A man's dance

When Tulsi Badrinath, a female dancer, decided to chronicle the struggles of male Bharatanatyam dancers, it became a book called Master of Arts - A Life in Dance

Published: 06th May 2013 10:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th May 2013 10:25 AM   |  A+A-


The ‘mudras’ unfurling from long artistic fingers articulated myriad emotions that symbolise the mythical characters Nala, Draupathi, Damayanthi, Krishna and Parvathi. The expressive eyes beautified with thick ‘kajal’ donated exquisite ‘bhavas’ (expressions) that signify a lost aristocratic era. The intricate footsteps that seemed more ‘lasya’ (sensuality) than ‘hasya’ (comedy) followed.

 Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form that belonged to a minor caste called Devdasis (temple dancers), later on became one of the most prominent art forms in India. When four art ingredients ‘bhavam’ (expressions), ‘ragam’ (rhythm), ‘thalam’ (beat) and ‘natyam’ (dance) integrated to become Bharatanatyam, it became a national art form performed by women by 19th century.

 When V P Dhananjayan, a doyen of dance hailing from Kerala, started performing Bharatanatyam, which until then was solely performed by women, he became one of the few men who excelled in it. He brought in a masculine element of Bharatamuni (the founder of Indian dance forms) in the art form while donating a manly aura. When Tulsi Badrinath, a disciple of Dhananjayan, decided to write a book on male performers of Bharatanatyam, she wanted to throw light into her guru Dhananjayan’s life.

 The book, ‘Master of Arts - A Life in Dance’, depicts the dance journey of Dhananjayan and his better half Shanta, six other male Bharatanatyam dancers and Tulsi’s own experiences as a dancer.

Tulsi has been a disciple of Dhananjayans (husband and wife duo known by this name) for about 40 years from the age of 7.

 “When I started learning Bharatanatyam under Dhananjayan I was just a child. Then I didn’t find anything unusual about my dance teacher being a man. We had boys coming to learn the dance form as well. But later when I grew up I realised it is not usual for a man to perform Bharatanatyam and become a maestro in it,” says Tulsi.

As Dhananjayan is an international figure, the book which was released on April 24 at India Habitat Centre (IHC), Delhi, to commemorate the World Dance Day on April 29 has already garnered enough attention all around India.

“I wanted to explore the lives of male dancers through this book. The inspiration was of course my guru Dhananjayan, but it is not only about him. For centuries Devdasis used to perform this art form and when it came out of the temples in 1940s and 1950s it had many stigmas attached to it. So I wanted to explore the lives of men who were brave enough to take up this art their career,” says Tulsi.

 Tulsi has tried to bring in explicit details of the struggles Dhananjayan had endured to stand on his own as a male dancer in a field dominated by women to the spellbinding romance of Dhananjayan and Shanta in her book. She says the common concept of a dancer having feminine gestures and homosexual tendencies are myths.

 “Male dancers having predominant feminine influence in their gestures is all but a myth. This perception has developed due to movies. Even recent Viswaroopam portrayed the dancer Kamal Haasan in that light. But that is not true at all. My guru Dhananjayan was nothing like that. He performed like a man. The young dancers I have talked to with regard to this book also said that it is a misconception the society has,” said Tulsi.

 Although this is Tulsi’s first outing as a non-fiction writer, she has published two other novels earlier, which were placed in the list of Man Asian Literary Prize longlist.

 “I have taken six other male dancers hailing from different regions like Delhi, Bangalore and other places in India. I wanted to know what they feel about being in this profession, the difficulties they face and many more. All of them belong to a generation after Dhananjayan so I got their perspectives in check. I have incorporated my journey as a dancer as well. The joy of dancing and how difficult it is to establish oneself as a dancer,” says Tulsi.

 Tulsi’s book will be available in the book stores by May second week.


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