There’s a story told about Prince. That sometimes when journalists came to interview him at his Paisley Park residence in Chanhassen, Minnesota, he would ask them to dance for him. Prince’s music was defined by rhythm and groove, and it was his way of testing the journalist’s knack for his music. If you don’t feel the music, how will you write about it? Some journalists would fail the test and permission wouldn’t be granted for the interview. But there’s one kind of individual who would have never failed the Prince test: the north Indian male (NIM). It’s another matter that the NIM wasn’t interested in Prince (he still isn’t). Prince missed out.
The last few days have seen the rise and rise of “Dancing Uncle” Sanjeev Srivastava. In the video he is seen moving to a Govinda song Aap ke aa jaane se with what can only be called an absolute gay abandon. The professor of electronics in Bhopal, and father of two, has become an instant social media sensation, with even the BBC covering his antics. Overnight he has found himself designated: Person of National Interest. Govinda himself responded with a congratulatory message. The karmic dancing cycle was complete.
One of the essential ingredients in the repertoire of the NIM is the pelvic thrust of India (PTI). Srivastava keeps the PTI under check; his gay abandon is tempered with admirable restraint, marking a turning point in PTI dancing.
Another central feature of NIM dancing is the “naagin dance”. Last year, a bride in Shahjahanpur called off her wedding after watching the groom-to-be perform a naagin dance just before the pheras. The groom thought he had made his best move yet but it wasn’t to be. In the naagin dance, often performed at weddings, the NIM writhes and wriggles, using a handkerchief in place of the been, the wind instrument, to the sounds of which, the snake is supposed to uncoil, rise and recoil. In Anubhav Mishra’s unfortunate case, the bride recoiled along with the selfsame snake.
But before we send up the hapless little Indian for his dancing skills, let’s face up to another fact — who are they copying and how did the “role models” fare? Bollywood actors don’t offer the greatest dancing examples. Jeetendra was supposed to be a good dancer but his were some of the most ridiculous moves ever in dance history. When Jumpin’ Jack looked so silly doing them, what chance does a college professor have? Think of Anil Kapoor in Ram Lakhan (1989), doing 1,2 ka 4, 4,2 ka 1 with his gang of village louts. Sanjay Dutt was no better. At their best, Bollywood heroes could manage some kind of swaying PT in tandem; over the years, we evolved our own style of dancing, which has no parallel anywhere in the world.
To come back to the essentials of the NIM dance, one necessary ingredient is to allow the devi to descend into you. In a way, this is what Madonna advised in her dance floor classic: Express Yourself. To this we have added a spiritual dimension: open your soul to the dance devi, let her into your fingers, hands, waist, legs, toes and pelvis. It’s not you who are dancing; it’s god dancing through you. You are but a mere instrument. This accounts for the sheer un-self-consciousness of NIM dancing. When you are in the throes of rapture, the external world peels away. You are in a state of communion with a higher power.
Another central feature of NIM dancing is that men often prefer to do so with each other. Even in the Dancing Uncle viral video, the lady on the stage mostly watches on with motherly indulgence. The venerable professor lip-syncs and dances to the female portion of the song. In weddings, men dance with each other. Let me make an admission. I, too, am an NIM. I grew up in Allahabad. I’m not writing from a snotty pedestal. When I first went to Mumbai’s Leopold Café, I let loose my PTI moves, until my friend from St Xavier’s College asked me to tone it down. Years later, I found myself in a Dehradun afternoon disco called Quest: the Fulfillment. The women would go home by evening (to beat the curfew hour), while the men took over the dance floor.
I describe it in a story called ‘Dancing With Men’, published in Eunuch Park (Penguin, 2009): “I move around trying to penetrate the privacy of these male couples. One moves a step back, allowing me to join in. Now there are three of us. The man spreads his legs, throws his head back. I go down on my knees, slide and land under the V of his legs. I can hear myself singing Kajra re, kajra re, tere kale kale naina. We reverse roles. The man twirls around like a girl while I thrust my pelvis at him. And so the night continues — men dancing in perfect harmony. There is some pushing and some shoving, a bit of aggro but not real, more like role-playing.” It should be clarified that this was not a gay bar; I had seen these same men dancing with their girlfriends a couple of hours earlier, but obviously it wasn’t enough.
On the whole, the NIM is seen in complete dancing glory only at the Great Indian Wedding. Uncles are too old to go to Quest: the Fulfillment but shaadis are legit. Here, something else can happen while you do your PTI and the Naagin Dance. Dancing Uncle didn’t do it but it’s the logical conclusion of the NIM dance. Sometimes, the dancer gets so carried away, he pulls out a gun (Once the spirit has descended into you, anything can happen). He pulls out the gun and fires in the air. The pelvic thrust transforms into the barrel of a gun. Very often, a nephew or niece dies, bringing the celebrations to a premature end. Dancing till you lose your senses is not without its perils.