A little bit of Dancing

Varisha Tariq, a second-year at Ashoka, shares an intimate story about her empowering experience with dance. A shoutout to all those women out there who let nothing hold them back!

I am not a dancer. At least not one who can perform graceful and aesthetically pleasing moves. I am a messy dancer, and if you have seen me on the dance floor then you know that I dance in a slightly vulgar and completely unrestrained manner.


I used to dance a lot when I was younger. In fact, my very first political act was related to dancing. I was in my ‘pre-steroids, conventionally acceptable body size’ phase. I was seven and it was at my uncle’s wedding in the small town of Jaunpur. My grandfather who was a progressive man when it came to education but in general an Orthodox, disapproved of any forms of music or dance, and as terrifying as he was, my mostly stupid relatives still played loud music and danced along to it. It also danced like nobody was watching, even though everyone could see me. In my defence, I was seven. The aftermath of this unrestrained dancing marked my first political act in the public sphere. People all around me sensed that my strict grandfather disapproved and was ready to show it. There was a flurry of activity and within a minute everybody had disappeared. In their hurry, nobody switched off the music. Everybody disappeared except me. I was still there, my body vibrating with music, unstoppable. I was seven and I was very well aware of what I was doing--breaking some rules that he had set, and I knew that there would be consequences, obviously. All I could think about was how all those who left were cowards and that none of them had the power to stop me. Two minutes later, my grandfather marched up to where I was standing and smacked my head and asked me to come inside. I smiled. It was the worst reaction to give, but it reflected my feelings.  I was triumphant. My name went down in the pages of our family history, and to this day everyone talks about that event (Okay, I’m slightly exaggerating).

That was the relationship I had with dance. Dance and I were two fearless friends--invincible and politically rebellious.I danced at weddings and on a stage with three thousand people looking at me dance alone. I danced on school stages and at pre-adolescent parties. We were the best of friends.

Jump to me at age sixteen. I was on a night cruise filled with joyous people dancing to their heart’s content. I was pulled in to dance and I realized with some embarrassment, but mostly with heart-breaking sadness, that I could dance. My legs were frozen, with blood rushing in my ears. My breathing sped up and my heart beat so loud that I was sure that everyone could hear it. I could not imagine myself dancing looking the way I did. Fat.

That night when I went back to my room, I cried. I don’t know what happened in the span of eight years--how did I go from being that fearless girl who danced in front of thousands of people to someone who couldn’t even dance in front of the mirror? I never realized that things would get this bad, or that I would come to hate my body so much. But I did--in that moment, in that year, in that entire decade--I did. I had to hide it from the world--the bulge, the ‘tires’, the back fat, the stretch marks, the cellulite. I had to hide my dancing body because fat people dancing are for memes, vines and funny YouTube videos. Bodies like mine needed to be loathed for the dichotomy between ugly and beautiful to persist. If I considered myself beautiful, then nobody would be ugly.

After a long time of not dancing, at one of my school parties, I was standing with a group of people who liked dancing and they dragged me inside the auditorium. Everyone was dancing and I felt alive just by looking at them. There was a fear of being looked at, of being judged, but the music was calling out to me--my best friend was back. I just had to take a step towards her, and I did.

I can’t say that dance changed everything for me in that one instant. It was a three-year-long struggle. Every day I was unsure of whether or not I was socially approved to dance. But mostly I wondered, do people still judge me?

The day I stopped asking myself this question was the day when dance and I officially became friends again. Today, we don’t see each other for days. But when we do, it feels like we are still the same old fearless friends, taking over the world, one step at a time.

All images are the courtesy of Varisha Tariq

Edited by Gauri Jhangiani