Culture is an integral part of life. It helps construct your identity that is intertwined with where you are brought up, and mostly, how. As a gay man from Darjeeling, Norden Sherpa is a strong example of how culture can help you truly be at peace with yourself. A dancer, an actor, a fashion choreographer, and a teacher Norden has gone above and beyond to ensure the lessons he learns, he teaches. And to always learn from every project he takes up.
Norden has been a part of Hindi TV Soaps, reality shows, and has interviewed celebrities. He also teaches kids from remote places of India and works with foundations such as Salaam Bombay.
We also spoke to a dancer from Bangalore, a young gay boy who with a heart warm enough to heat up the lives of a hundred. Shiv (name changed) recently graduated with a degree in performing arts and teaches dance in several institutions. He, along with his dear friend, are trying to get a dance company off the ground. Which means, that his entire day revolves around dancing.
Shiv began dancing when he was two years old and performed Bharatanatyam quite often. He was teased and made for a majority of his time during school. As he grew up and came to terms with his sexuality and individual self, he sought comfort in dance.
We decided to ask Norden and Shiv, a few questions about the world of culture and how it helped them become who they are today.
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Art as an identity
“Dance has helped me in recognising who I am and where I come from. Dance has been my companion in search of my identity and my place in society” said Norden, when we asked him how dance has helped him in the construction of his own identity. His brief answer evidently hits the right note. For a dancer to explain what dance means to them is not easy.
Art and culture have the ability to become a safe haven for most people. LGBTQ+ or otherwise, anyone who takes part in culture and art understands the need to accept diversity.
Here’s Shiv take on the matter. “Art and literature influence people in the most varied ways. It was all that I fell back on while I was coming in terms with myself. Art thus shaped me as a person and guided my process of self-acceptance. In fact, one of the first plays that I acted in was my way of accepting myself. Art made it much easier for me to come in terms with myself. I initially saw the non-judgemental realm of art, again, thanks to the play”.
If one interacts with art and culture they also understand individualism and individual differences, and the statement, “Live and let live”.
Does Art make acceptance easier?
“One of the first groups of people that I opened up to happened to be the dance company I work at. I have sensed that the groups of people I’ve opened up to invariably trust me more than people I haven’t opened up to. I also have sensed apart from the trust, art has been a more important indicator of my work and me, rather than my sexual orientation.” Shiv added.
There are two forms of acceptance that we discuss here. The first one is the acceptance of one’s own self, the other is the ability to accept others for who and what they are. Art and culture behave differently in both cases. They are used in different ways.
Is culture as flexible and accepting as we deem it to be?
When it comes to gender diversity or sexual orientation, art and culture can be considered powerful influencers. Through performances and representations of reality, or an alternative reality one can challenge the thoughts and notions of society.
“Art has been an outlet for innumerable thinkers and artists who thought of ideas that seemed radical at certain points in history, from Brecht to Beckett to Pudumaipittan. Art accepts and allows for varied interpretations. It also allows experiments and a non-judgemental view. Thus, I believe art can help overcome the same or insecurity associated with gender.”
Culture can strengthen the idea of acceptance.
We have seen shows where many deities and characters were portrayed to be evil, dumb, or plain disgraceful. We then saw an alternative, where the point of view from the same characters changed how we viewed them. Similarly, we need to use culture to rewrite and retrace ideas of acceptance.
This does not mean we break traditions or disrespect it, this means that culture has the space to evolve and still hold onto its roots. We agree with Shiv. “Culture isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic. This ever-changing nature of culture helps it accommodate both the old traditional views and contemporary waves of thought.”
“Validation by cultural norms is what every idea seeks. An idea attempts to become a norm. Thus, as people too we are expected to seek approval and stand up to these cultural norms. Deferring from these norms is what often creates a new thought. In my opinion, gender validated by culture does influence the perception of the LGBTQ+.” said Shiv.
Culture is vibrant, culture is a concoction of varied ideas and thoughts. Culture is alive and has to evolve. It is like a dictionary, every generation has more to add, and a few older things become obsolete. And yet we have instances where culture seems stationary, rigid and uptight.
Norden says, “In my experience, there is not a fair inclusion of diverse communities in the country. There is a lot more inclusion that can be practiced by the communities which enjoy a wider recognition towards the ones that don’t enjoy the same. The responsibility of the minority is to keep including themselves and not feel that there any reason for them to get pushed behind. It is a shared responsibility of both the communities to push each other to accept the fact that they are different from each other. This is my personal journey and I intend on continuing to make the culture aware of the same.”
Learning about yourself through Dance
We asked both, Shiv and Norden what they learned from art, specifically dance, and how it was incorporated into their lives.
“Your body is beyond what you see. Just like art, your body is beyond lines and curves, bones and muscles. It’s also infused with thought, with an element of understanding. We often speak of the power that Ardhanareeshwara holds, clearly because of fusion of the male and female energies into one body. This has been one of my most important examples and learning. To accept the feminine and the masculine as part of you, and not subdue a section of yourself, just because a few people refuse to accept. Dance in specific, and art, in general, taught me acceptance.”
As much as your life teaches you what to do, it also teaches you what not to do.
Norden, as mentioned earlier dabbles with various things. Here is what he learned not to over-project As an actor, he learned not to over-project, dancing taught him to be precise and teaching taught him not to discriminate.
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This is a 15 day intensive workshop with Salaam Bombay foundation.@salaambbayorg has created this skill building workshop in collaboration with me and @lam_luck_y to develop and educate these kids and to empower them so that they can follow their dreams and make their living through performing arts. “A child empowered is a future transformed “ #childeducation #empowerchildren #empowerment #performingarts #salaambombayfoundation #choreographer #nordensherpa
Norden added “practicing mindfulness as a friend, teacher and as an equal member of the society encourages me to see the diverse nature of it. The more I recognise the difference between people the more I feel home with myself.”