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Breaking the "Mard" Stereotypes

- Premananda Sahoo (He/Him), Odissi Dancer

I am Premananda Sahoo and I started learning the Odissi Dance under Padmashri Guru Smt. Madhavi Mudgal in the year 2011 at Gandharva Mahaidyalaya. Madhavi Mudgal is the foremost exponent of the Odissi style taught by the Late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and I am one of the direct beneficiaries of this extremely lyrical dance form. I have a degree in Fine Arts from the Delhi College of Arts, New Delhi and I am a recipient of the scholarship instituted by the Sahitya Kala Parishad, Government of Delhi.

And here’s my story. I have always loved to dance ever since my childhood. While I enjoyed my passion to the fullest extent, I recollect how it was never easy being a male dancer in a society that stereotyped dance as a passion only for girls! I was bullied, taunted and ridiculed for this by my classmates in school and in college. 

I was constantly called, Prem Dancing Queen, Mammu, Chamiya, Mitta, Chakka, Homo and whatever else I could possibly be called, and all this only because I was not involved in sports in my school and preferred to dance and paint. I walked on, pretending not to pay attention. At that point, I did not know the meaning of these words, only that they were not polite. I remember the tears stinging my eyes while I tried desperately to hold them back. I also remember trying to get away from the situation, but I could not. I froze.

My parents were two of the most liberal, loving and caring people I know and yet there was something that stopped me from telling them how I was being bullied. It came to such a stage that I almost gave it all up. The bullying was so bad that, one day I walked up to my parents and told them that I did not want to dance anymore. They laughed and questioned my determination and perseverance. Since then, I have not turned back. It was dance that saved me. Losing oneself is the most singular thing that you would experience in life and dance did that to me. I forgot the bullying, the name-calling and how bad it made me feel.

I also had the support of my family and friends who helped me get over the period by calming my anxiety and making me laugh at it all. I made it. I kept dancing, but many others unfortunately don’t.

My experience is sadly similar to what many male dancers endure throughout their training and career: name calling, physical intimidation, cyberbullying and sometimes even death threats.

The second you hear anything demeaning or demoralizing, stop it and talk about it. You have to acknowledge that it is wrong, explain why it is wrong and then move on.

The message is especially effective if teachers in schools support Indian classical dance forms as a part of the curriculum. The dance world should grow in public schools, especially younger grades, to show what both men and women can do in the dance world- any kind of dance.

All dancers who are bullied have something in common- a shared experience that has made them stronger. These experiences help you become a better, more enriched person. A lot of kids who bully also want some kind of essential quality that you have. They want the freedom that you have to do what you love.

Over the past year, I have taken part in various prestigious dance festivals in India and abroad with my Guru. I am trying to break the mard word by wearing dhoti and saree. I hope my story can break the stereotypical mindset.

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