If it’s the twist or the jive, it’s acceptable for most to see men burn the dance floor in a Bollywood flick. But say ‘Indian classical dance’, and it’s usually the image of a bejewelled woman that comes to mind. “But aren’t a number of dance gurus males?” asks Odissi dancer Aadya Kaktikar.
A walk down memory lane, and it is evident that classical dance forms have been male dominated. Be it Kathak, Kathakali or Kuchipudi, most of the exponents of these forms have been men. It was only Bharatanatyam that was a female dance form. But there were reasons for this, and coming back to present times, if it is a case of sheer numbers, then women do dominate. They do rule the dance world and draw more crowds than males.
Vidyun Singh, director Programmes, Habitat World feels that the presence of audience entirely depends upon the popularity of the performer. “With the male dancers there is a novelty factor which attracts audience,” says Singh.The dance fraternity, however, thinks this mindset is restricted to cosmopolitan cities. “Down south there are a number of male dancers even today who take up dancing as a profession,” says Kaktikar. P Praveen Kumar, a Bangalore based Bharatnatyam artist is a perfect example and finds himself to be lucky to be a part of a family that is into various art forms. “Almost every family down south is into some kind of art and thus have a very different thinking. Though I have seen male dancers finding it difficult to get shows as a number of organisers have a mindset that female dancers draw more crowds,” says Kumar.
Classical dance is an amalgamation of male and female elements, i.e. Tandav and Laasya respectively. “Male and female dance forms have always co-existed. However, with women from educated background taking to dance, even the traditional male dance forms were invaded. Kathak, which was a male dominated dance forms, now sees women in large numbers,” says Kathak dancer Shovana Narayan, adding that there are men who take to this form too. So is it just a mindset? Raja Reddy, the famous Kuchipudi dancer, had a difficult time getting accepted as a male dancer. “I was simply mad about music and dance since childhood. My father was not very happy seeing all this and I had to struggle a lot initially to take up dancing as a profession,” says Reddy. After years of struggle, Reddy today is a big draw. “My father thought that it was a low caste profession and that I would not have any future in this field, But I still decided not to give up. When your inner urge says that you have to do something, nothing can stop you. And without even caring for my future, I just went ahead in the pursuit of my passion,” adds Reddy.
The monetary factor is still one of the major deterrents for men to take dance as a profession. In fact, most families don’t encourage this pursuit. “The IT and the BPO sector is what offers quick returns. In comparison, dance does not yield adequate monetary gains. That is why parents think twice before sending their child to train as a dancer. But the boys from the gharanas (those who hail from traditional dance families) are still very much into this field,” says Narayan.
Most of the dance forms, be it Kathak, Odissi or Bharatanatyam, usually use naika or heroine-oriented subjects — be it Radha, Rukmini or Yashoda. Yes, there are Krishna and Shiva roles, but the feminine often dominates. So where do male dancers find their niche? “Naika doesn’t have to do anything with gender. Naika doesn’t mean ‘she’, but is just a principle,” says Bharatanatyam dancer Navtej Johar. He also believes that it is just a matter of perception if people still consider naika to be a female. “When I learnt dance or when I teach the same, right from the word go, I don’t concentrate on the gender aspect. I took up dance because I love dance. Period,” says Johar. For him it’s the freedom to acquire different personalities through dance and then shun them at will that makes for his fondness for the medium. “I am not restricted to just one person and then give it up when I want,” he further adds.
For Johar the choice of portrayal of roles from Indian mythology keeps changing with time. “Right now I am totally fascinated by the projection of the devi in mythology and want to work on something related to that,” he says. For Reddy, dancing as Lord Shiva is the most appealing. “I am fascinated by the Shiva-Parvati lila right now and like to perform them. Shiva is a majestic dancer and I have always wanted to bring out the Shiva Tandavas in their proper way,” he adds. Apart from this, Reddy is also fascinated by the Radha-Krishna lila.
Some might perceive male dancers as effeminate. Reddy believes that male dancers performing female characters have to restrict their performance on the stage itself and not carry it on into their personal lives. “Every man has female qualities and vice versa. And this aspect of their performance should be restricted to the stage itself. In dance, it should be the feelings of the character that must be portrayed to perfection, but it shouldn’t go beyond that,” says Reddy. Dancers at times singularly perform more than one role, belonging to both the genders. And the numbers seem to be growing. “I see the fraternity growing, and male dancers today are far more serious than their counterparts a few years back. A whole new crop of male dancers is coming up,” says Johar. Even Reddy agrees with Johar and adds that education is also a must now along with learning dance. “The world of dance is like a big ocean and one has to put in a lot of hard work. There are no shortcuts to success in this field and you need to be original,” says Reddy.
So labels like “effeminate” obviously don’t seem to matter to men who want to pursue their passion for dance. And when it comes to grace, there are many accomplished female dancers who can’t grab eyeballs the way some of their male counterparts can.
6 months ago