My opinion on Dance Practices in Bangladesh

Dance still a paradox in middle class society in Bangladesh!


December 11, 2012 at 12:57pm

Dance in Bangladesh has many faces. For mass inhabitants, it is just an element of entertainment and raw recreation inspired mostly from sexual instincts & mere fun. Only for true literates & sophisticated group which is not more than 4% of the population, it achieved a bold title as significant part of our art and culture. For middle-income society, dance is a tamed little hidden hobby reared in most house wives’ hearts for their daughters which was in fact, an unfulfilled wish for herself in younger days. As for mainstream youth, both male & female are enthusiastic towards dancing as a tool to pursue or accelerate a potential show biz career. Though enjoyed by all, dance is still a floating medium of art, the most less approved of the cultural platter in terms of infrastructure & utility in Bangladesh.

Now, I am not trying to prove myself a critic of the society or outsell social stigma. This is the truth which I hope many with honest perspective would agree and it is linked with the reason of why I am interested to dance research & documentation. Despite of many dance forms being performed in Bangladesh as like other regions in Asia, it is call of the time that we give importance to excellence & meaningful dance enactments. It is more about focusing on different forms, creating expertise in learning & teaching, developing effective pedagogy & more importantly helping the local market to grow economically. If there is no commercial aspect of Dance as an art in Bangladesh, there wouldn’t be a scope of scalable & sustainable industry full of beautiful performers. Dance, also should be considered as any other formal commerce platform. It is absolutely possible as for the only requirement is proper engagement of passionate & keen artist or in commerce words, human resource from the society which we already have in abundance. These are simple equations which needs to be solved with the help of proper research, documents, papers & initiatives by any or many functional activists among our generation.

There are 3 points I would like to highlight as the main utility factors of Dance to be realized by our generation:

  • Dance, as a form of art needs to be subjectively distinguished within educational institutions. More emphasis needs to be given in its features, history, types, varieties, custom relation, & the most importantly, as a precious heritage beyond territorial borders.
  • Dance, as a form of entertainment medium to communicate morals, messages, love, chaos etc. Dance is a visual feast therefore it can be & should be used for information dissemination.
  • Dance as form of conduit to bridge the gaps between nations, cultures & grace the path of solidarity. It can work as a chemical agent to bond diaspora society in this age of globalization.

Besides, there are many other aspects & dynamics of Dance as a subject of documentation & research. Our country is still a growing ground for aesthetics of Dance as a complete art form and so is the need for getting involved in writing about it.


Fear of Feminism by Naima Nuren Khan

Fear of Feminism by Naima Nuren Khan

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women” – with that definition on board, feminism is often spitted as a theory at many societies. Many people, even with highest intellectual profile take the word as an extremest accreditation. Whereas, Feminism talks about equality and signifies family happiness for all members. 

– However, really loved this article on a very crucial issue which is going on for hundred of years and requesting all to read!

“No person has …

“No person has the right to rain on your dreams.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

That’s something we should never forget. Though while peeking on self respect, we often feel the same as Martin Luther King said. But there are many times that we forget the importance of our dreams for other’s priority – as those others becomes special and important in our lives. No matter what, I have always felt the need of safeguarding our dreams from all, even those are beloved.

A dream not only quenches our thirst of aspiration and ambition but its also a bulk of what we are – our existence. Our career plans, family decisions, educational choices etc are often implanted with peoples choices and social needs, which effects happiness in future. Many people, in their matured life, do not feel hundred percent of the life that they are living. The reason of which they cant even find. They have the love of their life, financial solvency and many other things that they need but still it feels empty. The reason is the dream that never came true for priority changes keeps on craving inside.

Therefore, it is more important to run after what we want rather than what we need. It is about self empowerment above all rules and constitutions.

So lets live for our dreams! Lets live passionately! Happiness will follow!

Dancing “Princess” of the Ganges – a fiction or passion?


A male dancer as Manasa, the Hindu deity in a famous performance called “Manasa Mangal”

Gender & Performing Arts

The concept of performing alternative gender has been a crucial part of the cultural arts all over the world. Women were not allowed to perform openly in the past and therefore men had to portray female characters in public performances. In Bangladesh, similar consequence is seen in a vast traditional canvas for ages till date. The then, male dancers were often titled as “Princess” or by similar terms. Nowadays, despite of female practicing dance, many males across regions has continued the tradition of performing alternative gender as integrated part of their lives. They are the “Princess” of the era.

