the work with ‘the Mothers’ has been very much in our hearts and minds. When Urmi and I met in USA to plan the work of TSP in Kolkata, we had the idea to do a workshop with more of these women, who have been, or still are, sex workers. I am so very happy and thrilled to share this news: The Storydancer Project in partnership with New Light has just completed the first part of a very new kind of program with the Mothers, exploring creativity, restoration, health, and self expression.

Core Wellness & Movement Arts with ‘the Mothers’

smiles across the floor

putting clay masks on each other

how does it look?

Last week I went with Urmi to her presentation and panel discussion at a well-known business college here in Kolkata. The subject was: Women Entrepreneurs, “Women in the Metro, Breaking the Glass Ceiling.” Urmi gave a stirring talk about trafficking, New Light’s work with women, the children of the sex workers, and women in the world of business. I was then introduced and had a chance to give a brief talk about our bodies and wellness, and to do an exercise with the primarily female audience. Everyone was surprised to get up to ‘Take A Minute,’ and we all had a good laugh, feeling relief after sitting for such a long time.

Meeting with the Heritage Group of Institutions

Heritage conference – interactive panel discussion

Along with the new program for the Mothers, I have the honor to continue the work with the high school/college girls at Sonar Tori, the house where the girls live together, cook for each other, share the chores, and learn how to live in community. It is a wonderful place. We have had several movement seminars, including deep discussions about where they have come from, their opportunities, and how they feel after moving together in our seminar. Afterward, we’ve shared the delicious lunches that they have prepared themselves.

young women of Sonar Tori

As I get ready to go out into the day, I am again filled with hope, remembering this quote from Rumi:

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

Because of your continued generosity and support, we are indeed reaching those in the world who have not been able to receive the precious gifts of simple joy through wellness and exercise. Please share this blog with your friends, that the circle of wellness may continue to reach women, girls, children and families challenged by life’s circumstances.

I will return to USA at the end of March, and am inspired to share about this work, through performance, speaking, and slide shows. Please write to us at, at FB at The Storydancer Project or Storydancer Zuleikha, or by snail mail to PO Box 31099 Santa Fe, NM 87594.

All the Very Best,
Founder/Director TSP

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January 2014 – Off the charts in India!

Dear Friends of The Storydancer Project,

Greetings once again from winter time in the vast city of Delhi, India. Because of your kind understanding of the importance of health and well being, and your generosity of heart in wanting to see joy in girls, women, children, and families, this year our training programs are off the charts!

CanSupport on-site training, working with patient in home

I came here this year not having an exact plan. I really wasn’t sure how to put the next part together. For those of you who have worked in other countries where there are so many, many, many people, you know that things seem to happen in waves.

And this is what is now happening with our works, here.

After many years of working with different applications of TSP’s Core Wellness Exercise programs with our partnering organization, The Hope Project, in the Nizamuddin Basti inside of Delhi, it seems that suddenly all the women I have trained are starting to see how important these wellness exercises are, and how much relief the exercises bring to their friends and neighbors.

Out of the woodwork, women are coming to see me at the health clinic. I am able to use this as another aspect of the training program; the women from past years who were reluctant to participate are now stepping up to bring others.

At the Hope Project Clinic

Amazing. There was such resistance and hesitation for so long, and now it seems the doors of the heart of the women’s community are opening in a different way.

Singing at the Hope Project Girls Non-Formal School

Inside of the Girls Non-Formal School (GNFS), there are several nursery school and kindergarten classrooms for the little children, boys and girls. Many of these teachers are in our Master Trainer Training Program. After our recent training, they invited me into their classes, and together we are working with the children. This is now the second part of the trainings. We trade off sharing exercises with the children. This is a great way to see how it actually works. Now that they have learned the exercises, we can do this. I am so excited to see it happening.

