Why I dance
Talking of the “inner impulse” called “inspiration,” my most favourite poet Wislawa Szymborska says this in her 1996 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: ” It’s just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don’t understand yourself.” Notwithstanding the fact that I am light years away from being half as inspired or talented as Szymborska is, what she has said sets the tone for what I have to say for this question: Why do I dance?
For sometime, especially around teenage, if you are an artist, you believe people should not be asking such questions, that it is your prerogative to go about life with your head in the clouds, being an “artist,” assuming that vocation to mean a million different things, none of it very clear. This phase does not last very long anyway. The world enters even your haloed artistic life in the form of school, college, university, exams, etc. And then, very soon, you are also disabused of fancy notions like the one where you thought you will just dance your way to greatness, fame, fortune and fanfare. History teaches you that artists can be poor, destitute, uncared for, (not to mention negative, embittered and angry) etc. Around the same time, you also kind of feel that what you have learnt cannot take you very far, that you have to strike your own relationship with the art, less mediated by even your teachers. It is also likely to be the time when you have to make some money. Then you go, “Oh dear, I just wanted to dance. It should be easy!”
Well, it isn’t!
To my specific case. To get the necessary and the humongously true cliche out of the way first: I dance because I love to dance.
Now to the details and caveats! I dance because it directs attention to the body. And the body has become important to me for various reasons. In the first place, it fascinates me that it can move in these million different ways. That is another cliche there. But the body is important to me for other reasons too. It screams my presence to you. It suggests to you that I am of a certain race and ethnicity. It tells you my gender (well, most of the time!). It tells you I don’t work out in the gym, it tells you masculinity has, at best, an uncomfortable presence here. It also whispers, sings, screams my sexuality to you. It tells you I am attracted to you. It tells you not to waste your time. Etc. There is all that the body is and does. It is also full of these years of training in Bharata Natyam. While training, you sort of give your body over to the teacher (they usually want the mind along too), and let them ‘shape’it in ways. You think you are just dancing a dance, just doing it so many hours a week and doing other things at other times. But then one day you realize you have started embodying it. The dance, the specific style you learnt from, the songs, the texts, their contexts, the history of the art itself up until then have written themselves into and over your body. And a lot of this writing is often not legible or intelligible, except the ones that take the form of ACL tears, or a spur in the heel, or a sprained ankle.
So, that’s why I dance now: to see what it is that I embody. To see if those things can sit well in my queer male body. Since my dance is primarily of my body (yeah, yeah, I know it is also spiritual, blah, blah) and my gender and sexuality are also primarily of my body, I assume they reside closer together than my anxious mind fears them to be. So I dance not to angst too much. I dance to heal.
I must also tell you that sometimes I do not dance. I do other things. I write, I research, I do activism. That does not mean I sacrifice my dance-time to other things. Or that I am unable to see the social relevance of dance. Or I feel some things are more urgent and important than others. It simply means that I do different things.
Sometimes I also think I cannot dance at all, that I am wasting my time. But the faces of my teachers — Kuttalam Selvam (while growing up in Kumbakonam) and Chitra Visweswaran (who bore the brunt of teaching an angsting, closeted teenager; in Chennai) — come to my mind. They wanted me to dance. They are not cruel people. They wouldn’t have wanted me to dance just to spite the world! I must be good! So I dance!
I also dance because I love the look in my parents’ eyes when I dance. It is so unconditionally loving. I don’t even have to dance well to deserve that love! It makes me feel so wonderful I dance.
But, most of the time, I dance because I choose to dance, because I choose to dance!