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'Beggars? No, We’re Dancers': Chennai Dance School for Trans Persons Soars

Chennai's transgender persons live their Bharatanatyam dreams at a dance school.

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Reporter/Producer: Soundarya Athimuthu

Video Editor: Purendu Pritam

"I was born a male. When I was a kid, my parents noticed that I had conventionally feminine characteristics. To change that, they enrolled me in karate classes. But I started going for Bharatanatyam classes instead, without their knowledge, because I knew I had the grace of a dancer in me."
Rekha, Human Resource Professional

The Sathya Sai Dance Academy, helmed by the Kerala-based Sri Sathya Sai Orphanage Trust along with the Sahodaran Foundation, offers dance classes in Bharatanatyam exclusively to the transgender community in Chennai.

Vaishali, who is an aeronautical enginee, Vaishnavi, who drives autos for a living, and Sambavi, who performs as a singer and actor, are just three of the many from the transgender community who are breaking the stereotypical notion that "transgender persons are either beggars or sex workers."

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"I have always been bullied by my peers in school and college. However, today, after I chose to become an artist, they have started to respect me. When we work on our own, the transgender community gets the respect it deserves. So I really wish all transgender people could achieve something in the field of arts."
Vaishali, Aeronautical Engineer
Chennai's transgender persons live their Bharatanatyam dreams at a dance school.

A dancer at Chennai's exclusive dance school for transgender community

(Photo: The Quint)

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Overcoming Hurdles one Dance Step at a Time

Sambavi recounts her horrid experiences of being rejected when she expressed her interest to take up acting as a full-time career. In a world that is driven by money, it is difficult to pursue one's heart to work in a profession that gives them inner peace and satisfaction. She says, "Being a transgender, you know how things are even more difficult to follow our passion. But I will never let that bog me down."

"Now, with an intent to achieve something big in life, I have joined the Bharatanatyam classes. I would like to learn it and reach the Arangettram stage (a graduation ceremony that marks the completion of the formal training of a classical dancer). I want the whole world to watch me dance and appreciate me. I also wish to fulfill my mother’s wish of I becoming a singer."
Sambavi, Singer and Actor

Bharatanatyam is a complex dance form that is traditionally learnt since childhood, when a child is as young as five years old. However, age is no bar when you are passionate. Or is it?

Chennai's transgender persons live their Bharatanatyam dreams at a dance school.

A still of transgenders learning Bharathnatyam

(Photo: The Quint)

"We (transgender people) have a lot of talent in our community, but we haven’t received the right opportunities to showcase them. Despite our burning desire to learn Bharatanatyam, a lot of us were denied avenues to learn the art form back when we were young. Though we have gone past that age to start learning, we want to take advantage of the opportunity we have now and are determined to learn this art form with sincerity."
Vaishnavi, Auto Driver

Master Shanmuga Sundaram, a renowned Chennai-based Bharatanatyam teacher, seconds this. He said that he is bewildered everytime someone asks about his experience teaching the transgender community.

"Honestly, I don’t see any difference. I don't discriminate against them (transgender people) because of their gender. They are my students, and I am their teacher. I feel they are part of us. There is absolutely no need to see them differently," he asserts.

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Topics:  Tamil Nadu   Transgender   Chennai 

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