Liminal Consumption of ‘the Cosmic Ballet’: An Autoethnography

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Liminal Consumption of ‘the Cosmic Ballet’: An Autoethnography

Abstract: This study renders an autoethnographic account of a homosexual man to unfold the role of embodied experience in identity formation. The account, by mobilizing the author’s lived experience, explicates how immersion in a transcendental and paradoxical form of dance called ‘Tandava’, or ‘the cosmic dance’, assumes a procreating role, empowering the author to deal with his identity issues at a key liminal juncture. In particular, the author attempts to explore how the homosexual corporeal body uses an embodied experience of a dance to negotiate its identity issues, and how the dance in concurrence with the sonic effects of the drumbeats and Shiva Tandava Strotam (hymn), the symbolic trident, and movements interspersed with moments of stillness, becomes an affective mechanism of agency.

Keywords: Liminality, Embodiment, Dance consumption, Mystical experience, Homosexuality

Introduction

“Dance is a carrier of our paradoxical nature: body/mind, male/female, individual/social”

― Sara Savage

Being a proud member of a marginalized group that “…everyone sees, but no one recognizes” (Smart and Sutehall, 1985, 4), I hereby present a personal chronicle of how my consumption of the ‘cosmic ballet’ served as a coping mechanism during the stages of my homosexual identity formation. In my quest for a ‘liveable life’ of personal and social acceptance, avoiding passive conformity with entrenched gender norms (Butler 2004), I opted to ‘ventilate with honor’ rather than play the good-homosexual who is “self-limiting, closeted, desexualized, and invisible” (Smith, 1997, 121) or conform to the “…sanitized version of homosexuality, which hides the reality of many homosexuals’ experiences and desires” (McQueen, 2011, 10).

With reference to Turner’s (1967) conceptualization of liminality as a period of “fruitful darkness” (110) and Douglas’ (1966) theorization of the existence of “energy in the margins and unstructured areas” (137), I suggest that it rests predominantly upon the liminar (the ritual subject) to decide how to channel such energy and dissipate the darkness in order to see through. How might a liminar, in this case a homosexual man emplaced in a heteronormative society, cope with the liminal issues of his identity formation? Might embodied experience such as a dance function as a mechanism to liberate light from the darkness? And what role can body, dance movements, props, and sonic effects play during the liminal state? These questions underlie the aim of this work where I attempt to explore how a homosexual body mobilises the experience of ‘the cosmic dance’ to negotiate its identity issues. I consider my engagement with the dance a form of consumption. In this regard, I particularly refer to Skougaard’s (2006) taxonomy of spiritual motivations for consumption, where she posits consumption as a spiritual experience. Further, Walter (2014) reinforces “consumption itself has now become a spiritual practice” (p. 34), and finds a “deep connection between dance, the artist, and the mystical, and that the current explosive nature of dance experiences emerging in our society fits within this nexus” (p. 34-35). Additionally, the author speaks of dance as a form of consumption “that [has] evolved into a spiritual practice, unbeknownst to most of us” (p. 14), and “as a mechanism for communicating life information and coping strategies” (ibid, p. 124). Hence, I concur with such views and consider my work resonating with Walter’s womanist transmodern frame of reference that emphasizes the power of dance in “understanding the cosmos, each other, and ourselves, particularly at this point in time when we are searching for “The Answer” ” (p. 36).  In so doing, I address how my dance, in concurrence with the sonic effects of the drumbeats and Shiva Tandava Strotam (hymn), the symbolic trident, and movements interspersed with moments of stillness, becomes an affective mechanism of agency. This attempt at detailing the “personal affective dimensions” (Zebracki 2016, p. 111) where affect is construed as the “motion in emotion” (Thien 2005, 451) propels me to sidestep from the structuralist view of construction of reality by predefined syntax and semantics of language and production of meaning (i.e. acts of parole) by explicit rules and conventions of structure (Storey 2009). Instead, I draw the readers’ attention to  Ponty’s notion of the ambiguous lived body, the complete understanding of which would fail without considering the tripartite ‘mind-body-world’ system (Bullington 2013). Ponty’s view strongly fits in here because the present work explains how a homosexual corporeal subject situated in a heteronormative world provokes a volley of questions that needs to be answered, and which subsequently are through his engagement with a dance.

