When it comes to art, every artist indulging in a specific art form embraces it in all its glory and gives it a personal touch. While many of us may have fixed notions about various art forms, they may mean something entirely different to an artist. A man dancing in heels would shock some, a Sikh boy performing ballet would stun many and a male belly dancer is sure to hit like a thunderbolt, but these passionate artists are oblivious to the reactions. There will also be many who would see these dancers as someone breaking the norm, however, for the performers, their passion for dance goes beyond the stereotype.
When asked about stereotypes, acclaimed Kathak dancer and choreographer Aditi Mangaldas says. “Every true artist breaks norms and is creative in his or her own way. That’s the specialty about real art or artistry. I am really fascinated that these three boys are doing the kind of work that they are doing and I think what should guide them is passion and abandon rather than wanting to do something to break the norm, because I think when they follow their passion and dance in abandon, that itself will bring in their own creativity and their own imagination which in any case will be breaking norms at whichever levels.”
On the occasion of International Dance Day, which is celebrated every year on April 29 to honour the creator of modern ballet Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), we bring to you three unique dancers representing their own styles.
Bhangra Boy doing Ballet
Name: Noddy Singh
Dance style: Ballet
“Bhangra is in my blood but Ballet is my passion,” says Noddy Singh whose professional name is inspired by his favourite cartoon Noddy. The 18-year-old Sikh boy started dancing five years back (2012) when he decided to give hip-hop a try. However, after being introduced to ballet three years later, he realised that it was here where his passion lied.
“Bhangre karne vala yaha ballet karega” was a common notion that followed after Singh picked up ballet. However, it did not affect him in pursuing his passion. “I do not feel shy at all. (Instead) I feel like a prince (when I do ballet) here. I feel elegant; the arms movement, the acting, the skills, the jumps, the turnings. I like the whole thing.”
According to Oxford dictionary, Ballet is a French word, from Italian balletto, diminutive of ballo ‘a dance’, from late Latin ballare ‘to dance’. The classical ballet, which is believed to have originated in Renaissance Italy, is a popular dance form that is characterised by light graceful movement with pointe shoes that reinforce the toes.
“Punjabi is all about bhangra. I feel like I am the first Punjabi (to do ballet) and I want to connect people with this dance.” While Singh could be among the foremost Sikh male dancers to give ballet a try, Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Johar broke stereotypes by being one of the first Sikhs to have taken to the art form.
Fortunately for Singh, his family has been supportive of his choice. “My parents and siblings have always supported me but they just had one condition that I finish my exams (complete education) and then do anything.” After giving his 12th boards last year, Singh has joined an open school to dedicate all his time to ballet.
At present, he is preparing for the Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition, which is for young dancers who are seeking to pursue a professional career in classical ballet. He is being coached by Fernando Aguilera, the artistic director of Imperial Fernando Ballet Company (IFBC), who has taught ballet for over 35 years now.
Shimmy all the way to the top
Name: Hiten Noonwal
Dance style: Belly Dance
Stepping onto a stage for the first time during an inter-college competition, Hiten Noonwal felt belittled as he performed. “I made my own costume, did my make-up and even made a headgear but while dancing I heard things like ‘Yeh chakha hai, Yeh hijda hai‘ (he is a eunuch).” From school days, Noonwal was made aware by those around him that he was different, however, being called names while performing was new to him. “I was considered different … one who used to behave like a girl. I was used to it, but while performing I felt that they were not considering me like a performer but looking at me as something else.”
“People don’t think dance is an art form. They consider it as entertainment. They question. ‘Why are we doing this’, because they don’t see it as a piece of art. Whenever I perform, I feel I am breaking stereotypes”.
Noonwal was always inspired by Egyptian and Arabic music. Since he was in school, he could connect to belly dancing, it’s just that he was not aware that there is an entirely different form dedicated to it. Belly dance, which is also referred to as Arabic dance, is an expressive dance that is believed to have originated in Egypt. This form focusses on the complex movement of the torso and over the years has evolved to take many forms as per a country’s adaptation in both costume and dance style.
As a class sixth student, he knew next to nothing about crossing dressing or various dance forms that existed. However, when the then 10-year-old took to the stage wearing a lehenga, he felt as if the music spoke to him and from then on, things were never the same for him.
While the designer, who has graduated from College of Arts, Delhi and received a masters degree in Apparel design from National Institute of Design (NID), has inspired many around him, his parents are yet to accept his love and passion for dance. “Every morning they (family members) say something about my dressing, my hair and what I do.” Though Noonwal has tried multiple times to convince his parents, it’s all in vain.
However, he does not let people’s comments bother him. Instead, he has accepted that there are people who follow stereotypes. “For them a girl should do belly dance whereas a boy should look manly.” Which is why he wants to continue belly dancing so that he can dispel these fixed notions. He has performed at various places such as LGBTQIA events, Kolkata International Art Festival, Quad Project and more.
These heels are made for dancing and that’s just what they’ll do
Name: Kiran Murlidhar Jopale
Dance Style: Bollyswag with heels
“I was wearing them for three to four days, trying to walk in them and then I taught my first class.” Kiran Murlidhar Jopale, whose stint with heels is new yet something that will continue, elaborates the first time he danced with heels. “It is not easy to dance in heels as everyone is scared that they will fall. I wasn’t scared but it was something new to me so I was just worried if I could pull it off or not. The video I posted is beginner routine but eventually, I will try tougher routines with heels.”
Being from Chausale, a village in Nashik, Jopale was never exposed to major events during his childhood. While pursuing computer engineering at College of Engineering Pune (COEP), he gave his first ever performance on stage. “I used to watch dance videos, but I never danced in front of anyone.” With no urge of doing the basic 9-5 jobs, in 2011, Jopale decided to take up dance as a full-time profession.
When it comes to exploring dance, he does not limit himself, which is what intrigued him to give heels a try. When it comes to dancing, Jopale prefers Bollywood with a touch of western moves, his forte being BollySwag, but he is always ready to try something new. “I never gave a thought that it (dancing in heels) would be a hit or something. It was just a thing I wanted to try as it was always fascinating and challenging.”
French dancer and choreographer Yanis Marshall, a YouTube sensation, is popularly known as the man who made dancing in heels infamous. Marshall and his team who appeared as a finalist in Britain’s Got Talent had found fame on social media as the ‘male dancers in high heels’.
Though the heels video received a positive response, social media is not always kind. “Whenever I dance, I get comments about dance being a feminine thing. People on social media don’t think before typing anything. I love teaching Bollywood and 90 per cent of the songs are for females, so my choreographies are based on that kind of music. I have started getting comments like your dance looks feminine, show something more masculine.”
Quite interestingly, he did not let the negative comments bother him and instead guided his energy into a positive direction. “It never bothered me so I thought, let’s try heels.”
However, the dancer does not think that he is breaking stereotypes and would continue making a statement with heels until he establishes ‘B Town Heels’. “I don’t think I’m doing anything different or unique, I am just trying to do what I thought of, I just want people to understand that at no point dance styles are gender-oriented.”