By Mandeep Raikhy
With dance, one is mostly able to make choices around what form to learn, from whom and how long for and so on. The choices and the choice-making mechanisms are a lot more apparent in the case of dance. Gender training, on the other hand, is something one acquires without actually realizing it. We receive it not just from a teacher, but from all kinds of sources - including parents, relatives, peers, teachers, television, mythology, news, books, music, films and so on. Gender training is a complex system that begins very early on; everyone you meet is almost always your teacher and you begin to perform it as soon as you learn to walk and talk.
As a team of seven dancers, we began to set up a study of masculinity on the interstices of dance, gender and performance. Right at the onset, my intention as a choreographer was to find ways in which I could make visible the nuts and bolts of the gender training we all had inadvertently received. Since dance and gender have much in common, especially since they both rely on complex training systems that prepare the body to perform, dance became a lens through which to study masculinity in this work. Could masculinity, when seen through and as dance, always remain in-movement; perennially in the process of being constructed and demolished? Several questions emerged through this process of working with the body while making and performing a male ant has straight antennae.
How do we address the ideas of masculinity that reside in the real moment of contact between people? How does gender play itself out on the surface of the skin? When we shake hand with another, for instance, are we performing our masculinity in that moment of contact? Further, what kind of touch puts our acquired notions of masculinity under threat? When I touch someone softly, with gentleness and care, do I experience an inner confrontation with my masculinity? Also, do I put my performance of masculinity to rest in moments when I am not being watched?
* Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Roudedge.
Mandeep is a dance practitioner with a particular interest in exploring the intersections between dance creation, performance, research, and pedagogy. He began studying jazz at age 19 at the Danceworx, New Delhi, and his subsequent interest in contemporary dance took him to London where he completed a BA (Hons) in Dance Theatre at Laban. He toured with Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, London between 2005 and 2009. Mandeep has created several dance works, notably Inhabited Geometry (2010), a male ant has straight antennae (2013), and Queen-size (2016). These works have travelled across the country and internationally over the years including Kampnagel, South Bank Centre, and Singapore International Arts Festival.
Since 2009, Mandeep is Managing Director at Gati Dance Forum, where he has worked to develop a supportive environment for contemporary dance in the country through projects as diverse as residencies, festivals, publications, and advocacy initiatives. He is currently teaching as an assistant professor at the MA Performance Practice (Dance) at Ambedkar University, Delhi. This practice-based Masters programme in dance is the first of its kind in South Asia.