In this study where I myself am ‘the primary subject’ and my lived experience ‘the primary data’, feminist approaches that “emphasize the subjective, empathetic, process-oriented, and inclusive sides of social life” (Neuman 1994, p. 72) appeared most congruent with my objective of presenting a personal chronicle of and inner rationalizations for a form of consumption I engaged with during my homosexual identity formation, thereby evoking among the readers those antagonistic emotions that a homosexual person placed in a hetero-normative society grins and bears. Hence, to shift the spotlight of my inquiry away from others (cf. Carless and Douglas, 2008) towards my own experiences, I choose an autoethnographic account that is highly personalized and draws upon the researcher’s own experiences (Sparkes 2000, 21). Such a method where texts are usually written in the first person, may detail dialogue, emotion, and self-consciousness as relational and institutional stories affected by history, social structure, and culture (Ellis and Bochner 2000). This also completely aligns with Richardson’s (2000) view of using autoethnographically-based personal narratives to help readers “to emotionally ‘relive’ the events with the writer” (11). Ellis (2004) states Autoethnographers “…showcase concrete action, dialogue, emotion, embodiment, spirituality, and self-consciousness” (2004, 38). All of these six elements that Ellis (2004) mentions find pivotal presence in this narrative and justify the use of autoethnography as the research method. Additionally, as I pursue an inquiry into my life through the medium of a dance, I concur with Barbour’s (2012) justification for choosing an autoethnographic dance performance as a method whereby we can “engage with issues of reflexivity, identity, embodiment, cultural commentary, transformation, and empowerment” (p. 67). Besides, Ellis and Bochner (2000) suggest the use of autoethnography to describe studies of a personal nature, which forms the very foundation of this study. Such characterizations, that also directionalize other autoethnographic accounts used in consumer research (cf. Holbrook 1986; Valtonen 2004), guide my choice of approach in this article. I also hereby emphasize that I maintain a profound relationship with music and dance, and have been professionally trained in Latin-American dance forms, though not in this cosmic ballet that is essentially emotion-driven and requires no structure or rehearsal. I learnt about this dance form primarily by reading the Hindu scriptures and watching Indian movies. I also underline that while reflecting on my embodied experience of engaging with my Tandava, I frequently watched videos on Tandava that vicariously carried me to my endured moments of marginalization. Borrowing the idea from Picart (2002) “to highlight the experience and expression of virtual emotions” (p. 349), I too use frame grabs (ref. Figure 1 in the Appendix) from a Bollywood dance video where the Indian actress, Meenakshi Sheshadri engages in a Tandava sequence.

[Insert Figure 1 here]

I proceed first with an elaboration of the theoretical underpinnings that conceptualize the study, followed by a concise note on the cosmic dance of the Hindu divinity, Lord Shiva. Next, I present a context for the study, my instinctual drive toward the paradoxical dance form, and the elements of the dance that impacted me most. Subsequent to this is a vignette where I describe, against the backdrop of an inciting incident, my authentic somatovisceral experience with the dance. This culminates in a poetic narration. Finally, I conclude with a note on the implications for the role of consumption in identity generally and the consumption of dance in identity specifically.

You need a paragraph here on the trajectory of the paper – what are the key sections, what does it cover, what are we to learn.

