Expressionof Patriarchy through Dance

Patriarchyis a clearly defined system of institutionalized power or authorityand a practice that cannot be delineated from the structure andculture of Indian society. Nonetheless, all historical societies andindustrialized states observable in the documented in the past andcontemporary depicts some varying degrees of patriarchy. This ideamakes patriarchy the most revered system of institutionalized powerin the world (Purkayastha, 189). For instance, sociologists hold thatthe family in the context of the Indian society is dominated by male(Purkayastha, 190).

Theman is viewed as the head of the family and he enjoys a type ofunquestionable power over his family including children and the wife(Nirmala, 2). Given that the man is the head of the institution offamily, he hardly grants freedom to other members of the family,particularly to the women. In addition to that, man is more powerfulthan other family members. Hence, the most important aspects of lifeare done in accordance to his preferences. Nonetheless, there aremyriad events through which patriarchy can be mirrored in society.This paper attempts to portray the plight of women under the powerand oppression of patriarchy and gender insensitivity in the certaincostumes and movements depicted in “Marjani Indian Dance 2011.”

In“Marjani Indian Dance 2011” the concept of male dominance(patriarchy) is expressed in a number of ways. To begin with, theframe of reference of the concept of “patriarchy” exhibits thefollowing notions: limited or lack of choice, the absence of equalopportunity, coupled with the domination and subjugation of one partof the society over another (Ramphal, 248). The consequence of thisstate of affairs is a state of submissiveness that has penetrateddeep into the psyche of one segment of the society: the women.However, the expression of patriarchy is not necessarilymale-perpetrated for even typical women often find themselvesupholding patriarchy for various reasons. Therefore, patriarchy is acomplex institutionalized form of power.

Themost significant expression of patriarchy in “Marjani Indian Dance2011” is exhibited in the objectification of the female dancer forthe entertainment and pleasure of men. Sculptural and literarydocumentation reveal that dances that are associated withBharatanatyam style, which is basically credited to Natya Shastra,were originally performed in temple throughout India (Ramphal, 250).The history of Bharatanatyam itself points in this direction. In theDevadasi system, women performed Bharatanatyam dance in temples,primarily to praise a male god, and later extended to another male ofthe society (Nirmala, 2). In fact, the dancing doll is the picturethat crosses one’s mind when this dance is performed.

Furthermore,the audience was not only dominated by male viewers, but alsocomprised teachers, organizers, and choreographers who were also men.As a consequent, the dance became categorically suited to meet themale sexual gaze. For example, the costumes the dancers wear areuseful evidence to support this argument. In particular, the dancers,which are exclusively women, wear costumes that accentuate the most“important” parts of their body that are expected to catch theattention of the audience.

Moreover,some parts of the dancers’ bodies are barely covered because theirspecific design is meant to serve that purpose. The idea of costumesreflects the limited or lack of choice that often characterizepatriarchy (Nirmala, 1). Despite the fact that Bharatanatyam dancecan be performed in the type of attire, this activity has becomeaccustomed to particular costumes that tend to leave some parts ofthe female body exposed. Typical dancers who might have a passionhaving no choice other than putting on such costumes to enable themperform the dance. In fact, attempts to introduce other types ofcostumes that conflict with the traditional dominant ones stands ahigher chance of facing criticism (Nirmala, 2).

Inaddition to that, the well-organized positions and steps the danceris anticipated to make, coupled with the stances she takes throughthe audiences and the speed at which she follows to the rhythm of theloud banging of the mridangam suggest the male influence over thisrevered tradition (Nirmala, 3). Also, the various themes expressed inthe dance echo male sexual desires. The glances are steady,suggestive and straight into the eyes of the viewer a tactic thathelp the dancers nab the aspects of the other opposite gender. Eroticartists such as poets and authors often describe explicitly sexualacts in the attempt to capture the emotions and feelings of thereaders, a literary strategy that make readers feel like they are inthe experience (Nirmala, 2). For instance, male characters in thepoems and novels would have been granted the whole freedom to expresstheir sexual fantasies.

