The Problematic Danseuse: Reclaiming Space to Dance the Lived Feminine

Nirmala Seshadri

Paper published in (2017) Diotima’s: A Journal of New Readings, Kozhikode, Kerala: Providence Women’s College, 54-79


Classical dance training and its performance may be viewed as a jettisoning of the dancer’s real life experience instead of its inclusion. Rather than move in autonomy and authenticity, the dancer’s body is disciplined into presenting itself within prescribed boundaries. Various societal forces collude to discipline the female dancer into conformity. Against this backdrop, I call the female Bharatanatyam dancer who defies societal yardsticks of acceptability, resisting disciplinarity to present her lived feminine - The Problematic Danseuse.In this practice-led research paper I examine, through the lenses of history, performance aesthetics and presentation, the approaches towards and challenges of representing the lived feminine through Bharatanatyam.

Even as continued transgression may result in the marginalization and eventual erasure of the Problematic Danseuse, I emphasize that this act of erasing the Problematic Danseuse who does not fit conveniently into the mainstream agenda is after all, embedded in the history and emergence of the transfigured Bharatanatyam. Highlighting the various hegemonic forces that conspire to suppress the Problematic Danseuse in various ways, I propose that creators of alternative works in Bharatanatyam acknowledge that they occupy a different space, thus presenting their work in settings that facilitate the gradual building of viewership and a critical mass that seeks engagement, challenge and societal transformation.

I suggest that in the treatment and resistance of the Problematic Danseuse lie the basis for some form of solidarity with other women who have expressed their lived feminine emphatically, in time past and present that might support her persistence in critiquing status quo and searching for alternate paradigms both within Bharatanatyam and in its wider sociocultural context. 


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