India has always been acknowledged as the land of Art & Culture, every dance form has found solace in here. Belly dancing, considerably one of the most sensuous and breath-taking dance forms, has always found it hard to put a strong-foot hold in India though. But credit goes to the likes of Meher Malik, who have struggled their way to stardom and have brought along the Art-form to immense popularity. It is the hard work & determination of such performers which show that the dance form has much more to offer other than just making the men go weak in their knees.
We all have dreams, but what drives us to them is the belief and determination, so here we bring to you a journey from the crowd to the crown, One World News caught up in an exclusive interview with the lady with the curves to kill, Meher Malik:
How was your journey from being in crowd to coming under spotlight?
After living in Middle East for 17 years, when I moved to India, I was shocked to see that Belly dance was looked upon. Indian public was so ignorant that I decided I will put in all of my energy into raising the level of Belly dancing. I started speaking to a lot of people to spread knowledge about the Belly dance, but it was of no use. So I got involved in production, concept etc. to introduce the true meaning of Belly dancing with Belly dance itself.
The most struggling period of my life was from 2006-08. In this period of time, I took up classes, prepared concepts, gave interviews to enlighten the public about Belly dancing, tried to get into schools for teaching and promoting this art form, so yes, I was running everywhere. My breakthrough period was when ‘India’s Got Talent’ happened to me. Social media is a powerful medium of expression these days, and being a part of such shows has helped me a lot to make a change in people’s point of view. It is a fact, that if you talk about yourself & work, from your own mouth, your words will not be valued, but if a celebrity is saying something about you and your work, then you become a star in fortnight.
Why you think India hasn’t been able to accept it as an art form?
As compared to past, I think that now a lot of people believe in my work and no more Belly dancing is a taboo. But yes, I have to agree that most of the Indians have still not accepted it completely as a dance form. But with time, people are showing their interest in it. If 60% are not accepting it, then 40% are encouraging and want to be a part of this art.
I think the reason behind not accepting Belly dancing as a dance form is:
No knowledge about it.
The costume: Just because the costume of belly dancing is two pieces, it is thought to be sensuous and derogatory. They don’t understand that we do have full-length costumes, but to show our dance moves, precisions, we adopt two pieces.
Every year foreign dancer’s move to India to make a career in dance. Their brought up, lifestyle and dressing sense is different. A lot of them who performs at casinos, hotels etc. get indulged into prostitution. So, Indians when look at any dancer/Belly dancer they think they can hire them for ‘other’ services. So yes, this mentality of Indian’s has made it difficult for us to promote Belly dancing.
How was your experience of participating and performing in top reality shows and with Bollywood?
I was on Just Dance, India’s Got Talent, and choreographed ‘Aga Bai’ of ‘Aiyyaa’. So yes, being a part of Bollywood has been interesting.
I am happy that they are promoting this dance form but they are using the stereotype way to promote. They are proving what is already thought about Belly dance. But I am constantly trying to educate people that now there are various concepts in Belly dancing like Gothic fusion, classical fusion and so on.
I do get offers from Bollywood and Tollywood to choreograph songs for them, but I haven’t taken up those offers because that will be going against my ideology, my principles and all the struggle I have put in to get Belly dancing recognition as a dance form.
In Bollywood item songs women are objectified. I have had few clients coming from Bollywood who make lame requests of getting trained in Belly dancing within two days or a week, but it is impossible to do so.
How supportive has been your family in your journey?
I have always been good at academics. When I came to India, I wanted to do fashion designing. I got into NIFT, Delhi, with high rank, but within 3 months I dropped it because of its environment. People were so artificial there that for me it was very uncomfortable and an absolutely new experience. In Oman, we Indians live with harmony and peace, so I was shocked to see that nothing was like that over here. Imagine people were looked upon just because they repeated their attire twice in same week.
Before NIFT, I was studying Psychology at Kamala Nehru College, but wasn’t happy, so I left. I dropped college twice and my parents were upset because they left everything and came to India for my career. I requested them to give me little time to prove myself. In meantime, I was already taking up dance classes at Danceworx, Shiamak Davar and Salsa India, and it was around that time, I got an opportunity to prove myself on national platform like India’s Got Talent. After IGT, my parents got to know that dancing is what I am pretty serious about.
How ‘Banjara School of Dance’ came into picture?
When I was learning salsa in Salsa India, my instructors were discussing that they need a Belly dancer. As I was trained in it, I approached them and took few demo-classes with few students. The word of mouth spread and my talent was being appreciated. I was invited at various dance institutes to teach Belly dancing.
In 2008, I had very good batch of dancers, so I thought to start-up my own dance school with them. But naming it as Meher Malik Dance class didn’t seem a right thing to do. So while playing with words in my mind, I came up with the word ‘Banjara’, and because a lot of my students were like gypsies who were unsure of what to do and where to go, I kept the name of the institute as ‘Banjara School of Dance’.
Where do you see Belly dancing in the next 10 years?
People have accepted Hip-Hop, Salsa, and Contemporary etc. as a dance form even after knowing that they aren’t a part of our culture, the same way I picture Belly dance acquiring a high place in Indian society and see serious Belly dancing in India.
I already represent India for Belly dancing on international level and our institute is visited by international instructor thrice a year. I take classes all over the world and working on various fusions of Belly dancing with Indian dance forms for example: Odissi fusion.
Soon we will be recognised on the world map of Belly dancing and will share our experience with other countries. I am very excited to work towards the goals and dreams I have seen for this dance form.
What message would you like to convey to our readers?
I would only say that whether it are your parents, your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband, friends or anyone, never let them come in between you and your goal. Don’t listen to anyone because you know yourself the best way. So, listen to yourself, your inner-soul and go ahead to fulfill your dreams.
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