Belly dance, or Danse du Ventre as it was originally referred to is a dance form which many of us have been mesmerized over the years but have afforded to know very little about. This scenario is much more apparent in the sub-continent owing to a general lack of art studies post independence. Belly dancing therefore may categorically be implied as “solo, improvised dance involving torso articulation” if one were to go with the wiki definition of it. Time has however been a great patron of this form and has over the years, with of course the seamless infusion of Arabic cultures and the eventual Mediterranean thoughts, has found itself to become the eloquent and expressive form that it is now. It is in this wonderful scenario that the present generation of dance enthusiasts were exposed to Belly Dancing by Meher Malik. An exquisite exponent of this traditional Egyptian art form in India, Meher Malik, has found reveling opportunities to further her poise in the subcontinent. I had the rare opportunity to talk to her about how the journey which started in Egypt found its eventuality in India. This acclaimed dancer who mesmerized the whole country with her grace in shows like India’s Got Talent And Just Dance, remains to be a dedicated bearer of the culture withheld. Also I got to know more about how this generous artist had furthered her art form though her ‘Banjara School of Dance’, which trains and prepares students from all over the country to endear this artform. The excerpts from our discussion follow….
Straight off the chest, where does the story of Meher Malik start at? Would it be back in the Middle East where you first got endeared to this unique dance form or was it in India where you got to explore it thoroughly?
Well having lived in the middle east for 17 years I was surely influenced by the culture, the music, the language and I think that is when the seed was planted. Right after I finished school, before I joined University in India I went to study belly dance at a festival in London and that’s when I realized I would really like to pursue this some day. And then my belly dance exploration journey began in India
There is not much known about Belly Dancing in the contemporary world, and you have been the greatest students of it here in India..Can you guide us through what exactly spoke to you of this form in a way that you needed to do this and nothing else..?
I think what spoke to me was the kind of women I met in this field. Strong, self made, believers. And I immediately felt like my space was with this community. I believe everybody feels like they want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves that validates their own existence. And belly dance does that for me. It empowers me. I rejoice in my body and enjoy who I am as woman. And its a sisterhood that encourages women to be who they want to be. And gives them complete control on their own bodies and minds.
You are an accomplished artist now, and are a name associated with poise and passion. What then prompted you to start Banjara School and not say, further it into film choreography as such..?
I believe to build something beautiful you need support, community, people. My father says its lonely at the top and I truly believe that. The true joy is in walking hand in hand with all these beautiful dancers to create a scene for the many generations to come. I have hardly every been interested in the glitz of the Bollywood world. their image of belly dance is highly misconstrued and I have been offered item songs umpteen times. They really need to broaden their horizons and go beyond just that. the industry has a lot to learn. I haven’t worked so hard for the image of belly dance so hard to then succumb to the “item song”opportunities. what am I fighting for then?
You’ve been associated with television shows like Just Dance And India’s Got Talent, at this context do you feel that India as an audience is getting it’s due exposure to hitherto unknown dance forms? Which dance routines are you most impressed with apart from your own?
My sole reason to be on reality shows is to bring belly-dance to the forefront. not for the fame that comes with it. Just to say “hey, we exist” , and I do believe everything comes with its pros and cons. I feel like India has a lot of fresh talent to offer and to certain degree reality shows are able to do that and scout for new talent. But then the worst thing happens, they try to morph everybody into their own pre decided image. That is the part I like to stay away from. I think India is showing tremendous growth especially in the genre of hip hop dancing.
What is Meher beyond the eloquent dance movements and exotic expressions,? How has life been in India? And how different is it culturally from say Middle East from whence your chosen discipline originates from?
I am blunt, brutally honest, and a born fighter. I truly believe impossible is nothing. And your belief in what you do is the only thing that matters. Life in India is complex. Beautiful yet complex, fighting against the mentality of the average Indian mind has been the hardest thing. But it is also a very flexible society and things change if you want them to. Arabs and Indians share a lot in common, especially their love for SHAH RUKH KHAN. Only the Arabian sea divides Oman from India and there has been so much cross of trade between the countries that when you’re actually there you feel like you’re home. I love India with all my heart but Oman will always be home.
Now that I’ve satiated the academic in me, let’s do something fun. Some random questions then -- What is that one dance routines/movies that you repeat watch every-time you are low. What is that one book that has had an everlasting impact on your nature. What are the genres that you are a bit inclined towards ? Any acting interests per se?
Dance movies never actually pep me up, Marvel movies do. Iron man being my favorite.
Book- The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, this will always be my favorite.
Music genres I’m inclined to are JAZZ- Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong…. the works. Because I don’t believe in being the jack of all trades, I believe in being a master of one. Most actors you see in movies now days, can either dance or act. In most cases they are not great at either. I don’t think you see a lot of the best actors in mainstream movies , Naseerudin Shah is definitely one of my favorites. Now that’s talent. I’d rather die knowing I gave my best to the world of dance, than being some average actor in an average industry.
Back to some serious talk , there often a saying ” Anybody can dance, all you need is a soul and a beating heart “. How true do you think that is. For someone in a country which is still shy to express their emotions, where do you think Dance fits in? What do you think is essential for a person if she/he wants to emote through Dance?
I don’t believe that anybody can dance. Yes, anybody can move. But not anybody can dance. Movement comes to all of us naturally but dancing is awareness of that movement, which yes everybody can achieve with time. its like saying everybody can meditate. If you sit down to, yes anybody can, but it demands a certain amount of awareness and that comes with being conscious of yourself. when your mind, body and soul are in one place dance happens. you are the artist and the byproduct of the art, so it is very difficult to fake it.
I happened to read that you are proficient in Salsa as well. Was it a conscious effort on your part to diversify to it? Are there any Indian Dance forms that you are particularly fond of?
I believe in constantly studying. I am always cross training in different styles of dance. that brings so much variety to my movement. I have studied Kathak for 4 years and I love experimenting with Odissi bellydance fusion with a fellow dancer at my company, Nitisha Nanda who has been studying Odissi for 18 years now.
Now with a school ( Banjara School Of Dance ) under your wings, where do you think you see it progressing to or transforming into. How has the experience been and how has it changed you as a person and more so as an artist? And how does someone who has zero knowledge of dance like myself, enroll into it?
The best you can do is some research to see what style of dance appeals to you, find a class and then just go. If you let go to dance there isn’t much to think about anymore. You lose yourself. I see Banjara bringing more joy into people’s lives, making them believe in themselves. We’re currently travelling all around India and the world to teach and perform and we’re loving it!
Now to wrap up the things, Any advice you would like to give to the budding actors/artists that want to make it big in the artistic field? Also for someone just starting in expressing themselves, what would they really need to promote themselves. And where does social network comes in?
I believe being on social media platforms is the most important way to reach people today. And the best part is it is so fair. Gone are the days when only people with money could afford promoting themselves. The internet is a fair space. You see something good, you share it. The world likes it, they share it. I think if you believe your art is worth showing to the world don’t be afraid to share it!! And most importantly believe in what you, the ultimate goal of any profession is to spread goodness with their work. And that’s what our aim should be. Spread goodness through what we do.
Check Out Some Of Her Videos Here :
So that was Meher Malik folks. Follow her wonderful works here and if you wish to know more about her school do visit the links below :
Website : Banjara School Of Dance