For a distinct style for men

The classical dance technique has to clearly be different and distinguishable for men from that of women.

Male dancers should concentrate on power, tension, athleticism and such attributes rather than imitate feminine mannerisms, opines KARTHIK VENKATESHAN

For all the ostentatious machismo exhibited by Indian men in domestic, public and screen life, it is pathetic, dismal and ironical that the male classical dancers do not exhibit dignity, restraint, originality or refinement in their performances. Instead, they imitate the soft and feminine techniques of their opposite sex counterparts in both nritta and abhinaya. Furthermore, the imitation is extended to make-up,ornamental accessories and costumes. It is time to putan end to this crass buffoonery by the male dancers and make a change, don`t you think?

The fact that the classical male dancers for all their bravado are a laughing stock is not surprising as they have not been able to find a respectable place in the performing dance community unlike women who have been able to find their security, dignity, niche and identity.

I have been a student, fan and patron of Indian classical dances in general and Bharathanatyam in particular for the past 19 years. I have been trained by the well-known and indefatigable Guru Vasundhara Doraswamy of Mysore in the distinctive Pandanallur style of dance.

The mere mention of Pandanallur evokes the great Guru and nattuvanar tradition of clear-cut, crisp, aesthetic, technically correct, elastic and energetic movements, rhythmic patterns, firm poses, ingenious choreography and subtle expressions. If performed properly, by that I mean the proper araimandi, proper footwork, correct angles and position of limbs, straight back shoulders and spine and correct execution of mudras and adavus, the tautness and elasticity of every movement of the performer can be relayed to the audience. In other words, the audience can experience and be a part of the geometrical neatness and beauty.

From the time, the nattuvanar tradition has been passed on to innumerable dancers, the technique has been diluted and this has hurt the male dancers more than the female dancers. Women have been able to camouflage their technical deficiencies and inadequacies with glamour, beauty, provocative

poses and costumes. But that has not been the case of men; they seem to be more vulnerable and exposed to the deteriorating standards.

One of the main reasons, male classical dancing has not kindled sufficient audience or student interest is because of the supposedly effeminate form and appearance of a male dancer`s performance. This being far from the truth, classical dance has to tap and reach out to the men folk as a very physical, athletic and a dynamic activity akin to playing a beautiful game of basketball or football. The dance technique has to clearly be different and distinguishable for men from that of women`s technique. Men and women differ in physical attributes and body mannerisms in day-to-day activities and life. If that is the case why is it that the male dancer has to imitate female mannerisms and technique.

Dance is a visual art like movies and theater and presentation is at a high premium. Lot of attention has to be paid in accentuating one`s positive attributes and camouflaging the negatives. In case of women dancers, the psyche, mentality and physical identity has been established as an elegant, stunningly beautiful, devout, astute and versatile storyteller. Sensitive and complex female qualities like chastity, subtleness, chivalry, dignity and coyness are heightened during the course of one`s performance. Be it a Maya, Shakthi, Yashoda, Krishna, Shiva, Arjun or Rama, she is the epitome of a feminine being. The mindset being that of a free flowing, outpouring,visually captivating, enchanting, vivacious and playful dynamic object of nature.

What about men? I personally feel the mindset of a male dancer should be to accentuate one`s physicality, athleticism, power, tension, elasticity, stability, dignity and masculinity. The adavu and abhinaya technique should be modified to incorporate the above-mentioned characteristics. Instead of presenting in a soft, subtle and swaying manner, male dancers can enhance their art by a technique that involves flexible, loose-limbed but firm and well-defined movements. In addition to technique, modifications regarding costumes, accessories, make-up and hair-dos could be made. Last but not the least, it is very critical for the male dancer to be wiry and defined than a round, soft-bellied and puffy figure. Be it a enactment of Draupadi, Sita, Saraswathi, Lakshmi or a female lover yearning for her lover, a male dancer does not have to lose his masculine identity, dignity and tautness of his movements and expressions. Neck, shoulder and hip straight and in position, the dancer can present his complex and invisible 3-point patterns.

I am well aware that the majority of dance teachers are women, but that should not hinder them in modifying and changing the techniques of male dancing.

My plea to every dance teacher is to train male students to dance in a physical, assertive, focused, dignified, devout and single-minded manner like a yogi executing his asanas. This in turn will encourage and inspire young boys to learn the art.

Recently, I was witness to a few dance performances by male dancers in a festival. The artistes, ranging from highly experienced to intermediate, with their overdone make-up combined with glittering and gaudy earrings, necklaces, bracelets and waistbands were a complete turn-off, and not to mention costumes designed from shiny silk saris. Furthermore, the artistes were physically unathletic and puffy. The dance movements were soft, half-hearted and undefined and incomplete. I am aware of the energy, effort and finance that is expended in preparing and performing and my intentions not to criticize the artists. But should not a student of dance be paying attention to the fundamentals of technique, which is the backbone of his performance. Hopefully we will see a sincere combined effort from the entire dance fraternity of Gurus, dancers, patrons, organizers and audience.

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