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‘Dance is genderless’

Published : Aug 3, 2017, 12:32 am IST
Updated : Aug 3, 2017, 12:32 am IST

With an aim to defy all preconceived norms about men in classical dance, this artist is all pumped up for his upcoming performance.

Thomas Vo Van Tao
 Thomas Vo Van Tao

The conventional idea about Indian classical dance is women beautifully draped in the authentic costume of the dance form, swaying and flowing to the music. However, the gurus of this dance form in the past were male, and now it is a rarity to find male classical dancers. It is to defy these very preconceived notions, Thomas Vo Van Tao has embarked upon the journey of Mohiniyattam and is set to woo audiences with his graceful take on the art form.

“It is a misconception that classical dance is meant only for women and is effeminate. Indian classical dance is suitable not only for the female body, but for everyone,” says the 30-year-old dancer from France. Born to a Vietnamese father and French mother, Van Tao has been a dancer since the age of 12. “I come from an Asian background and all it took was seeing a performance once on TV. My very first plunge into dance was with Bharatnatyam, under  Manochhaya. It was only after turning 24 that I took up Mohiniyattam too, under  Kalamandalam Hymavathi.”

A performance by ThomasA performance by Thomas

From trying to establish his peers’ intrigue in mainstream Indian classical dance, to trying to make a statement about male dancers being an equally legitimate section of the art form — Thomas’ journey has been full of trips and travels, brimming him with enriching experiences. “I initially performed at Delhi and later after moving to Chennai, under the guidance of my current guru, Dr Neena Prasad, I’ve been able to perform there too. Today, when Indian classical dance seems headlined by women, it feels great to be a part of such an initiative,” enthuses the dancer who moved to India four years ago.

From short little trips to inculcate the quintessential nuances of Indian classical art forms, to falling in love with a country, enough to permanently settle here – Thomas’ last 10 years were mostly made up of trying to establish the need for a passion, more than acclaim. 

“From what I have observed, at my level, there is a standardisation of the dance forms because of popular dance schools and institutions which require that every student learn the same thing the same way,” he relays. When not moving the audience with his graceful postures, Thomas likes to invest his time teaching French. He also has a penchant for textiles and jewellery. “If dance wasn’t on the cards, I would travel the world selecting the finest textiles for fashion designers around the globe. I also like the idea of having my own art café where I could promote artists and host exhibition and dance programs,” he adds.

Indian classical dance might seem like an all-woman’s world to the layman’s eyes, but Thomas opines that it is time for a shift in this attitude. He signs off saying, “People think it is hard for a male dancer to perform since most of the songs are female oriented, but dance is just about abhinaya. Dance is genderless.”

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