by SHEVETA BHATIA When city-based Lalit Singh decided to learn Bharatanatyam and Kathak at the age of 14, it was no easy decision for the Sikh, who had to battle age-old stigmas. “I was told that it’s a girls’ domain and that it did not pay. Relatives looked down upon me and friends mocked me,” says Singh as he dregs memories from the time he had to fight his way to learn the classical dance form. But stereotypes have never been his thing, actually. Today, Singh, a faculty-member at Mind Tree School, Ambala, is teaching over 150 students and takes private classes in Chandigarh on weekends to teach them a wide range of movements, postures and the balanced melange of the rhythmic and mimetic aspects of the dance form. Call it stereotypical, but a Sikh man is at best associated with Bhangra and not any classical dance form, thanks to the macho image that comes with him. At a time, when male dancers are a rare phenomena and the historical and socio-cultural factors have led to the myth that dance is meant for women, donning ghungroos for Punjabi men is a tough start, with the community attaching the effeminate references with dance. This, when the patron deity of dance is male — the Natraja. 22-year-old Rahul Gupta, a Bharatanatyam dancer, is being sent to Hong Kong to teach classical dance forms by the Haryana government. “While, I have taught in Rome earlier, I will be meeting a new audience this time,” says Gupta, who feels that he has finally found some acceptance in the city. “Though classical dance forms are much appreciated, male dancers still face problems. Surviving in a place like Chandigarh, where the alpha male is rated as per the macho quotient, is difficult,” says Gupta, whose favourite is dancing with matkas and diyas. A regular performer at the Durga Puja celebrations in city, Gupta learnt dance from Kolkata and had family support. “This is an unusual pursuit for a man in our society. My mother insisted on academics, but nourished my artistic potential as well,” tells Gupta, who now is a pro at Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and folk dances like the Bihu, Rajasthani and Haryanavi. But not everybody is as lucky as him. Rinkle Verma, a Class X student of Sanskriti Public School, had to fight his way with parents and family to enroll in an Indian classical dance class. “Dance is a tribute to God but not looked up to when performed by men,” says Verma, who is amongst the select few in the city, who have dared to step in the female domain. “It’s a patriarchal society. Even people prefer to see a pretty woman dance. The organisers of various dance festivals feel that women performers draw more audience,” says Verma. Also, there is the issue of most songs being female-oriented. “But everybody has to realise that dancing is like acting. You are impersonating a character,” says Kunal, a Manav Mangal School student, who is the only one in his batch learning classical dance. “Classical dance connects me to tradition and spirituality. Besides, my mother has always looked up to stalwarts like Pandit Birju Maharaj and wants me to follow them.” says Kunal, who adds that his father is still to come to terms with him learning the dance form. Shobha Koser, Founder member of Pracheen Kala Kendra thinks that the stigma is due to expressions, make-up and some stances, which are feminine in nature. She adds that it gets a little difficult for most men to balance between the macho image that they want to retain in their real life and the grace and charm required on the stage. “Only five per cent of the total classical dance learners are boys. Though there are many prominent male gurus, who specialise in classical dance, there are a select few, who have managed to keep stage and real personality separate yet parallel. One has to understand the importance of the art for the artist,” says Kosar. Gupta agrees as he made it a point to not let his determination fade away under the pressures of society. “Dance for me is a tapasya and I let my work speak for myself,” says Gupta, who is presently teaching at 10 schools in the city and feels that the problems he faced are being shared by his male counterparts and students. City-based Bharatnatayam dancer, Suchitra Mishra, sums it aptly, “We are custodians of this art form. We don’t own it. Society, the government, rasikas and artistes must all take responsibility to preserve this heritage as the male artists in our community are also equally important,” she says.