Background

My conceptualization falls back on van Gennep’s ‘rite of passage’, Turner’s ‘liminality’, homosexual identity formation, and dance movement therapies. I argue that my transition of identity from one of confusion to acceptance can be considered a ‘rite of passage’ where the first stage of separation was defined by my disengagement with the heteronormative society, marked by identity confusion, and characterized by my fury against the heterosexist sentiments of people around me that was clouding my rationality and adding to my already existing confusion. I refer to the second stage of transition as the stage of ‘identity suspension. ’ Here, I made an effort through an embodied experience of ‘the cosmic dance’ to demolish my ignorance about myself and my rage against the harsh sentiments of people around me. This was followed by the third stage of incorporation marked by identity acceptance and an enhanced sense of spiritual vigor and self-congruity. Key liminal stages in life proffer unfathomable scope for understanding consumption in a variety of forms (Cody et al. 2011; Hogg et al. 2004; Landzelius 2001). The cardinal role that consumption plays in unfolding the incongruous aspects of the self-concept and expediting enhanced harmony in emanant identities as people experience a liminal phase of transition has been pronounced by Schouten (1991).Further, underscoring the significance of consumption during liminality, Noble and Walker (1997) elucidate upon the consumption of symbolic activities and possessions during unstable liminal states in a quest to feel more grounded. Liminal states during transitions may also transform established consumption patterns of consumers (cf. Andreasen 1984; Schewe and Balazs 1992), in turn making the understanding of such phenomena even more intriguing to marketers. However, during such liminal states that are besieged with peril (Douglas 1966), “consumers undergo intense experiences…often creating personal rites of passage facilitating the transformation to their new concept of self” (Banister and Piacenitini 2008, 312). These intense experiences can be both frustrating and exhilarating for those who experience them (Czarniawska and Mazza 2003). In this article, I will describe and examine how my engagement with the paradoxical ‘Tandava’ dance afforded me “the ability to negotiate the range of human emotions” (Kariamu 1996, 187) I was experiencing and facilitated my transformation to a new concept of self.

According to Kariamu (1996), dance serves as an instrument with which one reaches the ethereal infinite, the reason some cultures hold a dance as a sacred art form and use it in worship. Dance in worship can also be viewed in the context of Van Gennep’s three phases: preliminal, liminal, and postliminal, where “worship is a journey from the known preliminal state of earthliness to the unknown liminal state of spiritual non-physicality and back to a spiritual enriched earthliness (Kariamu, 1996, 187). Movements in dance have the potential to release repressed and frightening emotions thereby leading to a feeling of acceptance (Levy 1988, 37). Zimmer (1946) contends that through the motion of dance, the participant “becomes amplified into a being endowed with supra-normal powers. His personality is transformed…the dance induces trance, ecstasy, the experience of the divine, the realization of one’s own spiritual nature, and, finally, mergence into the divine essence” (151). The symbolic nature of dance is well elucidated in Levy’s (1988) “Dance Movement Therapy” where Chase’s stance on the resolution of problems through symbolism described as “the process of using imagery, fantasy, recollection, and enactment through a combination of visualization, verbalization, and dance action” (37) has been emphasized. Dance embodying movements enables the dancer to moderate emotions by recognizing the extremes in the dancer’s behaviors (Cohen and Walco 1999), and facilitates changes in her/his psyche (Levy 1988) too.  It is also described as a play that “…frees the body from all social mimicry, from all gravity and conformity. A wheel that turns itself” (Badiou 2005, p.58).Apparently, I too, through my dance, was making an attempt to evade all social pretenses and turn the wheels towards my inner true self.

 

‘The Cosmic Dance’

