Art, in any form, is constantly redefined by ridiculously talented people who go on to create an ‘era’ of their own. And if you find yourself amused at the meteoric rise in belly dancing workshops around the country, you have the vivacious belly dancing exponent, Meher Malik to thank.
Fearless, passionate and in constant pursuit of pushing boundaries. Just a few phrases that describe the vibrant and soulful person that she is. Here are excerpts from a candid chat we had with Meher.
When did you start practicing belly dancing?
“I’d lived in the Middle East for 17 years during which I was exposed to and deeply influenced by Arabic culture. The women at the weddings, in their own seclusion, used to celebrate by belly dancing. I relocated to India in 2006 to study fashion. All my life, I had been very academic. I had always topped my exams, even got a decent rank to get into NIFT. However when I was 17, before joining university, I decided to go to London for a belly dancing workshop. That’s when I discovered that belly dancing was more than just a hobby for me. I decided to discontinue my formal education in the fashion industry and pursue belly dancing seriously.”
What are the stereotypes surrounding belly dancing?
“As opposed to what people think, one won’t find belly dancing in every nook and corner of Middle East. In fact, it was banned for many years in the 90s. Owing to the costumes and movements, it wasn’t very popular as it was considered anti-Islamic. Let me break another myth. Belly dancing isn’t meant for a man’s entertainment. It is, in fact, meant for a woman to celebrate and understand her body. Yes, belly dancing is sensual. So is everything feminine. But is it raunchy as people make it to be? Certainly not!”
Creating Banjara School of Dancing
“I was a salsa student at Salsa India when they said they were looking for a belly dance Instructor. Though I had never taught before, I started my own class there. A year after being there I realized a school was required that just promoted belly dance like it was promoted all over the world. That was how Banjara School of dance was born. I named it Banjara for two reasons. On the surface level, because it’s said to have its roots in the ‘Banjara’ community of Rajasthan. On a deeper level, I believe that all artists deep down are lost souls, always searching for something more to satiate the sense. They are all travelers, seekers and gypsies.”
On Dance Reality Shows
“Although Just Dance and India’s Got Talent changed my life drastically, I chose not to exploit the leverage I got from those shows. My role in this country at the moment is to spread the art form as much as possible. Should something interesting and truly creative come, that aligns with my line of thought, I will take it up but not things that will take back people’s mindsets back to what it was 10 years ago.”
What are your aspirations, personal and professional?
“Material gain is nothing for me. One attempt at breaking boundaries was the Odissi – Belly fusion. I have a clear cut idea about fusions and not confusions. I teach all around the world, I don’t mince my words, neither my art form. The next two months, I’m touring Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand not just to teach but to study meditation, organic farming, massage and aroma therapy. Why? Because I yearn to experience holistic living and get closer to the Earth, and myself.”
On Changing perception
“I feel overwhelmingly happy for having been instrumental in bringing about a paradigm shift about belly dancing. I’ve seen every dancer and every institute come up right in front of my eyes! Belly dancing helps in emancipating your spirit. In a workshop, when you see women resonate with each other, who are making decisions for their bodies, for their lives; it is empowering on a deeper level.”
What would like to #GetMore of?
“Love! I wish to find someone who has let love enter them, the way it has entered me. Because only then can they understand where the crux of my existence stems from.”