She charges Rs 2,000 for eight hours of classes a month. It may seem steep, but Meher flaunts an impressive resume. A familiar face on reality shows like India’s Got Talent and Just Dance, she has a big following of fans and eager pupils. In Bangalore, Sanaz Bakhtiari has had over 2,000 students come to her Sanaz Dance Studio. “Five years ago, I had only four or five students,” she says. “Now, there’s also fusion dancing. It has some yoga asanas added to it, but nothing can equal the authentic version.”
Apart from the physical rigour, teaching—or even learning—the belly dance has its own set of problems. Not every parent is enthused about their daughter opting for a dance form that most people relate with the filmi cabaret sequence or dance bars, when they could be learning traditional styles like Bharatanatyam or Kathak, or even ballet. Samiksha Chhabra comes all the way from Panipat to Delhi on weekends to learn belly dancing. Her parents were initially opposed to her decision, but relented when she stood her ground. Samiksha’s case shows how the trend is catching on even in small towns. Sapna Khandelwal, who runs a dance, music and arts academy in Jabalpur, had 40 students enrol for a workshop conducted recently by the Banjara School of Dance. What do the girls who come here want to go on to do? “I want to become a dancer and go abroad to perform. Shakira and Rani are my role models,” says Divya Aale, a student at the academy.
Pratik Chaudhri from Jaipur. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
Even established dancers acknowledge the growing craze in India for the belly dance. Najma Asani, who runs the Danza Orientale institute in Italy, feels India is becoming more aware of the form. When teaching and performing in Delhi last year, she realised how interested people were to learn authentic belly dancing. “Soon it won’t just be a profession, but also a distinct art form.”
Shakira brought the zing back to belly dancing with her chartbusters. Earlier, the Bond flick, The Man With the Golden Gun, had belly dancer Saida sport a spent bullet in her navel, while the Beatles attempted conversation with a belly dancer at a restaurant in Help! But how many instances of male belly dancers can you recount? What has primarily been a women-dominated dance form, now has some men stepping into the arena in India. Pratik Chaudhri from Jaipur, who has done a diploma course in classical ballet and modern dance, thinks the movements are natural, aesthetic and intricate. His fiancee Eesha Singh, also a belly dancer, quickly refutes any idea that the dance is only for women. “We still live in a patriarchal society where there are social stigmas associated with male dancers. One should be broad-minded.” College student Arun Kumar has a point to prove. Focused on becoming a trained belly dancer, he hopes to encourage more men to participate and break the stereotype.
Shake it all about! Belly dancing class in session at the Life and Dance studio in Pune. (Photograph by Vikram Patwardhan)
Akanksha Gupta, an instructor at the Banjara School of Dance, thinks it’s not so much personal success that drives her as the desire to make the dance more acceptable in India. “I had to coax my parents to let me do it. I feel confident now and am totally addicted to it. There’s no way I can step down.” Krishnendu Dey, an avid fan from Calcutta, is hooked onto dance videos online and loves everything about belly dancing—from choreography to attire to movements. “I can’t get my mind off it,” he says. Meher Malik sums it up. “We don’t believe in cheap entertainment. Our intention is to bring about a change in people’s perceptions and stick to what is authentic.” The stigma attached to belly dancing may already be slipping off.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The idea about gymming, is, why gym, because one has a certain lifestyle? I would certainly consider gymming, but one has to get to the gym, and it seems that one has to be mindful of time. Which means, that when one is, then there is a compromise.
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