Breaking myths around belly dancing

In Lieu of Flowers is designed and set in a non-traditional narrative along with nuances from kathak and contemporary dance
The Nrityakosh Company
The Nrityakosh Company

As four dancers explore their memories of grief, its manifestation in our physical being and the form it takes inside us, one is sure to be engulfed in the poignant concoction of pain, presence and where it can take us. Fifty minutes of this piece will leave you pondering over what makes us – us.

In Lieu of Flowers is a 50-minute piece, choreographed by Debapriya Das and performed by The Nrityakosh Company. Debapriya is the founder and director of Nrityakosh & The Nrityakosh Company – a Bengaluru based dance institute specialising in middle eastern traditional and classical dances and fusion belly dance.

Performing in Budapest
Performing in Budapest

The piece is based on a poem In Lieu of Flowers by Shawna Lemay. It was first presented in May 2023 at the 14th Cairo! Budapest Festival, Budapest - one of the premier oriental dance festivals in the world. The Nrityakosh Company had presented a short 10-minute excerpt at the 2023 festival. The composition is designed and set in a non-traditional and modern narrative using traditional Middle Eastern dance vocabulary along with nuances from kathak and contemporary dance.

The Nrityakosh Company
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Debapriya Das
Debapriya Das

“As belly dancers, our main mission is to engage with the community through our state-of-the-art productions and present belly dance to the contemporary Indian audience in a manner they can relate to without changing the spirit of the dance and culture,” says Debapriya, who will be performing In Lieu of Flowers, a thematic belly dance production, along with Dinesh Digal, Madhu Rao and Sanjana Shankar. The choreography is set to Arabic classical to modern compositions by Late Hossam Ramzy, Simon Shaheen, and Le trio Joubran, to name a few.

Talking about how belly dancing as an art form has grown, is perceived and received, Debapriya tells us, “Belly dance as an art form has grown tremendously in India. As a dance form, it is widely accepted by individuals of all genders to express themselves and feel a sense of empowerment and security. A lot of this popularity could be attributed to how pop culture interprets and represents the dance form. However, as a cultural, traditional and a classical dance form, it is yet to find its place among the art patrons and art enthusiasts in India,” she says, adding, “I would say the popular culture representation of belly dance still prevails among the majority - a dance style which is popular more for the sexual aspect and the commodification of the female body. Belly dance being a highly complex dance culture which finds its roots in traditional and folk styles from north Africa and Middle East is still in its nascent stages in India in terms of representation among the Indian classical dances and contemporary dance. Nevertheless, as a belly dance company being able to present a full-length production in Chennai is also representative of the fact that the Indian art space is changing and more accepting towards esoteric and nuanced dance styles like belly dance.”

The Nrityakosh Company
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What are some of the misconceptions about belly dancing, we ask, and Debapriya is quick to reply, “There are many! But here are my top ones! Belly dance is for women and practiced by women: This is factually wrong. Belly dance as a cultural, traditional, folk and classical dance style is practiced by men and women across north African and Middle Eastern countries. However, belly dance and its association with women and women’s bodies have become so popular that men practising it seems alien and therefore yes, it is frowned upon in India. But I would like to extend this to all dance styles, men taking up dancing is frowned upon.”

She adds, “Do I see this changing – men doing belly dance in India? Absolutely yes! For our show in Chennai – In Lieu of Flowers, one of the performers is a man, Dinesh Digal. He is also an instructor with our school Nrityakosh and has taken several belly dance workshops as a company member.”

Another misconception, Debapriya says, is that belly dance will help you lose weight and give a flat stomach. “The dance form has nothing to do with weight loss. Yes, just like other dances it involves high intensity movements which definitely helps in the overall fitness; however, it is not a fitness regimen.”

Tickets at Rs 499.

June 21, 7 pm & 9 pm.

At Medai – The Stage, Alwarpet.

Email: rupam@newindianexpress.com

X: @rupsjain

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