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This story of a sisterhood of women in Kerala who dance together while creating beautiful friendships, will certainly inspire you!
When Sitara Balakrishnan, a celebrated classical danseuse from South Kerala decided to start a performing arts training centre, little did she know how the centre will turn out to be after ten years. Her school had young dancers, girls learning the basics, some with the passion to pursue it further as a future career option.
It was much later that she found a few friends, older women, some employed and some housewives. These women expressed their desire to learn the art.
“Some of them had learnt dance in their school days, but had given it up later. Now they were married, some with kids, and felt the urge to return to the art form that had once been an integral part of their lives. I was glad, of course. But apprehensive too. Will they continue or will they just lose interest after some time?” she says.
“It turned out to be the best decision that had been made about the school. They joined and started practicing. Soon I had a few mothers of kids who were already students asking me if they could join too. More mothers, more young and middle-aged women joined. Now I have a centre which has several women, most of them pursuing busy vocations, practicing and performing Mohiniyattom and Bharatanatyam,” she proudly says.
They have been performing at various venues, finding time amidst their hectic schedules to connect with one another as a community that is creative, artistic and vibrant. And Sitara’s Performing Arts is not the only dance school in Kerala that has these groups of dancers actively evolving a part of Kerala’s cultural scenario.
These dancers are not just groups of women following their passions despite the busy schedule of living their regular lives as career women, wives, mothers, daughters and whatnot. They are also tight-knit sisterhood groups that share a camaraderie and enjoy the company of one another.
These small groups of women have emerged as sisterhood groups. They have a strong bond that binds them together. These women offer support and strength, they open up possibilities to build a community that offers solidarity to one another.
“After my college life, this is where I have found myself to be the most comfortable. My friends here are just like me, their love for dance and their willingness to spare time for this art is something that connects me with them. It was so easy to just bond. We practice together and we have WhatsApp groups where we discuss our lives. And of course, we go out to have fun and eat out sometimes. We often meet at homes as well. I have found this group to have made me feel a lot more powerful and competent as a person, as a woman,” Sangeeta, one of the dancers, who is also a college teacher gushes with enthusiasm.
Sisterhood groups have never been romanticised like the fraternity groups in India. The bro-code and the feelings of fraternity shared by men have found artistic expressions in various media, yet the sisterhood bonds have remained in the margins.
In visual cultural practices, they were not foregrounded, except in the context of campuses or schools or may be within prisons. Films like Tikly and Laxmi Bomb (2018), Parched (2016) and Lipstick under my Burqa (2017) employed the concept to empower womanhood. Yet these films are few and far between.
The politics of these formations may not be always strikingly evident, but as expressions of solidarity and shared concerns they remain politically vibrant (Bell hHooks). Far from the stereotypes of cat fights and perceived hostilities between women, sisterhood emerges as a significant concept that strengthens feminist sensibilities.
The dancing women of Kerala mostly belong to the urban middle class and occupy a certain socio-political and economic identity. Yet their bond is a significant development in the social environment. It offers newer insights into the possibilities of women empowerment.
Social activists ought to look closer at the dynamics of these sisterhoods and identify and emulate these patterns for feminist causes in India. These sisterhood relationships have within them, immense potential to emerge as strong centres of power that can challenge the hegemonic structures of patriarchy.
Picture credits: YouTube
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