RITAMBHARA SAHNI –
HER BATTLE WITH CHANGING THE VIEWPOINT OF BELLY DANCE AS AN ART AND ALSO WITH LEARNING THE ART OF BELLY DANCE.
[in Ritambhara Sahni’s words]
One day, in time gone by, my mother, brother and I sat to watch a James Bond classic, From Russia with Love. As we were engrossed in the fast paced actions, the movie came to a mesmerizing belly dance scene. This scene though brief, had left me spellbound. You could you tube the belly dance scene in the movie ‘From Russia With Love’ to watch what inspired me.
Hailing from a family that loved James Bond movies, I had also become an ardent James Bond movie buff. The other James Bond movie that had a beautiful belly dance scene was, The Man With Bogarts Face. But what did strike me was that belly dance was showcased as an entertainment for men in both the movies. But little was I bothered by the fact that it was portrayed as a dance meant to titillate since the graceful agility of the belly dancer left me enthralled.
As a girl and as a professional freestyle dancer even in those early days, I was enamoured and spell bound by the feminine grace and alluring confidence the dance exuded. My mother was truly wonderful in all aspects. Ever since I was a little girl she encouraged me to pursue dance and gave me several opportunities to perform professionally. I went on to communicate my zealous interest in learning belly dance. But, quite like many with a similar opinion, my mother brushed it aside saying it certainly was a beautiful dance, but it primarily was for the entertainment of men. I was devastated to hear this but deep down I simply couldn’t acknowledge this to be true. I refused to accept that this was a dance of coquetry and hence, it was bad. So, I went on to express my desire, but my mother’s staunch disapproval, made me to eventually cease my repeated efforts to convince.
Though, I secretly continued to imitate the belly dancers in the James Bond movies. My mother, like many others, were unaware about the art of belly dancing and their perceptions were a reflections of the portrayals in the movies. As much as she was captivated by the grace, she also did wish it was not showcased in a negative light– But I danced. In the confinement of my bedroom I imitated the scenes and did achieve to understand a few moves because of my strong roots in popping and locking. The danseuse in me was quick to figure the semblance between hip hop and belly dancing! But despite it all, there were moves that were beyond me! The passion in me had remained a secret for a long time, until the pop singer, Shakira, took the world by storm with her beautiful single, Wherever, whenever and belly danced with confidence as she sang. The world weren’t just singing the same tune, but also had begun to see belly dance in a different light. She let the world know that belly dance wasn’t a dance to beguile men with its seductive moves but it’s a dance that can make a woman look beautifully confident while being in complete control of her body.
During this time, I was running my institute, Ritambhara Sahni’s institute for the performing arts, which taught several forms of freestyle dance. I soon begun to get calls from all over Mumbai enquiring if we taught belly dancing and my students requested me to teach them the dance repeatedly. So, something big had happened here, belly dance had become a rage and perceptions were changing. MUMBAI SUDDENLY WANTED TO BELLY DANCE.This was an unbelievable turn of events. I had always hoped for the people to want to learn how to belly dance because if the majority would want to learn, it no longer would be considered taboo. It was wonderful to see people’s viewpoints changing for the better. My little wish all those years ago was turning true and I was elated to see it finally happen. Well, of course, there still were people who shared a different point of view and there always will be. But what was important to note was that there was a majority of the multitude who understood the language of the dance and were willing to explore the art of belly dancing in its true form.
I was over the moon to see my dream now turn into a reality. When I still was an adolescent, my mother passed away and so I voiced my apprehensions and desires to my father. My father went all out to encourage me and reassured my conscience, saying that my mother would have supported me in my endeavours with equal zeal. Especially because her impressions were imprinted by society and with the changing times her opinions would have also changed as she held an equal fascination towards belly dance. Having said that, my father arranged for me to travel to America and Europe to further widen my horizons in the realm of belly dance. During those years, I made several trips to several countries to learn from the maestros while running my institute Ritambhara Sahni’s Institute for the performing arts on parallel lines. While in Mumbai I held several workshops and belly dance courses simultaneously. I finally went on to launch Belly dance institute Mumbai by Ritambhara Sahni in 2005, after gaining expertise in the various genres of the belly dance form and by using various props.
A decade later, I am heartened to see how much the viewpoints have changed and reversed. What began as an imitation of a belly dance classic had grown into a full-fledged passion that’s translated in the institute- BELLY DANCE INSTITUTE MUMBAI BY RITAMBHARA SAHNI.
TO VIEW MY ARTICLE ON HOW I CREDITED SHAKIRA TO CHANGE THE VIEWPOINT OF BELLY DANCE ALL OVER THE WORLD IN HINDUSTAN TIMES.
HERE’S A GLIMPSE SHOWCASING THE WORK OF MY STUDENTS AT MY INSTITUTE – BELLY DANCE INSTITUTE MUMBAI BY RITAMBHARA SAHNI