Man enough to dance
When it comes to classical dance, women tend to dominate the scene. However, as we celebrate International Dance Day on April 29, NT BUZZ speaks to a few males who are exploring this dance style
VENITA GOMES | NT BUZZ
If you’re asked to list the names of classical dance forms, the ones that comes to mind are ‘Bharatanatyam’, ‘Kathakali’, ‘Odissi’, ‘Kathak’, ‘Manipuri’, ‘Kuchipudi’, and many others. These forms of dances are a part of Indian culture and have been prevalent for a very long time. However, this space is mostly seen as dominated by women. Over the years though men have become dance teachers and have provided ‘nattuvangam’ and musical accompaniment, the classical dance space is still generally known as being a female oriented field. However, there are some males who are blurring the gender lines.
Classical dancer, Saish Shrikrishna Naik who is into semi classical, contemporary, Bollywood, and folk dance says that when he initially got into classical dance people would often end up judging and mocking him. This did bring down his morale. “When I used to step on stage with classical attire many people would mock me. However, I made up my mind not pay attention to them and to rather focus on my dance. My parents also strongly supported me in this journey and asked me to focus on my performance as it was the only thing that would shut the mouths of many,” he says.
Despite all odds, Saish at a very young age got himself trained in classical dance and completed 11 years course (Paranghat in Bharatanatyam). Though he works as a music trainer in Bharatnatyam at the Directorate of Art and Culture, he is on his toes trying to look out for male dancers in order to give them an opportunity to build themselves and create an artiste out of them. “As a dancer I wish to see many more male dancers stepping onto the stage and displaying their talents. They need to come out and put forth their creative skills to the audience,” he says.
Choreographer Ankush Naik (name changed) from Paroda states that there is no restriction for a dancer and he is free to opt for any form or type of dance his wishes for. “Though the liberty lies in the hands of a person to choose the style of dance they wish there are however many people who tend to put them down,” he says. Sometimes the guys are teased by their peer groups for choosing this dance form and there are times when they are chosen over female dancers. He opens up about an instance which happened to his friend. “One of my male friends did not get to perform at an event because the organisers were looking for female classical dancers. Not letting someone perform was just not right. He was good but the very fact they were seeking for female dancers for the reason best known to them was disappointing,”
Another dancer, Manoj Gupta also opens up about the people’s narrow mindedness. “It is true that people have a lot of things to say. There are times when people think you are a gay or girly just because you pursuing a dance form of this sort, but this is just what people think,” he says.
Interestingly, ‘Nataraja’- the king of performers, the patron deity of dancers is male and according to Indian scripture, the originator of dance still remains the same.
Talaulim-based Akhil Sawant whose forte is Bharatnatyam and who also practices Kathak, Salsa, Contemporary, Folk and Bollywood styles reveals that his love for classical dance happened when he was a child when he would accompany his mother and participate in Navratri celebrations at the temple in his village. He says that people there would watch him and encourage him to undergo formal training. In the fifth standard, he did just that, training for Kathak for three years followed by private classes. He also learnt Bharatnatyam.
Despite praises and applause coming his way, he states that maturity is important in order to understand what the scenario is all about. “I used to perform at various school events and there were two other boys who also knew classical dance. However, they eventually left the school and I was the only one left behind. I always got warm response. Sometimes students used to mock me since we all were of the same age group. They thought Bharatnatyam was more of a feminine dance form,” he says.
This did disturb him and he ended up taking a break of nearly four years from dance. However, as he grew and went to college, things changed all over again and he was redirected towards dance. “I performed once in my college and the response was overwhelmingly huge. I think people mature over the years. It could also be that people are more open-minded nowadays. There will be people who think it’s feminine to dance in classical style but you need to take this positively and give your best,” says Akhil.
And as the world celebrates International Dance Day on April 29, he wishes to see people choosing classical dance over western dance. “When I was in my teens, there was a time when all state-level competitions were dominated by classical dancers. Its popularity was growing at fast pace. However in the last five-six years I think people are opting more for western styles. Although there’s considerable amount of people who choose classical or wish to learn, if we talk about pure classical performances, there are hardly any happening with the original traditional touch.”