Performance is not gender dependent. But, the bigger point lies in the internal state of performer’s mind, body & perception. In course of performance, different layers of emotional spaces are created through frequent transition of reality and act. This on and off personality spell transforms a performer beyond gender and liminal boundaries. Is this a part of grammar to enact fiction? Or it stems from passion for the art?

According to Fiona Shaw, the classical actress & theatre director, “Both gender and its experiments along with performance are all merely metaphors for the unknown” [2002]. However, gender and performance are always treated as open ends: concepts to be explored with reference to history, with reference to the critical reactions and roles of spectators, the responses and interpretations of each viewer. Therefore, the feelings of the Princesses come out as their expressions and his bond with viewers defines the gender roles in the performance.

In present times, the credibility of an artist performing alternative gender is being questioned. Thus making it difficult to accept the age-old tradition. The Princess’s passion for his craft or his expertise in becoming the other turns fiction into perceived reality.

ImageHistory across Bengal & belts

From the early stages of cultural practices, presence of women participation along with men is found in evidential history in all forms of art. Especially in dance and music, women as characters and performers are notably seen within ancient tales, stories and plays. The oldest verses written in pre modern Bengali, called Charyapada, a collection of 8th to 12th century Vajrayana Buddhist mystical poems, has several texts proclaiming women performing music or dance with their male companions. In earliest writings of Buddha play, there are texts about Nairatma Devi dancing and singing with her mate Bajracharya Binapada. This proves, how female were assimilated part of cultural activity in many oldest societies of the subcontinent. However, in the late middle ages, female performances were gradually bigoted and turned into a social stigma till early modern era. It was such stringent that women involved into performing arts were seen as disrepute in community. Thus came the need of performing alternative gender in continuing the long practiced cultural activities.

Men used to portray female characters in dance, plays and acts to perform a story socially and professionally. In Bangladesh, similar consequences have prevailed since cultural performances flourished and have been carried traditionally. Bengal being a thriving land for major primitive religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and posterior Islam, has always been eloquence towards cultural practice. Major cultural customs are from folklore, which is either about the emotional experience of people’s livelihood or religious philosophy. From both perspectives, various female centric stories, legends and anecdotes have been the elements of performing arts in this region. Male dancers and actors customarily enacted most of these remarkable female characters of folklore for hundreds of years from now. Therefore, the concept of performing alternative gender has been embodied with fundamental characteristics of innumerable folk performances that it became a primary signifier of a huge part of the cultural dance heritage.

The then, these performers were often called as “Princess” or by similar nuances across range of localities in the towns and villages of Bengal. Nowadays, when women are widely taking part in all forms of cultural presentations, most of the local folk rituals and acts are only played by men as a crucial representation of the tradition. These male dancers are the Princess of this era and their performance factors, perspective of the ever-changing society and traditional experience is the focus of understanding tradition across Bengal & its belts. .


“Manasa Mangal” a famous Hindu tale is being performed in the village community

Performance is a creation of different spaces and experiences than reality. It is a fiction itself. Any performance is about presenting a form of man made thought. Which makes it an independent presentation structure. Therefore, it can be said, performance is not gender conditional. But in case of performing alternative gender, performance within a performance is created which gives a greater magnitude to perceive. Particularly when it is about the male performers of Bangladesh representing national folk tradition.

Firstly, it is very important to understand the reason and relevance of performing alternative gender in current social scenario to draw deeper insights into the performers mind. Traditional folk rituals like Gajir Jatra, Manasa Mangal, Kushan Jatra, Madan Pirer Gan, Pala Gan, Ghetu Nach etc are widely performed with Princesses across the nation within local communities. These are either unique ceremonials or part of a profound traditional ceremony in Bengal with huge community participation as viewers or performers. Generally, these male performers are normal men from the local neighborhood with family and village profession. They belong to the community as a typical man like others with similar prestige of patriarchy. But the interesting point is, that they learn and play female characters for beholding the tradition as the principal identity of these performances. There is many other secondary reasoning of performing alternative gender, which leads to comprehensive understanding of local heritage and the performer’s school of thoughts.

