ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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​​​​​​​Transcending Gender Boundaries, Altering Power Structures

Bharatanatyam and a specialisation in the Thanjavur Nayaki Bhava tradition allowed Narthaki Nataraj to articulate her true self, resisting a cis-sexist society.


[The author is grateful to Narthaki Natraj and Shakthi Bhaskar for their insightful “small talk.”]


“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” is a question of W B Yeats that warrants multiple interpretations about the power of art and artists. Acclaimed dancer Narthaki Nataraj, born as Natraj in Madurai, was a victim of the pervasive heteronormative ideology that dismissed the existence of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and designated compulsory heterosexuality as the norm. Combating heteronormativity is challenging as it is interwoven into the processes and culture of institutions. For Narthaki too, who was assigned male at birth, finding her true identity was difficult.

The artistic possibilities of dance and her specialisation in Bharatanatyam’s Thanjavur Nayaki Bhava tradition brought her hard-earned peace, helping her to resist an uncompassionate society. The feminine movements of this tradition allowed her to articulate her true self. This individual, internal body politics, which Michel Foucault terms the “political technology of the body,” was catalysed by the indifferent and non-inclusive societal attitudes as body politics and power relations were shaped by her quest to contest society’s aversion towards acknowledging different gender identities. Dance was the instrument that empowered Narthaki to reclaim her agency and endorsed her emancipation from the ruses devised by a cis-sexist society.

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Updated On : 26th Oct, 2023
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