The Hindu God, Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance representing the “Hindu view of existence” (Subramuniyaswami 1997) symbolizes five divine actions- Shristi (creation), Sthiti (preservation), Samhar (destruction), Tirobhava (illusion), and Anugraha (grace or release) (Varadpande 1987, 154), and is often referred to as Ananda Tandava or the “Dance of Bliss”. Nonetheless, the dance is somewhat paradoxical, for though it ends in bliss (Ananda), it begins in fierceness (Tandava). To emphasize the paradox inherent in ‘the cosmic dance’, Stromer in “Shiva Nataraja: A Study in Myth, Iconography, and the Meaning of a Sacred Symbol” mentions the coexistence of “creation and destruction, order and chaos, asceticism and sensuality, immanence and transcendence, life and death, being and non-being” in Shiva’s divine choreography. In the ‘Encyclopedia of The Saivism’ that is a comprehensive compilation of all significant aspects of Siva and Saivism, Swami Parmeshwaranand (2004) emphasizes the two states of enjoyment or ‘rasas’ namely Rudra rasa corresponding to Tandava (the masculine aspect of the dance) and Srngara rasa corresponding to Lasya (the feminine aspect of the dance) that the Cosmic Dance embodies (212). The cosmic dance “…is associated with the mythology of Shiva, forming in its most exalted aspect a metaphor for the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction and the individual cycle of birth and re-birth” (Gaston 1990, 4). Gaston (1990) further refers to the cosmic dance as a “veritable encyclopedia of mythological references” (p. 4). In explaining Siva’s cosmic dance, Varadpande (1987) poetically states:

“When he dances the earth trembles, sky and stars are disturbed by the movement of his powerful hands, at the impact of his whirling matted locks of hair heaven shudders, such is its majesty” (154).

The Tandava dance, symbolically representing the cosmic cycle of death and regeneration (Gaston 1990), is replete with movements and actions (Subramuniyaswami 1997). It is danced on the drum-beats of the rattle-drum or ‘Damaru’ (ref. Figure 2 in the Appendix). The dance calls for improvisation where the dancer extemporizes structure on impulse and without any premeditation (Payne 2000). Such improvisation capacitates a direct verbalization, through movement, of the unconscious mind (Corteville 2009).

 

My ‘Tandava’

 

A hoop of fire

As I embark on this expedition of penning down my thoughts on how I came to terms with my homosexual identity issues, I need to reverse the clock and travel back to those bygone days of my life as I take you through those murky corridors where I felt absolutely forsaken, disoriented, and thrown off balance. Though I speculated upon my same-sex preference quite early, it was only when I was around 15 years of age that I veritably faced ‘identity confusion’. That was precisely the time when I sensed the rage of the society I lived in against homosexuals. I vividly recall a gay man in my community who was disgraced and humiliated to the extent of being labeled ‘demented’ by some, when they discovered his same-sex preference. He was shunned by his family and often ridiculed and reviled by people for his effeminate mannerisms. Such socially sanctioned discrimination of homosexuals compels them to remain invisible and closeted all their lives (D’Emilio 1983) with psychological and social stress (LaSalle 1992, 1). Having witnessed such discrimination and sexual bigotry, I often had cold feet for I too feared being discriminated against, which of course I was and still am to a large extent. Members of my community considered homosexuality as a malaise. Living among such people was like being engulfed by a ‘hoop of fire’. Vacillating between ‘what I truly was’ and ‘what society expected of me’, at times, I felt I was on the verge of experiencing an emotional hemorrhage. On top of this, my interest in creative pursuits such as dancing and designing attracted considerable denigration from people around me. “You are a man, not a woman; and it’s women who dance, not men”- Such statements profoundly depreciated my self-esteem.

Coniunctio oppositorum

Nonplussed by normative definitions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, my natural instincts drove me towards the Cosmic Dance of the Hindu Divinity, Lord Shiva, who is also called ‘Ardhanarishwara’- both masculine and feminine epitomizing the ‘complete form’. The Sanskrit word, Ardhanarishvara[1], represents a synthesized androgynous embodiment of the Hindu deity Shiva and his wife Parvati, symbolizes the inseparability of the male and female principles, and proclaims that Shiva is “All, inseparable from His energy” (i.e. his Shakti) and is beyond gender”(Subramuniyaswami, 2003, p. 758). Shiva is “…the God who cannot be contained by space or time, God that needs no form” (Pattanaik 2011, p.3). Metaphorically, he is described as “…the container of infinity, the form of the formless” (ibid), and hence is worshipped as an esoteric symbol. The term also epitomizes coniunctio oppositorum or the ‘conjunction of opposites’ and the all-pervasive dichotomies inhabiting the universe (Kinsley, 1998). It is highly likely that my failure to fit into the societal stereotypes somehow made me feel deficient and hence my natural instincts drove me towards the Cosmic Ballet. This also resonates with Hanna’s (2010) exemplification of how the early choreographers such as Alwin Nikolais jettisoned the idea of polarized genders in dance in favor of androgynous dancers engaging in unisex movements.

