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Ponni and Anjali teach a class of 25 students at their dance school in a Vyasarpadi slum. Photo: M. Vedhan
Carving an identity with dance

in INDIA, 08/05/2012

The feet of about 20 girls in yellow and red uniforms coordinate to a beat that goes “Taa thaiya thai” as one walks into the Abhinaya Nrithyalaya located in a Vyasarpadi slum on the outskirts of the city. What sets this dance school apart from the numerous institutes in the city is the fact that it is run by a transgender.

A qualified dance teacher, 32-year-old Ponni developed a keen interest for the art form at a very early age. “As a child, I always wanted to learn the different mudras,” she says. From dancing to film songs as a child to completing a three-year diploma course in Bharatanatyam at the Government Music School in Tuticorin, Ponni has come a long way. She has now enrolled for a ‘Nattuvangam' course at the Shivakalalayam School in Thiruvanmiyur.

An independent Bharatanatyam dancer, Ponni has performed in about 50 shows till date and gets offers for at least 10 shows every month. Assisted by another transgender, Anjali, she has been running the dance school for the past nine months.
“I decided to open a school in a slum as I knew people here would give me an opportunity. I was very shy at the start, and worried about cooperation from parents. Initially I had six students, but the number increased steadily and now, it has reached 25,” Ponni says.

In a single room furnished with two huge mirrors and a desktop computer bought with the help of a government loan, Ponni and Anjali conduct classes twice a week. They charge each student a nominal fee of Rs. 200 per month. Apart from five-year-old girls and a couple of married women in their twenties, there is also a 27-year-old married man on the roll call.

Over the years, Ponni has managed to carve a niche for herself and emerge as an professional dancer. Notwithstanding the challenges brought upon as a result of her identity, she is determined to do something positive in life. “When I am on stage with make-up on, no one can tell I'm a transgender. They just respect the art,” she says.

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