How a dentist finds his sexual account through dance
At the mere mention of Bharatanatyam, Varun Khanna aka Dancing Dentist on social media, becomes visibly happy and ecstatic. He firmly believes that dance is a sadhana (deep practice), the intimate language of the soul, as much as it is a way to get in touch with the physical world. It was through dance that he was able to take a journey within, which allowed greater truths about him to surface, some of which he was able to observe, and ultimately accept – one of they being his sexuality.
A disciple of the duo Rama Vaidyanathan and Saroja Vaidyanathan, Khanna will perform tomorrow at the iconic Tagore Theater in Chandigarh. The production, choreographed by Rama Vaidyanathan, is called Nar ‘O’ Narayan, celebrating the life of Krishna, and will be staged before Janmashtami day. “It will attempt to portray Krishna as a transcendental and yogic being through verses by six Sufi poets from across the country,” Khanna said.
It was another of his guru’s famous productions, Ardhnarishwara Ashtakam, which Khanna had performed at various festivals, including the 10th Chandigarh Pride Parade at Sukhna Lake this year, which he calls his “tipping point”. This is what helped him to accept his sexuality. The concept of Ardhanarishwara, of course, is a half-masculine, half-feminine form – of the god Shiva and the goddess Parvati – as one being. Performing in this production in various venues over the years has made him accept his feminine side, he notes, adding that those who ridicule gay men for being effeminate should understand that the world was born from the marital union Between Purush (man) and Prakriti (women).
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By day, Khanna works as a dentist, extracting teeth and fitting dentures at her clinic in Chandigarh. When the day is over, he longs to put on his dhoti and ghunghroos to dance, and also to teach a few students. Like his guru, he too is interested in contemporary re-readings of famous epics, through his performances. Khanna has performed at prestigious festivals including Kinnar Mahotsav 2022, and in 2021 was awarded the title of Kalashree by Ganesh Natyalaya.
Ahead of the upcoming performance, Khanna chats with Living room on the intersection between dance, medicine and his identity as a homosexual. Edited excerpts.
Tell us about your relationship with Guru Rama Vaidhyanathan. You ran away from home in your third year of college to learn from her.
I first watched Ramaji dance in Chandigarh. Although Bharatanatyam is a classical form, Ramaji’s innovative choreography brought a certain freshness that I could immediately identify with. I emailed him and received a very warm response the next day.
Two years after this incident, I met her at Delhi’s Khan Market with my nani. I kept talking about the dilemma of learning from her in Delhi or joining my classes in Panchkula (near Chandigarh). “I accept you as a student. Come see me after you finish your studies,” she told me. This faith in me diverted my attention from studies to dance.
With no family support at the time, I took the train to Delhi without telling my parents. It was late in the evening that my family realized that I was missing, and my father drove to Delhi to take me home. On the way home, he said, “If a legend can recognize my son’s talent, then who am I to stop you?”
Many dancers belong to the LGBT community. I know of a male friend who faced the wrath of his Kathak guru when he refused to become sexually involved with him. To what extent is the community of dancers conducive to the alternation of sexualities?
Times have changed and sensitive dance teachers are happy to teach those who value learning above all else.
You mention finding a few of your med school seniors living in heterosexual marriages but secretly using Grindr. You belong to a family of doctors, who in most cases internalize homophobia (from their college years) without even knowing it. How has the proximity to medicine affected the acceptance of your sexuality?
I wasn’t sure about my sexuality (in college). I was attracted to boys, but having no name for it, I attributed it to their personality, or what I was missing then. Once, as a child, my father saw me draped in my mother’s dupatta and dancing to an item number. The expression on his face tightened. Later, when my family realized my orientation, they never expressed their disgust openly, but left subtle hints.
More than medical schools, I think society as a whole is to blame for the double lives of homosexuals. Nobody gets married while they’re in medical school. But there’s no denying that a certain openness and sensitivity in medical schools – when students are playing with their unusual patterns of attraction – could help them make informed decisions and even support people around them. ‘them.
I remember the movie Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021) in which actor Ayushmann Khurrana’s character, portraying a macho man, behaves rather childishly when he realizes he has been in love with a trans woman. Tell us about the region’s gay culture. What differences do you find in the gay culture of small towns and big cities?
Confused, discreet and looking for sex. Afraid of being caught, they trained and let their beards grow. Metros generally have open-minded people, trying to accept themselves and understand others and their cultures.
What are your future goals as a dancer and dentist?
I like to live in the present. Not much can be said about the future, but I think I would like to balance both dance and medicine and do both well to inspire people who might wish to do something more.
Kinshuk Gupta is a poet and writer from Delhi.
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