Friday Review

The boy brigade storming dance bastion

Anil Iyer

Anil Iyer  

After years of absence, male dancers seem to be back on the stage with talent and conviction. With this new trend, dance seems to have made a step towards gender equality

The wheel has turned a full circle in the arena of classical dance. As the legend has it, dance (nritya) began with lord Nataraja (Shiva) and in ancient times, it was practised and propagated by men as a divine art form. Somewhere down the lane, it passed on to female practitioners who held the bastion for decades. Barring a few predominantly male dance forms like Yakshagana/Bhagavata Mela or Kathakali, and Mayurbhanj, the mainstream was woman-centric. Today, there are more and more boys opting to learn, practise and live through dance. A whole new crop of young male dancers have sprouted and blossomed into ambrosial artistes defining the depths of classical Indian dance; they are a dedicated, determined lot who have passionately cultivated a life of their choice and have no regrets. Ample encouragement from parents and gurus has made this possible. Many of these dancers, based in Bengaluru, were in Delhi for a performance. A peek into their journey:

Says Satyanarayana Raju, the senior-most in the brigade: “I hail from an agri-rich background with no roots in arts. Ours was one of those Telugu families (of Vizianagaram-AP) that had migrated to Bangalore decades ago and made it our home. My community definitely looked down (still do) upon dance as a vocation for a boy. I was totally taken over by a Telugu movie ‘Siri Siri Muvva’ by the famous K. Vishwanath and went headlong into learning dance. My mother was the only person who was my staunch supporter. At home, I experienced Hamlet-like dilemma though I moved over to my present guru Narmada. I worked with Maya Rao for 10 years during the course of which I imbibed a lot of things – more so confidence in myself as a dancer. I quit studies and decided to become a full time dancer, now a teacher too! What is truly sad in my life is that my mother did not live to see me as a dancer,” a wistful look spreads across his eyes. Dr. S. Vasudevan Iyengar is another senior who is at the opposite side of the spectrum. With highly supportive parents, he has given wings to his passion in dance and song too. With a guru like Vyjayanthimala, Vasudevan’s performances are known for their classical purity and absolute adherence to rhythm.

The sprightly youngsters are a highly focussed lot with amazingly deep philosophical propensity, a rare phenomenon in present day youth. “our dance is a spiritual art; it inserts in the process of learning an awakening of the inner core of our being. This keeps us grounded as well as makes us perform with the Almighty in mind,” is their collective pronouncement. Some of them display smart economic sense like Anil Iyer and Mithun Shyam. “Escorting my sister to her dance classes ignited the urge in me to learn it myself. And my parents did not raise an objection to this. I have a commerce background and worked with an American company in Bangalore in night shifts so that I could devote my day time to pursuing dance. Now I’m into dance full time but I have judiciously invested my savings and structured my dance profession in a cost-effective manner so that I should not suffer from lack of funds at any point of time. I run dance classes, do commissioned programmes myself. Though I’m an active performer, I’m yet to ‘emerge’ as a solo artiste. Only experience will lend soul to my abhinaya. Boys dancing is no longer taboo; I have 25 boys in my dance school,” opines Mithun Shyam, known for his creativity in improvisation.

For Anil Iyer, a qualified practising psychologist, it was his father who cheered him at every step to pursue dance. “He is not an artiste himself, but an aficionado who would never like to miss a performance of music or dance. I was exposed to so many programmes as a child, so the desire to dance is natural. I run a school ‘Shivoham’ apart from working in a university plus my private practice.” His guru Purnima Gururaj is a source of strength to this day, he avows. Handsome and lithe Parshwanath Upadhaye is the most sought-after young dancer in Bangalore. A boy from Belgaum, whose mother put him in dance to compensate for the lack of a daughter in the family, Parshwanath never imagined he’d make dance a full-time vocation. “I came to Bangalore to appear for competitive examinations being a post-graduate in Kannada literature. But looking back I feel I wasted four years in academics when dance had to be my path of travel in life. I worked as a lecturer for sometime. I have never compromised on my values. I started dance classes and today I have a dance company with five main dancers – we collaborate and produce thematic works.”

And mind you, all these young artistes have not confined to their region; if foreign tours are testimonials, well they have performed at some of the best festivals abroad and walked away with laurels. Who says classical arts may not survive!

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 11:37:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/The-boy-brigade-storming-dance-bastion/article16076685.ece

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