KOCHI: When it comes to classical dance forms, there is a general misconception that they are better suited for girls. This fear of social stigma also forces many parents to forbid their male child from learning dance. Such a notion might prevent young boys from actualising their love for art, and investigating dominant opinions about masculinity, gender, sexual orientation, and their physical self. Creating awareness among children and parents is the only way to ensure that art isn’t stereotyped .‘The Bliss of Dance Beyond Gender’, a dance workshop headed by the dancer-turned-actor Vineeth Radhakrishnan and his dance group at JTPAC recently, was a step towards this.
Vineeth shared many personal anecdotes, both from his life as a teacher and student of art. “I have been learning dance for as long as I can remember. Now it is like a daily routine for me. I wake up, brush my teeth, take a bath and head to the dance class. I have never felt that dance is only meant for girls,” said Vineeth.
“In traditional compositions, there are some varnams that are very nayika (female protagonist) oriented. When a boy plays this part, it encapsulates the jeevatma and paramatma—the soul and body. It is all about technique and practice. There are no restrictions in dance that forbids men from doing lasya (feminine expressions in Indian traditional dance) and women from doing tandava,” he said.
Since there are very few male students who turn up to learn dance, they are usually trained with girl students. This is why they copy the feminine style. This may eventually change their posture, adding a feminine touch that is evident in their performances. Male dancers put more strength into their steps while female dancers are very gentle, giving more importance to expressions,” he said, adding that an experienced male dancer could play the male as well as the female versions with equal grace and beauty. The ability to be versatile and switch between the two is vital, he said.
The male dancers in Vineeth’s dance company also had to face social discrimination as they pursued their passion. “Hailing from a conservative Christian family, it was not easy for me to become a dancer. I started learning the art when I was 13, and it gave me a sense of confidence and belonging. The spirit of dance helped me excel in my studies as well. Now I’m a college professor as well as a dancer. Teaching is my profession, while dance is my passion” said Bony Mathew, a faculty at Sacred Heart College, Thevara.
“I started dancing when I was eight, around the time when the movie ‘Chanthupottu’ was released. The movie showcases Dileep as a dancer with feminine movements and behaviour. It was one of the worst stages of my life. My friends started teasing me, but my guru helped me overcome the struggle. I’m a final year architecture student now and I’m equally proud to be known as a dancer,” said Deepak Pradeep, another member of the dance group.