6 comments on “A Look at the Lovely Dance Called Lavani

  1. in Bollywood films too Lavani were used. I admire Lavani of Madhuri Dixit. she have done that in many stages too…
    you can also find lavani in south indian films…
    One of my favorite is from Kalpana 1960, filmed on Padmini ji for the song ‘Aana aana atariya pe aana’.

  2. Ah, thanks for pointing out the song in Kalpana… I reviewed that film here a little over five years ago (and I liked it a lot!), but I didn’t identify this dance as lavani at the time. (Padmini and Ragini cover such a wonderful range of dances in this film!)

  3. Richard, I read this post when you first posted it, and meant to comment, but thought I would do so after I watched the documentary you linked here. I must confess that I still haven’t found the time to do so. :( Or even, indeed, to watch all the songs you have posted.

    I must confess that the lavani, as a dance, has never appealed to me. It has a certain vulgarity – is that the word I’m looking for? – to it, that repels me. Probably because of the dance’s antecedents, which were mostly to entertain soldiers on the march? It’s much like the earthy songs from UP which, too, make me both listen (their tunes are very catchy) but also repel me with their overtly explicit lyrics. I freely admit that it’s my bias. :)

    But you have touched on a theme that is not very common, and I enjoyed reading about it. Will definitely watch the two documentaries – I have bookmarked them.

  4. Anu, I actually answered you a few days ago, but the answer disappeared. (I am not working on my usual computer, which crashed. I am on a smaller keyboard, which I don’t like, and I must have pushed the wrong button at some point. :) )


    I’m glad you enjoyed reading this, and I hope you had a chance to watch the documentaries – or some parts of them – by now.

    Somewhere in those docs, someone points out how unfair it is that Lavani is shunned by some for its “vlugar” reputation yet, at the same time, people are eager to pander to tastes for the contemporary Bollywood dances that really are vulgar by comparison. Well, he’s got a point…

    Lavani necessarily has some artistry, as well as roots in tradition, which make it less vulgar than a lot of stuff we see today. Additionally, give the dance credit for not depending on the flashing of skin. I mean, with those extra-long saris wrapped so many times and all the other adornments, I think the dance requires more clothes than most.

    As for its traditional past, was performing for soldiers on the march any better than performing in brothels? :) And sex was probably mixed into the lives of those temple dancers way-back-when in ways that would make many people uncomfortable now.

    I might say that maybe my acceptance of the “vulgarity” that repels you is helped along by my male perspective or, as some feminists like to say, my “male gaze.” I even like the contemporary Pakistani “mujra” sometimes (though, curiously, so does Suzy/Sitaji from Bollwyood Food Club – we talked about those on both blogs quite a while ago). But I do require some artistry in a dance (as I was saying) and if it’s risque, I look for a good level of humor to go along with that. And I just don’t like the sexual aesthetics in much contemporary soft-porn-leaning stuff from Bollywood or Hollywood. (But that’s another matter that we need not get into here.)

  5. Richard, your response led me to think a little bit more about my aversion to the lavani as a dance form. You ask whether it was any worse than the songs performed in brothels? I would say, at the core of it, it was not. Both dances were meant to entertain men. I think the difference is that the mujra had its genesis in Kathak. The lavani is more earthy. I do not know whether it was to do with the social position of the men who were the target audience. The average soldier is not interested in classicism, the lavani was meant as a means to ease a tired soldier’s ache for home and hearth. I would say pretty much the same ‘job’ that the saloon girls in the Wild West performed. The lyrics are also usually very, very explicit; as I mentioned earlier, they remind me of the ‘wedding songs’ of UP/Bihar etc. I know that those also serve a purpose; to a large extent, that is probably the only ‘sex education’ they get.

    With the mujra in the kotha, the men who went there were usually middle-class, upper middle class and aristocracy. Hence the classicism – in both meanings of the word.

    I quite agree about the skin show, and yes, I find modern Bollywood item numbers quite vulgar. And push comes to shove, give me a good lavani to the chikni Chamelis and the badnaam Munnis. I also agree about ‘vulgarity’ as a concept being different for different people. About the feminist perspective: I’m caught in a dichotomy that way. It bothers me on some level that the reason these are helped along is because of the ‘male’ gaze, but I’m also worldly enough to understand that as long as we have gendered attractions – and that is not going to die down any time – we will continue to have this in some form. It’s the nature of the beast. (No pun intended. *grin*)

  6. Anu, some of what you are saying makes me more inclined to like lavani, because I kind of like the idea of dancers entertaining the working class or the economically downtrodden, as opposed to those who are doing mujras to entertain upper-class men with high feelings of entitlement. :) I have also seen and heard that lavani is similar in a number of ways to kathak, and I can kind of see that, myself. I do like classical kathak a lot and understand that it was part of traditional mujras (though it’s not so much part of the modern-day “mujras” that you can see in YouTube clips of Pakistani stage shows :) ).

    But I do also like earthy folk dances, saloon dances, vaudeville dances, dances in sleazy cabarets (well, there are certainly plenty of those in many of our favorite Indian movies), tap dances (the main reason I love a few Golden Age Hollywood movies)…all of these things!

    So we probably don’t see these matters in the same way, but I appreciate the perspective that you shared – you have made some interesting points.

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