Onthe contrary, Bharatanatyam dancers are strictly directed how todance and instructed to adhere to the “set” boundaries. Thereexists an imaginary line that if Bharatanatyam dancers happen tocross result in serious consequences for the female dancer (Nirmala,2). This point illustrates the subjugation of women in the Indiansociety which stretched even to forms of entertainment. The pointimplies that the development of Bharatanatyam dance was specificallydesigned to limit women’s choice of entertainment.

Anothersignificant factor that depicts expression of patriarchy in “MarjaniIndian Dance 2011” is the physical appearance of the femaledancers. For instance, all the dancers have long well-maintainedhair. In the classical Indian culture, it was perceived sacrilegiousfor a woman to trim or cut her hair short. There were specialcircumstances under which Indian women were allowed to maintain shorthair. For example, a woman’s hair would only come into contact withscissors only when she was a widow, during which she would trim herhair bald (Nirmala, 3). Women hair was deemed the property of a man.Thus I would take only a courageous woman to shave her hair short(Nirmala, 3). In reference to “Marjani Indian Dance 2011,” theBharatanatyam dancers seem to perpetrator patriarchy because all ofthem have well-maintained long hair. Although many years have passed,these ladies are still continued to demonstrate the impression oflong hair. Consequently, they still consider long hair as an integralpart of Bharatanatyam just as in their personal life.

Moreover,In terms of the music featured in the dance accompanies, it actuallyadhere to the traditional pattern that characterizes classicalBharatanatyam dance. Music is a critical accompaniment to any form ofdance (Ramphal, 255). In fact, it is through music that the dancercan navigate the right steps, positions, movements, as well asstances. Thus, the music enhances the expression of patriarchy as itprovides the rhythm through which the dancer portray the themes ofthe activity.

Anotherimportant theme that recurs in the video involves enhancingdependence on the male for security (especially emotional security).The traditional notion of women clinging on men for emotional andother types of security can be depicted in some of the stances andmovements the dancers make on the stage. For instance, theBharatanatyam dancers stretch their hand long and wide as if reachingout for something, just as in the traditional woman reaching out tothe male savior especially in the incidences of a crisis and theessential stress granted to him as the central focus of love andsecurity.

EveryBharatanatyam dancer in the India society, and possibly other partsof the world, today, was raised in patriarchy and thus performs inone. Every personal movement and positions she makes in the course ofdancing, coupled with every stance and image she displays, reveals anarchetypal system, an orientation, and a perspective developed withher particular patriarchy. The distinct values and norms of thedancers’ societal background alongside the dynamics of patriarchalcultural systems have bone a profound impact on their dance. Giventhe fact that people, including the Bharatanatyam dancers in thisvideo, grew up in a male-dominated setting, they consider as naturaland internalize the values and norms that exist in their socialenvironments as natural as well.

Therefore,it is worth noting that “Marjani Indian Dance 2011” was areflection of their desire or choice to make the activity and otheraspects of their dance personal. Furthermore, this dance denied themthe freedom to dance to the kind of music they choose and toincorporate unique movements and positions that would be a concept asopposed to norm driven. Moreover, the dance call for long hairaccompanied by jewelry and traditional costumes, another idea thatexpresses male domination in this particular society.


DANCE,CHALLENGING PATRIARCHY THROUGH, and NIRMALA SESHADRI. &quotChoreographerand Artistic Director of N Dance &amp Yoga.&quot (2011).

MarjaniIndian Dance 2011. Accessed from:

Purkayastha,Prarthana. &quotSubversive bodies: Feminism and New Dance in India.&quotStudiesin South Asian Film &amp Media4.2 (2012): 189-199.

Ramphal,Veena. &quotRe-invoking Rukmini Devi: Questions from a Dance Makerin Britain.&quot RukminiDevi: A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and the Performing Arts(2005): 247-258.