Monday, September 27, 2010

Embracing The Brazen

Last week, for the first time in my life, I watched a Belly Dance performance. That too in Jayanagar, a conservative South Bangalore area. That too at Jagadguru Sri Sri auditorium (JSS College auditorium), 5 minutes’ walk from my place.
First I thought it was a publishing mistake of where I found this show. They do that sometimes.
I went there anyway just in case the program was happening indeed.

When I saw from a distance that a crowd had gathered outside, I expected to meet the kind of girls and boys I bump into on Brigade road; fashionable and stylish, feeling out of place in Jayanagar on their first visit.

I couldn’t be more surprised when I got closer. I saw families, Chudidar and sari clad women with their husband and kids, some teenage college goers and I was amused to see so many grandmothers with salt and pepper hair among the audience. Some of them were eagerly pushing through their way when the entrance doors opened. To watch a belly dance performance!

I enjoyed the show on the whole.
The girls were in costumes; colourful skirts and sleeveless tops with their midriff and navel exposed.

Music was not very good. I was hoping to find some authentic Arabian music but didn’t.
Though the entire body has to move in all dance forms, the main focus of this dance form was the hip movement.
In between performances, the master of ceremonies read out verses of introduction to the next performance written in poetic style giving the whole program a solemn feel.

Some of the girls were dancing really well, but many of them were obese and it looked bad.
The troupe leader Payal performed solo and was the best - good looking, good body, nice red costume and perfect movements.
The grand finale with all the 35-40 girls on stage in green, orange, blue, pink red costumes was delightful to the eyes.

I walked home thinking how much had changed in our society. Though I enjoyed the show, the costume was quite a culture shock for me.

It was during the billion dollar celebrations of Cognizant (my erstwhile employer) that I first noticed that change was more rapid than ever, that generation gap was no longer between parents and children but between two batches of graduates passing out of college within 4 years of each other, that the gap between two generations had narrowed to 3 years from 30 years.

On the stage, dancing for the latest Hindi song, in palace grounds, were a group of girls wearing sphagetti straps fashioned after the costumes of Bollywood actresses performing in film-fare award functions. Following this performance, was another salsa dance where girls and boys danced in pairs and the boys lifted the girls up in the air, swung them around and twisted them around their body.

These were our juniors who had joined the company 3 years after us.

What was unthinkable in our time was such a casual act then! What more, parents of these girls were among the audience, cheering and clapping for them.
My parents would have shot me then and there or hanged themselves.
"Dancing with men on stage, wearing sphagetti straps and occasionally showing cleavage!" they would have excalaimed.
And most of the parents of friends and students of ‘my generation’ would have done the same.
What a change, I thought.

In the end of the belly dance too, Payal the troupe leader dedicated the show to her mother without whom she said the show would not have been possible.

What would have received a lot of jeer and leer, shouting and hooting just 5-6 years ago was well received with applause and admiring sighs and comments from the spectators. What would have been considered too bold for ‘our culture’ has now gained social acceptability.

There were dance performances and dancers 10 years ago too. Or even 20. But they always came from a certain ‘type’ of families/society and not from ‘our’ middle class conservative society.
I remember attending a Canara Bank function in Gujarat when I was 9-10 years old. A ripe woman danced to the song “Mere Hathon Mein Nau Nau Chudiyan Hai’ from the then latest movie, Chandni.
After the program, when I asked if she was the daughter or wife of one of the bank officers, my father’s colleague had said, shaking his head vigorously “No No, she is some dancer invited to perform for the occasion. Will any woman from our kind of families dance like that?”

As I said, boldness itself is not the change but the acceptance it has gained in the middle class society is a big change. Its percolation from the domain of the high society to the middle-class is a big change.
A leap, I should say.
I wonder how and when it came to happen. It’s amazing how imperceptible the phenomenon of change is. It’s amazing how something abhorred by an entire generation becomes an innocuous part of life within a few years.

I would like to know who these belly dancers were, which part of the country they come from, what their ethnicity was, whether they belong to the high society or the middle class, their caste, religion and other demographic details. Do all of them have families that consent their choice? Were there among them, some reluctant parents that had to be convinced? Were there run-away-from-home cases? All academic questions. No judgment here.

I am curious to know whom change has affected and to what extent. Are all sections changing uniformly or some sections only? To what extent people have accepted boldness and how and when this change came to happen?
With so much having gained acceptance, what remains forbidden yet?
And… what surprises we will wake up to, 10 years from now…


Anonymous said...

Hope you may have heard of Jenna Jameson, who chose a highly profitable career as a 'performer' on her own will and enjoys prominence as a globally acclaimed celebrity. We are on the threshold of 2011.

The last taboos are just a myth.

சங்கரன் said...

as you said, these activities were once considered as unholy but now the things are turned upside down. It may because of the socio-economic development. When people are starving for money and comfort like our parents did in mid eighties, they called themselves culturally religious or holy and discourage such activities. But once they start gaining wealth, thanks to the IT sector and the Globalization, they have a paradigm shift in their views,which in turn, the changes occur.

ultimately, the money is the deciding factor. If we are rich enough and self sustainable, nothing is wrong.otherwise,we are religious, culturally oriented :) :)

Nik said...

Nice blog!

And liked that observation on generation gap being between different batches of new joinees!

I think it is partly a function of how liberalization & subsequent media exposure(especially internet!) has affected us at different stages of life.

Sowmya said...


I dont think it has to do with economic condition. I know a lot of well to do families that are conservative. Thanks for your comment.


The observation you liked was the one central point of the article.

Thanks for visiting me.

Street Hawk said...

Even in an Indian context, the taboos are just a myth. In the 70's when flower power was prominent, a lot of women from the so-called high society in Mumbai took to the streets. We had people like Protima Bedi, a St.Xavier graduate, who became famous for streaking during the daytime for the launch of the Bollywood magazine, Cineblitz at Juhu Beach in Bombay. We had a Sharmila Tagore who belonged to the rich class do a swimsuit shoot. She is in the Censor board now ;) P.T. Usha from a remote village had to wear shorts if she had to take part in any of the events. Even literary works by women say a different story...So its beyond time, class and culture

And u know, belly dancing was first performed by women for women only. Its origins date as far back as 6,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. The belly dance was performed to celebrate fertility, child-birth and possibly other celebratory occasions as part of the goddess worship rituals of these ancient people...

I guess what I am trying to say is that, its all in the head. Its not a recent trend. There have been Devika Rani's throughout, some are famous, some are not :)