Effacement of shame

I subscribe to Badiou’s (2005) representation of dance as a “simple affirmation [that] makes the negative body-the shameful body-radiantly absent.” (p. 58). Perhaps, through my dance, I was attempting to efface the socially proscribed unpropitious and reprehensible elements of my corporeal constitution. I also side with Badiou’s ideology that “dance corresponds to the Nietzschean idea of thought as active becoming, as active power. But this becoming is such that within it a unique affirmative interiority is released” (ibid, p.59). Consuming the ‘Cosmic Dance’ or ‘Tandava’, the celestial dance of destruction and reconstruction (death and rebirth), was truly in alignment with my feelings of being engulfed by a ‘hoop of fire’ where I was persistently encountering identity confusion that was exacerbated by society’s antagonistic beliefs toward people like me. Iglesias (2006) has rightfully mentioned “…dance communicates celebration and joy, but dance is also acutely adept at communicating self-abandonment” (39). Perhaps, I was communicating my feeling of self-abandonment through this ‘cosmic ballet’[2]. On the one hand, I was spaced out about my identity; on the other I was incensed about people’s heterocentric views. People’s homonegative comments causing wrath within me were somehow deterring me from completely accepting my identity. My confusion found resolution and my fury release in the paradoxical Tandava that became a psychotherapeutic conduit through which I released my resentment against people’s sexual prejudice and in turn shed my identity confusion. Dance calls upon “physical, emotional, and aesthetic resources in order to communicate something that words alone cannot” (Iglesias 2006, 39). Though there exists an encyclopedia of interpretations of the symbolism inherent in the Tandava dance, the elements of the dance form that seemed most stimulating to me and that I am going to confine my discussion to are the vigorous dance steps, movements and stillness; the spiritual sound of the drumbeats and the Shiva Tandava Strotam (hymn); and the symbolic trident. In order to articulate my embodied experience, I reflect back on my key memories of a particular happening when I indulged in my ‘Tandava’.

