Sassi is all set to endure every issue to establish her loyalty and to protect her love. She is left stranded in a deserted forest, trying to get out her lover. She roams with a parched throat and teary eyes among the worn-out tree trunks.

Still, irrespective of all the complications, she does not give up. In a parallel universe, Sassi is not alone — her sorrow and sacrifice for appreciate is shared by Anarkali. Just like Sassi, Anarkali lets go of almost everything blissful in her lifetime for the sake of really like.

These had been the scenes in Kathas (Tales), executed by Nighat Chaudhry in the course of an occasion for the 1996 cricket Globe Cup in Pakistan. Chaudhry choreographed 35 diverse South Asian cultural stories for this overall performance, such as stories centered on historical events and folktales.

Now, Chaudhry teaches Kathak at her very own dance centre every weekday at noon. Learners who are unable to abide by a monogamous conquer observe their dance instructor undertaking Kathak with concentrate. Amid a young group of females there to learn a performing art that is even now regarded as unconventional in Pakistan, Chaudhry talks about the situation of previous gals dancers.

While the legacy of classical dance carries on to prosper elsewhere, it is on the brink of extinction in Pakistan

According to her, “There’s fewer acceptance of classical dancing in Pakistan, since of its connotations of possessing an Indian previous, and people today are inclined to reject nearly anything that is Indian. Classical dance varieties such as Kathak have existed effectively in advance of the establishment of any borders in South Asia.”


Classical dancing has a loaded background in South Asian tradition. To date, classical dance is utilised as a medium to inform tales and categorical oneself with intricately woven bodily actions, not just in South Asia but across the globe.

In Pakistan, there has been a decades-prolonged existence of classical dance, both as an impartial effectiveness art kind as perfectly as in theatre drama narratives. Nonetheless, this art form has confronted enormous societal opposition, misinterpretation and disapproval, particularly when executed by ladies.

Though dance continues to keep on being part of theatre, tv dramas and movies, women who complete this dance form are nonetheless demeaned by culture.

Farah Yasmin Shaikh performs classical dance in Karachi in the course of a photoshoot | Farah Yasmin Shaikh, Ammar Zaidi

Sheema Kermani was one particular of the classical dancers who expert the focusing on of girls artists through the 1980s initially-hand. She cites the rise of “modesty culture” as a bring about that has led to the exclusion of ladies from accessing essential facilities and even denying them the ideal to live freely. “Society has a moral compass for gals performing classical dance,” suggests Kermani. “They can’t see females building independent choices. They want to handle women’s bodies.

“While it is additional complicated for gals,” she proceeds, “it’s also critical to consider that there is no acceptance of classical dance executed by men possibly. These adult men are named derogatory slurs for getting ‘feminine’ when they are not — they are just performers.

“There’s an evident false impression about classical dance that it goes against our cultural and religious values, when, in truth, it’s just societal bigotry, since anyone dances at weddings, every person consumes dance, but here is where they draw the limitations.”

Dancer Farah Yasmin Shaikh — dressed in an Anarkali shirt with ghungroo (dance anklets) tied close to her toes, her lengthy hair in a braid — echoes related sentiments.

She says there is a notion that females who accomplish classical dance are “bad females.” The historical past of tawaaifs (courtesans) is linked with this dance sort. As another person who is influenced by the trend of courtesans for the duration of the Mughal period, Shaikh states these ladies “did so much” to protect the legacy of classical dance.

These misconceptions have resulted in a lack of assist for classical dance establishments in the place. According to Chaudhry, practitioners like herself, and some others who have been doing classical dance, are the institutions them selves.

She states, “Because there’s no aid from any external source, even no care from authorities institutions, most of us privately instruct classical dance,” including that the artwork kind calls for a ton of really hard work. “It is not a professional art sort,” Chaudhry explains, “and only professional content is validated in Pakistan.”

Nighat Chaudhry performs Kathak at Khayal Festival in Lahore | Nighat Chaudhry, Areesh Zubair


Shaikh, who teaches classical dance in her studio in Lahore, suggests, “Schools and universities have to consider the lead, if we want to maintain and continue on the prosperous legacy of classical dance in Pakistan. If classical dance proceeds to not be portion of the standard educational curriculum, it will be tough to conserve it from getting to be obsolete.”

Kermani emphasises the worth of the executing arts as a complete, expressing that no modern society can prosper politically with out the arts. The governing administration spends a great deal on sports situations, but there’s no distinctive expenditure on general performance arts, together with classical dance, Kermani claims.

“The the vast majority of the performers can not entry expensive city universities, dance academies or instruction centres. This also will make classical dance a privilege for most females and confines it in the fingers of the elite,’’ she states.

Kermani speaks about the expanding course difference and accessibility disparities doing the job course girls are subjected to. Even if these gals want to perform, they locate it tough to thrive in this area and face marginalisation.

Shaikh says she recognises her privilege, acquiring occur from The us and been trained as a classical dancer, but a good deal of women of all ages can not afford to prepare themselves, and those who can, carry out it as a hobby.

“This is a main drawback,” she suggests, “and a consequence of a absence of cultural and specialised academic establishments. A ton of perseverance is essential when one particular is pursuing classical dance, and considering the extraordinary financial crisis, not lots of women of all ages performers pick out it as a whole-time profession.”

In get for classical dance to thrive, there have to be folks prepared to obtain that awareness and maintain its legacy. Pioneers like Chaudhry are disappointed at societal attitudes, the place artists are not handled with respect.

“I really do not see a lot of my college students pursuing classical dance as a career,” states Chaudhry. “I consider the only matter that can be accomplished now is archiving and documenting the presently executed artwork. If it could be institutionalised, it’s possible this can alter.”

The writer is a journalist, and a gender legal rights and local climate justice activist primarily based in Karachi

Revealed in Dawn, EOS, October 29th, 2023