For the first time in India, a dance festival was organised to include the LGBTQIA+ community into the mainstream. Hyderabad Dance festival, presented by HMDA, which went on for 9 days and concluded on 11 April, has been a rare example to include queer and trans people within every aspect of the festival. It is one of the Indian dance festivals that has a trans woman as the board of advisor for the festival.
Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a trans activist and an RTI petitioner, has been in the advisory position to ensure the festival is inclusive from start to end. The festival was envisioned by the Udayam foundation, which includes Harsha Maheswari (city-based dancer and influencer), Vaibhav Modi (Inclusion catalyst) and Mohit Shridhar (Kathak exponent from Jaipur Gharana).
Vaibhav Modi, who is a part of the Hyderabad queer community and has been working to bring queer inclusion in events, spaces, government sectors and party culture, said, “It’s high time to make every space queer-inclusive and we from the start of our event enure to make this message loud and clear.”
The event was supported by Hyderabad based LGBTQIA+ organisation Mobbera foundation. One of the days hosted a free dance workshop for trans and queer people facilitated by Ryan Martyr and Mohit Shridhar. Sandy from Mobbera said, “Opportunities like these to learn an art form must be given more often to the queer community as majorly we are the most marginalised due to our identities. Learning like this would help us reach our complete potential.”
The event also dedicated an evening to bring in fresh and unique queer talent by opening up space for queer arts. The performance showcased on this day included a dance presentation by trans women Priya, a Kuchipudi presentation by Rajashekhar and a drag performance by Cologne. The event also had a unique showcase of Drag Dance drama called “Mohini Bhasmasure”, presented by Hyderabadi drag artist and dancer Patruni Sastry with Sajiv Pasala and Sourabh Basava.
Vyjayanti, who is on the board of advisor, shared her views as a part of the panel discussion and said, “Dancers need to question a lot about their roots of dance, what they represent and how they can come down from silos to ground reality and ensure to create more inclusive art.”
Sravan Telu, a Hyderabad belly dancer and queer activist who was also a part of a different panel discussion, said, “It’s high time to break the stereotypes that men shouldn’t dance. Now we need to focus more on bringing all sexual identities and genders to the umbrella of dance and see how they transform each other.”
The festival also included a flow movement workshop by Xen and Flux, who are a part of the community.
The festival served as a remarkable space for the Hyderabad Drag community, working in parts due to stigma and phobia about drag. The festival became a bridge to bring drag out of only queer-centric events to a wider space where allyship for drag is encouraged and accredited.
Cypher hours vol 10 was one such space where drag could flourish in mainstream art. This Cypher, for the very first time, had a wonderful drag performance by Patruni Sastry. Harsha Maheswari, who was the curator for Cypher, said, “Cyphers are safe spaces where a dancer can share their mind, these are communities where people from different walks of life come and use their art to talk about their situations, this volume was indeed special where we had Drag which was both a visual retreat and marks our idea of inclusion to its best.”
Patruni Sastry said, “It was really hard to find spaces to do drag initially, though drag has come a long way in Hyderabad, but still time and again we had to put in the entire story of explanation to venues while performing it. However, what the Hyderabad dance festival did was it broke the shackles of exclusivity and ensured drag is treated equally as any other dance form such as Hip-Hop, Jazz or Belly.”
Even the people who backed up the event as sponsors and partners had inclusivity to its core. Queer run businesses, for the very first time, saw an equal platform to be with other heteronormative businesses to support the festival. Hyderabad based queer café People Choice has played a significant role in sponsoring refreshments for all 9 days of the festival and Hyderabad’s first queer-friendly drive-in, The Trunk Road, also supported the cause by being the water sponsor for the event.
Surya, the owner of The Trunk Road, said, “A queer business is as equal as that of others. By the end of it, a business is a business and being queer-friendly only helps in making your business more prosperous and meaningful than the other. Now the city has been seeing a lot of queer-friendly outlets, but do they allow a trans person to step into their premises? That is the true question.
“Hence, it’s high time. Queer businesses like us need to claim our own space and collaboration, such as with Hyderabad Dance Festival. It will only ensure that our intent is heard loud and clear.”
Hephzibah also added, “Each and every space has to be queer-inclusive and that is the message we bring in by collaborating with this festival.”