Artists, Art and Gender Stereotypes

Courtesy- Instagram: Ranodip Poddar @ranodip_bibindassdance

By Maitri Shah

“There is no must in art because art is free.” – Wassily Kandinsky

Art and Artists have had a dynamic evolution breaking out of gender norms, regardless of geographical location. Though gender stereotypes still exist, some artists are shattering gender expectations.

Ranodip Poddar is a 17-year-old classical dancer from India, who shares his art through social media. However, his journey hasn’t been easy.

The genre of dance, he performs – classical dancing is usually associated with female dancers as the dance involves hand gestures and expressions, generally perceived as feminine. Classical dancing, however, is more of an umbrella term, involving different dance genres, such as Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Sattriya, Mohiniyattam and Manipuri. All these are types of dances in different states of India. The dances when performed, tell a story through facial expressions, complex hand gestures, make-up, and, of course, dance.

Courtesy: Indian Eagle

Poddar has been dancing since he was seven years old, but because of his love for classical dancing, he was often bullied at school. “People at school did not talk to me. They would ask me, are you gay? Why do you wear make-up? You look like a girl.” Poddar says that because he has been dancing for a long time, his dancing reflects in his everyday routine. “I love to wear make-up, and I also talk with hand gestures, but [because] I talk with my hands and wear make-up, do they [people] have a right to bully me?”

Courtesy: Ranodip Poddar. Instagram: @ranodip_bindassdance

India has a rich history of art and artists. They were performing music and dance even in 5000-6000 BC; the word “Nritya”, which means dance, was mentioned numerous times in the ancient Indian “Vedas,” [ancient scriptures] as per the Institute for Indian Music and Research Centre.

However, Poddar says that his relatives hurled ‘hurtful’ comments at him, but that didn’t faze him as “my parents are the reason that keeps me going; they supported me since day one.” He says that he has learned that people are going to take offence no matter what he does. “It used to bother me, and sometimes it still does, but they [comments] are mostly background noise [now].”

Poddar continues to dance and explore different styles of dancing, “nowadays, I’m doing more of a western style of dancing. I really enjoy it too.” When asked about what he would say to an aspiring male dancer, he said, “Keep going; the journey is not easy, but just dance; it [dance] does not need to be for a specific gender. Let’s break the stereotypes.”

But, ancient Indian culture didn’t discriminate against anyone for pursuing their art, and male dancers easily took on the role of a female character to perform. So, what when wrong?

Some might say colonization, as India pre-colonization, was a largely matriarchal society. However, during and after British rule, women dancers, who were called “devadasis,” generally women of lower castes, were used for sexual favours. From then, Indian society had a dramatic transition of households becoming more patriarchal.

“…patriarchal society would never be willing to see a man doing such dance styles which were performed by women from lower caste communities to entertain patrons and satisfy their different needs. In a society that continues to be highly heteronormative, men who chose classical dances as a profession were seen as a disgrace in some parts of society,” says Feminisim in India. 

Courtesy: Canadian Museum of History
To learn more about Ranodip Poddar’s story, you can listen to the podcast down below:

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