Vignette: Consuming Tandava

It was a Saturday morning when I was returning from college after a weekly test we had to sit; this was a regular feature. I was not alone, but with a gang of my classmates who were enjoying the chitchat. Suddenly, the light banter took the shape of a sensitive, rather caustic, affair when one in the group uttered, “Don’t you guys think the invigilator in the exam hall is gay? He is so womanish, what a disgrace!” This heinous comment surprisingly invited a loud guffaw from the others in the group. Quite disturbed, I got into the first taxi that stopped by me, and rushed back home. I, quickly, entered my room and locked the door; while I changed my clothes, I switched on the powerful Sony Music system that my Dad gifted me on my 18th birthday. The notes of Tandava suddenly began. It was like thunder perforating my corporeal entity. I constricted my body and aligned both my feet as if I were withholding my sexuality. The sound of the power drum ‘Damaru’ (depicted in Figure 1b) were intense and vehement. This sound signifies the primal sound that heralds the creation of all things around and is said to be the “conveyor of the divine truth” (Zimmer 1946, 152). Within the jurisdiction of the drum beats, the Shiva Tandava Strotam (hymn) also began rolling, and, replete with alliterations forged involutions of spiritual vibrations around me. The sounds generated by the drum and the hymn were so powerful and spiritual that they subsumed within their vibrations the perturbing mental noise in my fidgety simian mind. Though very much in body, I also felt I was in a supremely platonic zone where the sound, pulse and rhythm of the drumbeats systematized my nondescript and restive self and offered me “a potential form of agency” (DeNora 2016, 395). The rhythm became a medium through which I attained control and coordination over my unruly self (Dissanayake 2006). As such, research establishes the fact that the rhythm of the drumbeats can affect the Central Nervous System to create trance states (Papdimitropoulos 2009, 71) similar to the ones artificially created by morphine. However, during the frenzied dance state performed on the piercing notes of the Strotam with drumbeats as the backdrop, I did not quite keep a track of the frequency of the drum rhythms to see when exactly it created the frequency of brain wave required to induce a trance (cf. Neher 1962; Tuzin 1984). Circumscribing gesticulations of my both hands, I posed as though I held an (invisible) trident (as depicted in Figure 3) which is a consequential, though not obligatory, prop used in this dance form. Use of such props in dance facilitates psychic and somatic projection and is well documented in Blanche Evan’s work (Levy 1988, 43). Engaging in a string of convoluted movements, I started pirouetting and maneuvering my body at the roll of the drumbeats and the notes of the Tandava. My dance was truly unstructured, unfledged, and emotion-driven, where every single movement was offhand. The inchoate gyrations, along with the rhythm, sometimes heightened in its momentum and at other times dwindled. While at times, my electrifying body movements seemed to have overpowered the piercing sounds of the drumbeats; at other times, the power of the drumbeats appeared to have whiffed off my vigorous movements. My Tandava became a site of struggle not just between a homosexual’s quest for a righteous living and the straight privilege, but also between the weighty music of the drumbeats and my vehement body movements. Barbour (2012) argues: “We move to perceive and to understand” (p. 70) and my knowledge of my true self arose amidst such body movements. As the tempo and beats of the Tandava music intensified, I frantically walked forward stomping my feet on the ground. When I trampled my feet on the floor at the notes of the hymn and the drumbeats, I felt as if I were pulverizing the belittling remarks people made on homosexuals. This stomping of my feet, to me, is also symbolic of the dismantling of my callowness and the shedding of my identity confusion. Following about five to six such vehement steps, I leaped in fury as though I was nullifying gravity, exteriorizing my urge to accomplish. This summoned a concatenation of upswings before I made a barrage of blows (from right to left) with the trident. Blows of the spear were similar to the irreproachable vexation of a devout warrior and indicative of depurgating the cloak of ignorance that seemed to have obscured my spiritual, mental, and physical senses. The covert trident was the weapon with which I exterminated my identity confusion and its accompanied outrage, and symbolically demolished my anger against the ‘straight immunity’. Such spiritual movements and body actions constitute an important element of the Tandava dance that is portrayed in a myriad of dance postures. In ‘Dancing with Siva: Hinduism’s Contemporary Catechism’, Subramuniyaswami mentions 108 poses that traditionally represent Siva’s Cosmic Dance (1997, xix). Emphasizing Taylor’s (2009) view on the spiritual power in movement, Sheil (2006) posits that spiritual movements involve “the whole person in meaningful action” (29) and can encompass postures as well as actions (such as the blows of the trident). Along with the drumbeat and the spiritual movements in my dance, an impactful element was the Shiv Tandava Strotam (verse), one of whose verses where the dancer urges the Lord to expurgate him of his despicable thoughts, I mention blow:

KadaaNilimpa-Nirjharii-Nikun.ja-KottareVasan
Vimukta-DurmatihSadaaShirahstham-An.jalimVahan |
Vimukta-Lola-LocanoLalaama-Bhaala-Lagnakah
ShivetiMantram-Uccaran-KadaaSukhiiBhavaamy-Aham ||13||[3]

 

Meaning:13.1: When will I Dwell in a Cave within the Dense Woods by the side of the River Goddess Ganga and …
13.2: … being Free Forever from Sinful Mental Dispositions Worship Shiva Keeping my Hands on the Forehead?
13.3: When will I be Free from the Rolling of the Eyes (signifying lustful tendencies) and Worship Shiva applying the Sacred Mark on the Forehead?
13.4: When will I be Happy Uttering the Mantras of Shiva?

