June 29, 2020
Narthaki is delighted to share the voices of three artistes who speak from the heart about their dance and their life choices.
- Gerard Samuel, Professor of Dance, University of Cape Town and Tamil/"Black" professional Ballet dancer in South Africa
- Kiran Rajagopalan, Bharatanatyam dancer from New York City
- Cameron Shanolin Govender, a makeup artiste and Bharatanatyam dancer in Durban, South Africa
Gerard M. Samuel
When the audience chuckled as the handsome soldier left arm in arm with a younger man, I felt that through my ballet The Man I Love I had finally come out as a gay, Catholic born, Jewish named, Indian man from Zululand. It was 1996 after all and though the HIV pandemic was rampant in the province, this ballet (and therefore I ) could exhale in the euphoria of a Mandelaesque democracy. Pride can take on many forms including walking from the dance studios to the municipal offices to pay our monthly utility bills whilst dressed in floor length skirts and ripped denim bomber jackets. Pride surfaced more than a rebellion to the twin constrictors and conquistadores - colonialism and apartheid. This June 2020 / Pride Month has been one of the most difficult to find such joy especially when we rage, kneel and still band our upper arms in black. Perhaps both aluta continua and cheers! are appropriate in this final hour...
Dedicated to all LGBTi+ South African community and activist Kirvan Fortuin.
- Gerard M. Samuel
Wesley Beeks & Kiran Rajagopalan
I met my partner Wesley Beeks in June 2015 during a very tumultuous time in my life. I had just graduated from New York University with a second MA and no immediate job prospects or plans to do a PhD program. I had spent most of my 20s living in India and studying Bharatanatyam intensely. When I moved back to New York City in 2014, I "made up for lost time" with an endless string of inconsequential first dates and false starts. But Wesley was the first man who stuck around for more than a few weeks, and he was the first man I had ever introduced to my family.
Both of us are artists - Wesley is a mixed media artist and photographer and I am a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Over time, we started working together on artistic productions centered on my choreography and his set design. We even co-founded a non-profit arts organization, Daya Arts, which is dedicated to developing cross-cultural and educational programming to bridge communities of color through art.
I left India seeking answers to my questions about my next steps as an artist. Instead, I unexpectedly ended up with a partner who constantly encourages me to strive for excellence, constructively challenges my artistic decisions, and empathizes greatly with my struggles to get back on my feet as a professional dancer. Of course there are unique challenges to being in an intercultural, interfaith, and interracial relationship. Both of us also have to work day jobs in order to maintain our household equitably. I still find it very difficult to balance work, dance practice, cross-training, and teaching and still give Wesley the love and support he needs. In the end, our free time is well spent in travelling, creating art, and curating programs together!
Finally, I must thank and acknowledge my incredible family - especially my parents and brother - for their willingness to embrace this relationship and to welcome Wesley with open arms.
- Kiran Rajagopalan
Cameron Shanolin Govender
"Cameron Shanolin Govender?
Who is he?
Who am I?
I am a 24-year-old queer, non-binary, Indian diaspora dancer, actor, thespian, creator, choreographer, teacher, and H&MUA from Durban, South Africa. I question why I have to mention the fact that I'm queer, and sadly, my orientation and identification trumps all aspects of me as if it's a defining factor as to who I am.
To some extent, I guess it is...
I'm constantly surrounded by the reality of my brown skin and the context within which it exists.
Them clinging onto the notions of what is pure, an abomination, and ultimately, frowned upon?
What does it mean to be pure, to be brown, or to be human?
To me, my fascination with the Hindu god Ardhanarishwara really opened my eyes to MY reality, in addition, to the way I react to the vibrations emitted by the universe.
This whole debate of the union between each aspect of self, finding a balance between the two, acknowledging each for what they both bring and amalgamating a niche that is relatively unique to you. It is relevant now more than ever. Which leads me to engage with some humor (low key hypocrisy). The idea of having a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is considered to be cool. People look at you as if you're 'WOKE'.
When our brown people find out later that their brother/sister/son/daughter... (the list goes on and you get the picture) is a part of this community, then they suddenly find themselves asking what they did to deserve this? Why is God punishing them?
Being Queer and Proud, being Open and Free; comes with a price.
You realize that living your life to the fullest within your reality is the only thing you can do (that is, apart from trying to educate those closest to/around you). Some days are harder than others, especially when you are ridiculed, abused, and most often exposed to the people 'closest to you,' quote verses from scripture to justify their hatred.
Through my journey of acknowledging my queerness, I found myself teased, taunted, abused physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even sexually. (This by the people that are meant to help/protect me). It's a hard life that should never be trivialized, but what makes it just a little bit easier?
I'm not going to pretend to have my life together but I can advocate that living my life authentically, healing from the scars that were left by my perpetrators, dealing with my mental health because I've realized that I matter; Is, in fact, ALL that matters!
And to some extent, I guess that's why my orientation and identification trumps everything else about me.
I am still overcoming, but I'm on the journey of accepting my reality in this world of Black and White.
Throwing glitter bombs, paintballs, and rainbow confetti everywhere I go!
So, if I had to ask myself again, who is Cameron Shanolin Govender?
I guess my answer would be that he is a queer fairy dancing to the frequency of the universe.
- Cameron Shanolin Govender
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