Dance school will ignite passion for Bharatanatyam among transpersons: Shanmuga Sundaram K

Sundaram hopes to organize an exclusive performance of his students in the future to send a message across that the trans community could perform equally better.

Published: 09th July 2022 10:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th July 2022 11:07 AM   |  A+A-


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CHENNAI: Learning the intricacies of mudras in Bharatanatyam and ensuring a realistic portrayal that connects with the audience is not an easy task for many.

But, this is what a group of transpersons with a passion for the art is attempting to learn at Tamil Nadu's first dance school exclusively for the community here, helmed by one of the revered Gurus, who sees teaching the aspirants as the art transcending all barriers.

Different professionals from myriad backgrounds pursue their dreams of trying their hands at the ancient dance form at the Chennai chapter of the academy, established by the Sri Sathya Sai Orphanage Trust Kerala and Sahodaran, a city-based non-governmental organization (NGO).

"This school opened a unique opportunity for trans persons to learn the classical dance form. Here their passion for Bharatanatyam is being ignited," says renowned Bharatanatyam dance master Shanmuga Sundaram K, who teaches them.

"They all come from different backgrounds but are knit by an avid interest in learning this dance," said Sundaram, who is one of India's leading classical dancers and considered one of the best male exponents of the ancient art form of Bharatanatyam.

The ensemble of 16 aspiring dancers includes Vaishnavi, Chennai's first trans auto driver, a chartered accountant, a physiotherapist, and a college student and it meets on Sundays to learn from their guru at this free dance academy.

ALSO READ | Dreams of equality: A free dance academy for transpersons in Chennai

Expressing her keenness to learn Bharatanatyam, Vishnu Vilasini, a student says the novel initiative has inspired her to learn the dance and teach it to the trans person community and underprivileged children for free.

Classes for the free dance academy for transgenders commenced on June 5 though it was launched on May 31 in the presence of Chennai Mayor R Priya. Sathya Sai Charitable Trust founder N K Ananthakumar runs similar dance schools in two places in neighbouring Kerala.

He wanted to start a dance school for transpersons in Chennai and approached Sahodaran and master Sundaram and immediately the initiative was fructified. Vaishnavi who couldn't get an opportunity to showcase her dancing skills opines that she could now get groomed to become a performing artist.

"I feel teaching them Bharatanatyam makes this dance form transcend all barriers. This platform grooms them in this traditional art. They have a choice either to be a performer or a guru," says Shanmuga Sundaram, who has over 28 years of experience.

He says he doesn't see them as transgenders but regards them as his students keen on learning this art.

"And it's an opportunity for me to teach them Bharatanatyam and help pass on this art. In a true sense this art is transcending all barriers," he said.

This was his contribution to this art. Dance should go beyond geographies and connect with the people, he added.

Sundaram who had choreographed and staged Italian narrative poem by Dante Alighieri - the Divine Comedy - and on French sculptor, Francois Auguste Rene Rodin, considered the founder of modern sculpture, says he hopes to organize an exclusive performance of his students in the future to send a message across that the trans community could perform equally better.

Depending upon the student's efforts, it would take at least 2 to 3 years for Arangetram (maiden stage performance), he said.


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