by Lada Guruden Singh, New Delhi

May 29, 2001

Uday Shankar was performing in Salzburg in 1932. The show was over but the applause would not stop. Shankar came out again and again before the audience and acknowledged the cheering with his usual grace. The bravoing choked him. Struggling, he could utter only two words: "Thank you". A matronly lady, sitting in front was startled. From her lips escaped two words: "He speaks". She was still under the spell of Shankar as Shiva, as Indra, as... (His Dance, His Life, by Shri.Mohan Khokar)

Uday was a man of passion. A single, pointed, deep passion - dance! He never moved beyond it, because he was never required to. Dance gave him Birth and Nirvana, with a space of time in - between, that gave this world an opportunity to see Dance come to life, perhaps once for all..?

Effeminate, wimpish, pansy-like, effete...these words never stared into his eyes. He throttled any such idea with a single flight across the stage.

However, these words did eventualy get better of him when he died. They soon became the gatekeepers of the dancing world, strictly scrutinising and checking any male dancer who dared to enter this all 'Parvati' field.

Since then, a number of male dancers have come and gone, some stayed, some struggled, and still some got dissolved.

How and why dance came to be dominated by women is something that I do not wish to dissect. My concern is with the position of men vis-à-vis their female counterparts in the society.

Generally there are five sets of complaints from the male dancers. One, the label of being 'womanly'. Bollywood must be given credit for this with Behenji type dance masters ruling the roost and all Saira Banus (Padosan) and Juhis (Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke) running away from them! Two, the new found concept of having confused sexuality. Three, being economically dead. Fourth, lack of social status. And fifth, a continuous fear of a life of insignificance.

Man, the representative of the Phallic symbol has been conditioned to remain a dominant top at home and in society. His rickety position is shunned by one and all. Bulging chests, cool biceps, toned legs are a must for almost every exisiting guy these days. If you juxtapose this with a heavy hipped, thin - armed bony structure and a girlish look, the results can be
aggressively negative for the poor dancer.

The solution to this is, not eternal grumbling or a do - not - care attitude. Rather a conscious attempt must be made to recorrect and if possible to recreate an image of the dancer who is truly fit to be inheritor of Shiva's legacy.

Being a male and then to become a dancer is not a tough task as it is made out to be. Surely male dancers fall short on the grace and charisma when compared with their 'shapely' female counterparts but why look for grace (as it is in ref. to in the present context!) at all.. It's good for a female dancer to have grace but it is great for a male dancer to have vigour and aura.

Male dancers should not, rather they cannot, compete with female dancers in terms of sponsors, popularity and dignity. But to say all this is a distant dream for any male dancer would be false too.

Beyond this, I think male dancers must look for alternative options available to them. Maybe they too, work too hard that it becomes extremely frustrating for them to even look in another direction. Apart from that, the pressure is enormous, their own and imposed. But all said and done, they have to generate enough resources to sustain their interests in dance and practice doubly hard to become so perfect that 'Uday hysteria' is regenerated!

Moreover, in working exhaustively towards the desired goal, Darwin's theory of the "Survival of the fittest" comes to force. As a result, only head - strong males will be successful in crossing all the social, financial, psychological and emotional hurdles.

Personally speaking, at 19, I do have many options available to me. I have tried to concentrate on all areas that can help me generate enough financial security. Maybe by modelling, anchoring or journalism. Being a classical Bharatanatyam dancer is an advantage to me since it sets me apart from the crowd. But then, one has to work really hard for it . All through my school and college years, I have had to put in an extra effort in my studies and extra curricular acitivites so that my teachers and my friends respect my passion for dance. This in turn has enabled me to have an informal and indeed fruitful communication link with my guides and gurus.

Most male dancers have faced the cruel jibes and that too from most unexpected quarters, at most unexpected times. I am no exception but the whole scenario changes when we take the things head on.

Being labelled girlish for no visible or invisible reason is not new but I have learnt to give a befitting reply to such pitiable, ignorant people. Not through words or fists, through my dance and my dance has come to my rescue more often than not. I say this because words die and wounds heal but not the taste of victory, which if achieved peacefully and silently, is worth to be cherished.

Being a Sikh, I am completely oblivious to Tamil or Sanskrit literature, but that has not stopped me from trying again and again and learning perhaps, forever. I will try till I succeed and the trial is still on!

Not only dance but other fields of human excellence are also witness to the long untold stories of pain and immense struggle. To reach the top and claim it, is an excruciating experience for each and every human being who desires this. We can feel inspired and learn from such examples.

No matter what, effort pays well maybe today, or tommorow, but it does eventually. If we have a top notch Bharatanatyam male dancer in Navtej Johar, it's because he did every and anything he could do, for dance. He and a few like him married dance. If we have Birju Maharaj's Kathak and Keluji's Orissi on one hand, we also have Raja Reddy's Kuchipudi and
Shingajit Singh's Manipuri too.

These icons were and are male dancers who too have gone through similar experiences at one stage or another. But I guess they already knew decades earlier, what Celine Dion had to say in her Millennium hit number: That's The Way It Is...


Delhi based Lada Guruden Singh is a young Bharatanatyam dancer. A budding poet, he has to his credit a collection of poems, entitled Split Ends. Lada envisages a conscious role play for himself in the realm of Dance and Art related issues in years to come.