While performing as a woman, a man is not just playing a character but implementing a continuous bipolar experience for him and the audience. Playing a completely different gender within a story must be more than just stepping into a character shoe for a performer. In the process of transformation, he has to first step in an opposite zone of genital identity and then on the characteristics of the role in the story. While performing, continuous transition within layers of spaces occurs while presenting the personalities, emotions & physiognomies of the role. In many cases, like Pala Gan, a single performer plays all the characters of a play epitomizing male, female, neuters etc. The relation of a male performer as Princess with the audience is the main substance of the act and in many cases the distinctiveness of the act itself. Therefore, to understand the emotional experience and prerequisites of such performance which is beyond grammar and structure is a mystery for many.


Arif, personally a stout male, mechanic by profession, is playing the role of Manasa in the famous play “Mansa Mangal”, a Hindu tale.

In Bangladesh, different prejudice and agenda has been developed around cultural practices among clusters of society. Commencing from the thoughts of women forbidden to dance, nowadays, men dancing as women are also seen as a social disgrace by many point of views. Some even relates it directly to queer society practice or acts from racist perception. As the credibility of an alternative gender performer has only succeeded within the traditional folk performances across rural localities, the gaze of such presentation in urban cultural practice has been somewhat alienated. Many mainstream platforms are reluctant to recognize performing alternative gender as an able competency whereas these princesses are the icons of our national cultural identity and a standard for accomplished folk performers internationally.

The alternative gender performance style is not only saving the tradition but also preserving a healthy environment for community cultural practice in pastoral society. It is helping people to enjoy the pure essence of creativity and be attentive to the story and characters rather than performers practical sexual attraction. The reality of a fake sexual portrayal is actually upholding audience from diverting their mind from pure artistic affection into mere physical attractions. It is also safeguarding the matter of public viewing with a community audience of all ages.

The ownership within regional communities will outgrow if conventional practitioners and mainstream veterans do not understand this performance style with its dimensions. This might cause a great loss of cultural treasure in future and result in deplorable representation of the ever-rich tradition of the subcontinent.

In ancient Greek theatre men played females, as they did in English Renaissance theatre and continue to do in Japanese Kabuki theatre. Now a day when cross-gender performances are being highly acclaimed and are counted as highest skill parameter for performers around the world, Bangladesh should take equal part in sharing the platform with the homegrown Princesses.

ImagePerspective Worldwide

Critic Walter Terry noted an evolution in American dance that has required choreographers and dancers to go below the surface attraction of the human body in movement and probe the meanings of movements. “It follows that audiences are going to have to look beyond the outer layers of dance action if they are to savor, to the fullest, the inherent richness of dance itself” (1982,82)

ImageWhile talking about signs of identity, dominance defiance and desire in Dance, Sex and Gender, Judith Lynne Hanna signifies, “Even the denial of sexuality through, for example, costume, which hides sexual identity, may paradoxically make the spectator contemplate the essence of that which is absent. Dance can be understood as a medium through which choreographers/directors/producers interpret, legitimate, reproduce, and challenge gender and associated patterns of cooperation and conflict that order their social world.”(1988, 23)

Anne Herrmann, Assistant professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan says, the three plays I have chosen for comparison, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Bertolt Brecht’s The God Woman of Setzuan, and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, use transvestism as a dramatic device to figure historicized form of social transgression. Such transgression never takes the form of travesty itself; that is cross-dressing as such is not coded as violation. Rather the vacillation between masculine and feminine serves as a metaphor for a particular social contradiction, the struggle between the natural and the unnatural, the good and the bad, sexuality as sinful and as political. In its historicized context, the conflict takes the form of two competing social formations: in Shakespeare the court and the forest, in Brecht socialism and capitalism, in Churchill hetero and homosexuality. (1989, 134)

References: ‪

Dance, Sex, and Gender: Signs of Identity, Dominance, Defiance, and Desire by Judith Lynne Hanna, The University of Chicago Press, 1989

Travesty and Transgression: Transvestism in Shakespeare, Brecht, and Churchill by Anne Herrmann, The John Hopkins University Press, 1989