While I danced on the above verse, I felt I expressed my urge to be exonerated from the deluge of disconcerting thoughts that enshrouded my mind. Behind all my fury was the mental agony I was undergoing for which I sought an appeasement, and my ‘Tandava’ served as the vehicle for expressing my yearning for a divine intervention, a true ‘release’ and happiness in my hollowness.

My Tandava involved not just consuming powerful movements such as stomping and blowing, but also moments of stillness, both of which are essential elements of symbolic movement and dance (Sheil 2006, 31). In “Liturgy of Dance”, Deitering (1984) suggests that whereas movements in dance take us forward to God, stillness in dance moves God toward us. A phenomenology of stillness in dance has been investigated by Lepecki (2001) where the author points out that stillness may be perceived as the body’s response to moments of historical anxiety. Referring to the anthropologist, Nadia Seremetakis’ view on the “still act”, Lepecki (2001) states:

“The symbolic and expressive qualities of stillness clarify the phenomenological nature of this (resistant) act of arrest. It is not synonym with freezing. Rather, what stillness does is to initiate the subject in a different relationship with temporality. Stillness operates at the level of the subject’s desire to invert a certain relationship with time, and with certain (prescribed) corporeal rhythms. Which means that to engage in stillness is to engage into different experiences of perceiving one’s own presence”(2).

Dance movements with sporadic moments of stillness sustained until I reached the summit of my release that I describe next in an introspective poetic epiphany.

“My right leg was slightly angled; left foot swung across the right leg, elevated to the height of the right knee with almost a foot distance between my left heel and right knee. First, my left leg was in motion. I felt restless, but endowed. The moving aerial left leg with the right leg still, was symbolic of the transient nature of existence and represented a world profuse with mutations. Next, my mobile left leg too became unruffled. I felt reformulated. My face was straight-up, my chest raised, and my hips slightly bent. My body posture was similar to a squat position, but on one leg where my entire body weight was felt on my right feet. My left arm was extended to the opposite side in the direction of my raised left foot and almost parallel to it. This arm position was very much like an elephant’s trunk, and symbolized power. My right arm was stretched over and touched my left arm with my right palm facing upward and outside and left facing downward and inside. I could feel the pressure on the thumbs of both my hands. My body struck a whole series of poses, expressions, and gestures until it finally froze.”

[Insert Figure 2 and Figure 3 here]

This step, referred to as the ‘Abhay Mudra’[4](a hand gesture for fearlessness) signified my triumph over my jitters. I call it my “step to conquest”. The stillness experienced while performing the Abhay Mudra encapsulated my desire to invert a certain relationship, and marked a realization of my own true presence. Additionally, dancing on one foot was reinforcement for me that I am adept at performing extraordinary steps, and that I too am powerful, competent, equipped and abundant, and nothing less than my heterosexual counterparts.

I, till date, encounter moments of marginalization and stigmatization. I cannot, on all occasions, physically engage with my Tandava. And, during such times when I cannot access the dance floor, I seek my Tandava on my mind’s floor and appease my fury. Following is a poetic narration, integrated with my reflections, on my Tandava and betokens my emanation:

Today, I again felt marginalized

And sought my Tandava

Not in body, but in mind

In a sacred space

With drumbeats rolling

Constricting and then releasing

 

Today, I again felt victimized

And paged my Tandava

Not in body, but in mind

Stomping and wallowing

Leaping and plunging

Folding and then unfolding

 

Today, I again felt stigmatized

And summoned my Tandava

Not in body, but in mind

Blowing with the trident ‘under wraps’

Converging and then diverging

 

Today, I again felt tainted

And besought my Tandava

Not in body, but in mind

Dancing on one leg

Moving and then anchoring

 

Today, I again felt powerless

And invoked my Tandava

Not in body, but in mind

Negating and then affirming

Dissolving and then emerging

Sifting happiness in my hollowness

 