Hands-on teacher training at the nursery school and kindergarten classes

The teachers are seeing how the exercises can be fun, that you can put a twist on them and do something different each day, and that the fun of it gives energy to the children. Unsolicited, one very little boy shouted out, “My mind feels filled with Good Energy!”

We are reaching so many people this year.

Laughter comes as tension is released

In the Hope Project health clinic, I sit now for two hours every other day, and women from the community come for special exercises. This is a kind of ‘private session’ for a few minutes. Over time, I have noticed a pattern emerge. When a woman or groups of women, or even families begin to feel more lighthearted from tension release during the exercises, they eventually will ask about their weight. How to become slim, they may say, with a smile. Laughter comes, and I have learned that this is a sign that the people are beginning to be more comfortable with new ways of feeling. It is great to be a part of the process.

Practicing teaching Core Wellness

In the Hope Project Cutting and Tailoring classes, and the Beauticians classes, once again, there are teachers who are in our training program. We are working together every other day in these exercise sessions. A new ‘felt’ concept is emerging. The groups of young women are not just embarrassed; they also want to learn how to do these things because it is exciting to feel better. They see and feel the difference.

On alternate days, the work with palliative cancer patients at Can Support, another partnering organization, is also taking a new turn. As before, I am accompanying the Home Care Teams. 19 teams and growing, each one consists of a doctor, nurse, trained palliative counselor, and driver. They are located all over the vast city of Delhi, and have offices in all the different areas. They spend their days visiting the patients and their families, and offering counseling, pain management, and help.

CanSupport counselor training with patient at home visit

As you may recall, over the last few years, through associating with these teams, and facilitating Care for the Caregiver workshop trainings, I have had the privilege to develop RTHEP©, Relaxation Therapeutic Health Exercise Program, an initiative for CanSupport palliative cancer patients and their families. We have trained six of the counselors to use these special relaxation exercises in their ‘tool kits,’ and now I am training seven more counselors. I also visit the Day Care Center, where parents of children with cancer bring their children. I spend a session each week with about 30 parents, showing them simple ways (from our Core Wellness Exercises) to relieve stress. After a few sad minutes, all of us are laughing. Though the stories are not funny, and the situations are dire, still we find ourselves laughing at how the exercises feel, and how they are opening us up.

Session with parents of children with cancer at CanSupport

The work of The Storydancer Project is becoming its own story of positive life-giving energy in the midst of life’s challenges. It is a challenge itself to find ways to bring these simple joys to people who are facing such difficulties. And yet, when it clicks, and the smiles open, you can feel that something delicious is happening. What a joy!


Smiles after rooftop home visit with CanSupport

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Kolkata and India

March 30, 2013

Having just left India this year I want to especially thank our home team/staff, and all of our supporters and donors for helping make this extraordinary chapter of work through TSP a reality for many more girls, women, children and families. The Storydancer Project is truly becoming an “international artistic health resource.” We have had so many successes this year, including the palliative Home Care Team work with CanSupport, the first Master Trainer Training with the Hope Project, as well as the Day of Fun and Wellness and the Dance Peace Concert with World Buddhist Culture Trust.

There is one program I haven’t had the time to share with you yet. We are so pleased to be in partnership for the second year in a row with New Light, a non-profit providing shelter, educational opportunities, healthcare, recreational facilities and legal aid to children, girls and women in the community of Kalighat, one of the oldest red light districts in Kolkata. I met Urmi Basu in Kolkata several years ago. She is the director of New Light and is featured in the new award-winning PBS series, Half The Sky. In partnership with New Light,  we implemented a pilot program with the children of the sex workers and underprivileged children in Kalighat. We both felt the work of TSP could be another ray of light for the girls in Soma Home and the college girls in the Sonar Tori shelter (two residential homes run by New Light). This year, as well as working with these specific groups of girls and young women, the idea arose to work with their mothers, some of whom are ex-sex-workers. To bring a class of simple tension-releasing exercises into this place–a gift for us all. To keep this work alive in the field of their community, I did a kind of mini-training with two women. In the future, we will create a team here, to share and spread the Core Wellness work where it is really needed… to offer a connection to creativity and a taste of peace of mind in the midst of life’s challenging circumstances.

