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Dance like a man

It's tough being a man in the world of classical dance, where women rule the stage, writes Neha Mehta.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2007 04:29 IST
Neha Mehta

If only Sadanand Biswas were able to shape his career graph as well as his threaded eyebrows, life would be a song for the 27-year-old Kathak dancer from Durgapur.

But no matter how hard he works, he finds himself on the fringes of classical dance. Sponsorships for performances are hard to come by, but not the jibes.

He has learnt not to get agitated when derided as nachnewalla, chammiya and even eunuch. "None of this would have happened if I were a girl in classical dance," he rues.

It is the irony of Indian classical dance: while Shiva is worshipped as the god of dance, the male dancer has become an endangered species.

Sadanand found kindred souls in Santnu Chakraborty, a Bharatanatyam dancer and Sanjiv Bhattacharya, a Manipuri dancer — all harassed by sponsors because they "aren't beautiful girls". They came together in 2002 to perform in their respective styles on the same theme. "But the organisers insisted girls accompany us to draw audiences," laments Santnu. Sanjiv has since moved abroad, and Sadanand hopes to go West, where "the male dancer is respected more".

Pushing 40, Santnu is still struggling for opportunities to perform solo. "Many a time, I spend up to Rs 20,000 from my own pocket to bear the performance cost," he says. One of his few solo performances was at Purush, Mumbai's dance festival for men. Bireshwar Gautam, organiser of Purush, says a male dancer's sheer determination to fight against the odds invariably shines through in his performance. "Unlike women, male dancers have nothing attractive about them — except their dance," he says.

Santnu has had to train female disciples to partner him on stage, just so that he can perform. Finding a real life partner is even harder. "How will I feed my wife? Most of what I earn as a school art teacher goes into my dance." What's more: "If you are a male classical dancer and unmarried, people think you are gay."

Little wonder then that few males make it to Kuchipudi exponent Raja Reddy's class. "People think dance is only for girls," Reddy says. He would know, having been thrashed by his father and sent out of his village when he said he wanted to be a dancer. "A guru rejected me, saying that I was too dark with too thick a waist." When he took his 14-year-old wife Radha to the next guru, he was accepted. Back home, Reddy's mother was socially boycotted.

It was a similar struggle for Navtej Johar, who stormed into the female bastion of Bharatanatyam: "When I decided to become a dancer in 1980, my family was shocked." But his father finally let him go to Kalakshetra, a leading cultural academy. "While feminine mystique still rules in this profession, it was easier for me being a man, as I could struggle for a longer time without the social pressures women are subject to."

That's no consolation for Muzaffar Mulla, Dhirendra Tiwari and Ajay Savane, students at Delhi's Kathak Kendra. "In the last four years, we have hardly performed seven to eight times. The girls in our class have lost count of how many they have given." High on their agenda is to shatter social stereotypes regarding boys and dance, so that the next boy does not suffer when he decides to Dance Like a Man.

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First Published: Feb 11, 2007 04:29 IST