Since time immemorial, dance as an art form had been limping through the veins of Indian culture. Natyashasthra as a manual, divulges the supreme role of theatre and dance which created the pedestal for all kinds of art forms which fascinated Indians for generations.

Natyashashtra propounds two dance styles, Lasya and Tandava or feminine and masculine. This dichotomy based on the layout of the art form created a taxonomy that females will be always graceful and males will always be vigorous while on stage. This inflicted chasm which even affected the true appreciation of them. The significance of gender neutrality comes in question here.

Taking a perspective regarding gender and sexuality, both are not fixed naturally and are flexible social constructs. Whenever we think of a dancer, the first thing that comes to our mind will be that of a female dancer, with attractive physique, captivating eyes appealing to the male voyeuristic gaze. It is surprising to find that even the dance forms carry this baggage of gender divide. For example, Mohiniyattam, an art form of Kerala, as the name suggests, is invariably performed by women. Kathakali on the other hand, is an amalgamation of femininity and masculinity.
With time and the hegemony of femininity or gracefulness utilized in the dance forms, people always occupy the thoughts as dance is for women. If a boy has an inclination towards studying dance, he might not be admired as much as for a girl.

Anitha Ratnam, a legendary Indian Classical and contemporary dancer and an initiator of Neo Bharatanatyam, came up with an innovative concept ‘purush’ to mark the honor and acknowledgement of male dancers who are swathed under the carpet as a result of preconceived notions and misinterpretations. She paid tribute to all Indian male artists who played vital role in popularizing Indian culture across masses. She critiques the sculptures and paintings which ignore male dancers. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the generous number of males entering this peculiar arena by breaking all stereotypes and stigmas.

Anita Ratnam

A renowned dancer and tutor Smt. Suni Vikas opines that it is the male dancers who drew international attention of classical forms and he says that it is a misconception that dance forms are a female privilege since it suits their body. Marginalizing male artists is therefore invalid. Another need for thought on gender pops up while females are interested in training martial arts. Some gurus are indifferent from this idea since they believe that practicing martial arts can affect the femininity of dancers and can cause them to lose their grace. “Femininity” or “gracefulness” are certain ideations which have got nothing to do with a particular gender. Is homosexual love a form of love?

Why does dance always celebrate the sexual desirability between men and women? Most of the literature which form the basis of dance forms, praises heterosexual love. What if Krishna loved Arjuna instead of Radha? The flamboyant hero whose name resounds in almost every Indian scriptures and art forms would have shed a landmark in the mindset of people. ‘Shringara’, the rasa which evokes love is rendered mostly through Radha- Krishna love. From Sathriya in Manipur to Krishnanattam in Kerala all chronicles through this love.


The modern connoisseurs of these forms collectively open up the doorway for the third gender by supporting their incessant efforts to be on the mainstream. The first transgender group from Mumbai are labelled as “Dance queens” by the media spreading the wings of the artists to the zenith of regard. This rupture can eventually lead to the reimbursement for the ignorance of the past.

Caste demography in India has also influenced these art forms to an extent. During the reign of Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas, devadasis were women who performed in front of the upper caste who used them for sexual exploitation as well. Dancers were hence labelled as prostitutes and dance became an art performed by them. This designation abdicated the upper caste girls from learning dance as a performative art. Devadasis even receded from entering temples in the belief that they may “pollute” the purity of the temple. Later, these injustices instigated were disenfranchised, thanks to the dancers like Rukmini Devi, E Krishna Iyer with their efforts breathed life to the dying art form and made it global to all strata of society.

Any culture vultures have got a narrow chance of escaping the unparalleled Hyderali and his exceptional role in Kathakali music. He practiced under the pioneers of the field such as Kalamandalam Nambeeshan, Kalamandalam Sivaraman Nair and paved the way for singers of his generation as the first non-Hindu artist to mark the stance in four century old tradition from Kerala. As a non-Hindu, he faced a lot of criticisms in the Hindu ruling coliseum and was accused of tainting the age-old heritage of Kathakali music. He amended the aesthetics of the music and was praised for his soulful singing even by the legends like Kalamandalam Gopi.

Kalamandalam Hyderali

The connoisseurs of Kathakali recall the incident of breaking a wall in a temple and stretching the stage so that Hyderali can sing for them. The ensnare of his expertise was massive. Hyderali and his endowment towards this field reach across all differences, beliefs, practices and he erect the notion that “art escapes and transcends the fences created by mankind”. The secularism of art forms is therefore a serious school of thought. There are certain art forms in India which are passed on exclusively to members of certain communities who only are allowed to perform them in front of others. One such being Chavittu Natakam, a theatrical, colorful form performed by Christian communities in Kerala.

Classical dance forms, nonetheless of gender, geographical location or age, serve as a mighty avenue for everyone to express their views, desires thereby obtaining inner peace of mind. Art of any form is a weapon for battle against servitude, inequality and injustice. It is the commemoration of undying human spirit. Let’s behold these forms by giving no room for biases or prejudices.


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