Kolkata is in Bengal. The food, colors, music and life here are dynamic and intense. On my last evening in Kolkata, New Light inaugurated the Malala Media Center, named for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who would not give up her education studies in the face of the Taliban (NY Times, Oct. 2012). Here, the girls of Sonar Tori shelter and myself did a short offering through movement, and Urmi and a renowned innovator of girls’ education in Kolkata, Sister Cyril, spoke about the importance of girls’ education in the world today. Then we all had delicious samosas and the famous Bengali sweet, sandesh. TSP is so very happy to be in this partnership with New Light.

It is through these bodies we are born as human beings. To take good care of the one we’re in and pass this on is a worthy effort. Take A Minute™ for yourself, stretch, and enjoy a gentle breath, even in the midst of the challenges we all face. Your ongoing support of this work is touching so many. We are making a difference in the lives of others.

Looking ahead, be very well, and thank you!

Zuleikha, March 2013, © Swan Lake Publishing

P.S: If you get a chance, watch some of the self-portrait videos made by residents of New Light, posted on the New Light website:

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A Day of Fun and Wellness

February 12. 2013. It’s early in the morning in Delhi, India. I have been here since the New Year, and am in the midst of several projects:
- Self care with girls and women through Core Wellness Exercises
- Training palliative care counselors in my new Relaxation Therapeutic Health Exercise Program © For Palliative Cancer Patients and their Families.

I have been invited by the World Buddhist Culture Trust to teach “A Day of Fun and Wellness with Storydancer Zuleikha” in a village school on the outskirts of Delhi.

This is a very poor village. It is about one and a half hours outside of the main city of Delhi. The World Buddhist Culture Trust does a free medical camp/clinic in this area. They wanted to have a program specifically for the children, who have not had exposure to the idea of fun through exercises. The Trust knows of my work, and invited me to create this daylong event.

This morning, we drive down a lane, surrounded by mustard plants. Ah, it is so very nice to see fields of green after being inside Delhi slum areas for so many weeks. Winter is ending and spring is arriving. The air is getting a lot warmer.

The school takes place in both indoor and outdoor classrooms.  As we arrive, we see some of the students sitting outside on blankets, with a teacher’s desk in front of the children.The space is basically a flat piece of dusty land, a little like Arizona. Class by class, I work with them in running, jumping, stretching, and some simple exercises.  Everyone laughing, laughing. Contagious joy spontaneously erupts during the exercises. Everyone – the principal, teachers, members of the World Buddhist Culture Trust and friends – enjoys being together in this enthusiastic feeling. It is unanimous – everyone present wants to repeat this “Day of Fun and Wellness” next year.

Feb 12, 2013  © Swan Lake Publishing

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February 8, 2013

Dear Friends of The Storydancer Project,

I am writing to you from Delhi, India, where it has been the coldest winter in about 40 years. Today the sun is out and there is hope for a beautiful day. Since arriving in Delhi the work has been unfolding at a non-stop pace. I had the great honor to teach at the CanSupport 12th Annual Foundation Course for Palliative Care Nurses. This took place at the All Indian Institute of Medical Services, and was attended by over 100 nurses, as well as doctors taking part in this work. We had a lively session based on the Take A Minute For Your Life™ Core Wellness Exercises, as well as some surprise moments of skipping, jumping, and moving across the floor accompanied by beautiful world music.

“Thank you for your valuable contribution to our Annual Foundation Course. It is always the most anticipated part of the programme.” – Harmala Gupta, Founder of CanSupport

Photo: TSP’s Core Wellness Trainings at the CanSupport 12th Annual Foundation Course for Palliative Care Nurses
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