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My Dance in JNU, with JNU and for JNU: A History of Dance in JNU

By Tintumol Joseph

“But, she is only a dancer!” was one of the counter-campaigns that spread in JNU campus in the GSCASH (Gender Sensitization and Committee Against Sexual Harassment) elections of 2013, when my candidature as GSCASH representative was announced. But the same association with this art form, along with a strong political will, helped me to secure 667 votes even though I contested the elections with the support of a party which had only 40 activists then. My JNU days would not have been the same had I not been engaging in this beautiful performing art. It has given me an identity and respect, love and appreciation and, most of all, great experiences.

If the word ‘dancer’ means to be a professional dancer or to belong to a gharana or being under the tutelage of a legendary dancer or the membership of a dance school, then I am not one as I am none of these. But if an individual who has great love for this performing art and has a heart that goes swinging with music can be called a dancer, well then, yes! I am a DANCER.  With as little as three years of classical training very early in my childhood, either it is the passion or it is the power of dance itself that has allowed me enjoy the unconditional love and support the JNU campus has given me in the past five years.

Onam 2011, a regional festival organized by the students belonging to Kerala, was the first stage for me in JNU. I was only two months old in the campus then. Till date, I have been part of more than 100 cultural events in JNU. Conventions, International conferences, Seminars History Congress, Departmental seminars, Regional fests like Onam, Ugaadi, Poila Baisakh, Tamil Maalai, Rajasthani Night, North-East night, International Food Festival, Indian National Cartographic Association Congress, Garbha Dandiya nights, cultural nights of different hostels, departmental fests, Freshers’ parties, valedictory functions, cultural club programs, flash mobs, Baisakhi  and so on are venues for us dancers, musicians and other artists in JNU to explore our talents.

Dance in JNU is mostly a personal affair. It is personal because it is a totally voluntary choice. In an atmosphere of research, academic brainstorming, serious political debates, public meetings, protest marches, street plays, parcha (pamphlet)-poster culture, there is little scope for a dancer to create a niche. But I can rightfully say that in the midst of all the serious interventions, political and social, that JNU prides itself in, there is a small group of dancers who are actively involving themselves in creative endeavors in a humble way, though not on a large scale. And the reason for not indulging in daring productions and breakthrough performances outside campus is only due to constraints of time, resources and finance.

In 2014, JNU administration recognized JNU Dance Club as an official cultural club by merging it with the existing JNU Music Club and renaming it as JNU Music and Dance Club. This journey has been interesting. Dr. Vipin Kumar, who was an M. Tech. student from the SC &SS (School of Computer Science and System Sciences), organised a workshop titled, ‘Imbibe Your Dance Soul’, in Mahi-Mandavi Hostel, owing to public demand on 11 January, 2011. I was also one of the 154 students enrolled in the workshop which lasted for a month in the TV room of Mahi-Mandvi Hostel, a testimony to the patronage we have been receiving from hostel wardens and faculty members. The workshop was a grand success and, when followed up the next year, it had more than 180 students. We had to close the registration due to limitations of space and time. This time I was involved in the capacity of an instructor.

We grew slowly and steadily as a group of more than 350 students and together demanded the status of a cultural club in JNU to avail the financial and organizational advantages associated with the status. We have rehearsed in hostel mess, terraces, open air spaces, patio of the Convention Center, lawns and were even chased by security guards for not getting permission letters from authorities. One of our dancers, Shibin Xavier, suffered an injury on his forehead during one of our rehearsals due to the lack of a proper venue with good flooring! Today, as a JNU Dance Club, we enjoy overwhelming support from the student community and faculty. Apart from the political leaders and activists, cultural activists are also given equal respect in JNU.

When I talk about the unconditional support from the JNU community, it seems like a heaven for performers, and yet it is shameful and unfortunate that GSCASH and student organizations have to bring out notices just before the advent of the hostel nights and cultural nights imploring the student community to maintain a healthy environment for cultural events and to refrain from passing lewd comments, excessive hooting and offensive behavior. The JNU campus, which is regarded to be gender sensitive, progressive and inclusive under normal conditions, becomes a deviant zone on such occasions. I still remember the look of terror on the face of ‘a partner in arms’ on stage during a cultural night performance, when a guy stood up in the middle of the crowd and did the famous pose of Jaden Smith in Karate Kid where he imitates the movement of a snake! But we still continue to dance our way out of all this and still manage to win some hearts on stage.

On the other hand, there are talks about the futility of this creative art form and how it is neither ‘intellectual’ nor ‘productive’ enough in a research atmosphere. To such arguments, we can only say it is a creative experience which is highly gratifying and perhaps the most joyous one too.  For the sheer pleasure of body, mind and soul that I experience every time I dance and the narcissistic pleasure derived out of a public performance, I still cannot think of not going back on stage to dance. Engulfed by the ‘sedition’ tsunami, JNU still dances on cultural nights, hostel nights and, most of all, is still dancing to the ‘azadi’ slogans and will continue to dance. Here is hoping that I will dance too!

Photo-credit: Tintumol Joseph

Bio:
Tintumol Joseph
is a JNU Alumnus from the School of International Studies. One of the co-founders of JNU dance club, she has been the instructor and choreographer of JNU dance club for the past two years.

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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