I Loved To Dance Until Patriarchy Clamped Down My Feet Forever

dancing girl stereotype

I loved to dance. From being the centre of attraction in the family get-togethers to the front-line dancer in Shiamak Dawar’s dance events, tapping my foot to catchy beats always seemed to be my call. But, the love for dancing took a backseat when I and my mother were shamed for it.

I feel I borrowed my interest in dancing from my mother. She always wanted to learn dancing but her parents did not allow her. And later, she lived her interest vicariously by sending me to dance classes. Even then, her love for dancing continued to be the heart of all the family functions until the day when in one such function, my father called her a prostitute for dancing with other men. He was so angry at her that he left her at the party and took me and my siblings back home. That was the first time when fear for dancing in public entered my conscience. And it completely overpowered me when my hostel warden shamed me for wearing a “provocative dress” in my dance performance and said that I am maligning my reputation by dancing in vulgar clothes.

Now that dancing is nothing more than a forgotten dream for me, I wonder why I was forced to quit. Definitely, the way my mother was treated when she exercised her freedom to dance the way she wants, created a hollow in my heart. Although my father never directly stopped me from dancing, after that day I realised that I can dance but only within limits. Did my mother deserve to be treated like that? Was it her fault if she wanted to dance with or without men? Is her freedom to dance restricted to a closed room where there is no one watching? I agree there is a grave possibility that while dancing, my mother or any woman, are seen as an “easy” target for men to harass them. But does it justify my father’s behaviour and the restrictions imposed on women to stop dancing?

The major reason behind considering dancing as blasphemous for women is the idea that the art of dance is correlated with Tawaifs or prostitutes, who are considered to have no respect and reputation in society (that assumption itself is absurd.)

Moreover, dancing provides an access to public space or at least a way to express themselves. But a woman of an apparently good family is the manifestation of the family’s reputation. If she dances like a tawaif, in public space and on a song that expresses her desires, she is automatically shunned as a stain on the family’s name and fame.

But here it is important to also understand the hypocrisy and double standards that society has internalised regarding women or men who dance. Dancing is seen as degrading if women perform it but it is revered as a sacred means of expressing happiness, anger, sexuality and sadness when Gods and Goddesses perform it. This clearly shows how society controls a woman’s freedom to do what they want, whether it is dancing or seeking equal respect.

Dear society, it is high time that you let go of these and stop dictating women on what is right and wrong for them. Firstly, there is no shame in being a prostitute, if it involves an informed choice. And secondly, dancing has nothing to do with shame, embarrassment or vulgarity. It is an art which has several frames and forms. Today, certainly, there are many women embracing their love for dance or any other art that kindles a flame that cannot be smothered. But there are also others whose feet have been clamped down and doors shut forever. Although I could not breakdown my barriers, I feel responsible to help other women overcome these stereotypes. Now my sister is developing an interest in dancing. Being a medical student, her dance often irks my parents who feel that the money they have invested in her education is going into waste. But I make sure to leave no stone unturned in encouraging her to pursue the love for dance. Because, women are free to tap their feet, express themselves and yet deserve respect, dignity and equality in society.