 

 

Concluding note

This study, in line with an implicit call on examining dance in the context of marginal sexual orientations by, e.g., Hanna (2010), allowed me to articulate my engagement with my dance during key liminal junctures in my homosexual identity formation. I resorted to my lived experiences as the research materials and depicted my Tandava against the backdrop of a provocative reminiscence where I felt deeply excluded. My Tandava facilitated in some way or the other a ‘catharsis’[5]which made me calmer and more accepting of my homosexual identity. Through this powerful dance consumption, I resolved my confusion and appeased my anger. I refer to this as a ‘procreating role’ as my embodied experience of the dance helped me repair my torn self, repossess my lost esteem, and redeem my spiritual entirety thereby giving birth to a renewed identity devoid of any confusion and resplendent with acceptance. This also brought in its wake a transmutation in my mind for and heart toward non-homosexuals and a psychological re-building or ‘metanoia’[6]. I initiated from a preliminal earthly state of bewilderment, cruised to the liminal state where consumption of the cosmic ballet helped me cast aside my identity confusion and demolish my fury against the heteronormative world view, and returned again to a post-liminal earthly state that was tranquil, spiritually enriched, and more accepting of my sexuality. In the post-liminal state, I experienced a reinvigorated sense of balance where all tiers of my existence the mental, the physical, and the spiritual appeared to be harmonized.

I believe, the importance of such personal narratives assume much significance particularly at a time when identity is considered malleable and constantly jeopardized (Schectman, 2013).Building on Belk’s (1988) notion of the extended self, a number of researchers have underlined the role of consumption in identity formation (Ahuvia 2005; Shankar et al. 2009).

Consumption provisions us with the tools to foster and voice our identity (Schectman, 2013). However, such consumption is not just confined to the world of materialism, but extends to the domain of spirituality and transcendence as well (Walter 2014). Amidst identity threats, and in quest for safety and security, consumers might embark on consumption of spiritual embodied practices such as a dance (cf. Walter 2014; Skousgaard 2006). Such practices serve as coping mechanisms, modes of expression and communication, channels for understanding the cosmos, tools to experience the mystical, and finally steps to realize one’s true self. Studying such forms of consumption has substantial implications for individual consumers, marketers and policy-makers alike. How can individual consumers deal with identity threats and issues through the universal practice of dance and other forms of embodied engagements? Can marketers and policy-makers imbibe, within their practices and policies, a transmodern perspective to reach the goal of accentuating well-being and assisting communities, particularly marginalized ones? Can dance, as Walter (2014) suggests, “…be used to celebrate the earth and our mystical connections to it?” (p. 141).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography-Tandava

 

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Appendix

C:\Users\Vikram Kapoor\Desktop\Tandav main grab.gif

Figure 1- Various postures in Tandava

Damrutrident blow

Figure 2 Power-drum “Damaru”   Figure 3 Tandava Dance


[1]The term “Ardhanariswara” and its meaning are retrieved from the Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (2011) on 02 May 2017.

[2] The term ‘cosmic ballet’ was first used by Richard Stromer in his article titled “Shiva Nataraja: A Study in Myth, Iconography, and the Meaning of a Shared Symbol.

[3] The verse and its meaning has been downloaded from http://greenmesg.org/mantras_slokas/sri_shiva-shiva_tandava_stotram.php on the 19th of November, 2016

[4] This was taken from http://yoganonymous.com/mudra-magic-abhaya-mudra-a-hand-gesture-for-fearlessness on the 8th of May, 2017.

[5] Catharsis, as mentioned in Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature, has been defined as the “the purification and purgation of emotions—especially pity and fear—through art”

[6] William James, in “The Principles of Psychology”, first used the term ‘metanoia’ to refer to a process of fundamental change in human personality. The term, that assumes different meanings in different contexts, has its origin in Ancient Greek words meta which means ‘beyond’ and noeo which stands for ‘mind’.

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