It’s not just watching Sheema Kirmani dance troupe perform, it’s the quality music, the poetry laced with humanism, and her defiance which makes the whole experience worth it.
Fehmida Riaz’s “Raqs Karo (keep dancing)” ballad formed the background score to the flamenco-like movements of Bharatanatyam dance moves.
- “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion” Martha Graham
Who is Sheema Kirmani?
Sheema Kirmani is without a doubt a passionate one-woman army.
She is Pakistan’s not only a Bharatanatyam Classical Dancer but is also a social mobilizer, a feminist, a mentor, and an Actor – all rolled into one.
Like Asma Jehangir before her, she is the only one to openly defy regressive norms in Pakistani society – and that takes guts.
Sheema Kirmani’s background
Born to an over-achiever family in 1951 that rubbed shoulders with our founding fathers, this daughter of an Army Brigadier father and social activist mother, has the right mix of empathy and discipline to do something for people.
Call her a rabble-rouser, a social militant, a renegade, or a deviant, no one can deny the lady’s guts that would put the burliest General to Shame.
Her Bharatanatyam Kathak dance is just an expression of her willingness to take the unbeaten path of freedom for her pet project – women.
Tehrik-e-Niswan (women’s movement)
This woman started “Tehrik e Niswan,” when the dictator Zia ul Haq was still whipping dissidents in the streets and forcing systematic exploitation of women down our throats.
These are reasons why everyone should see Sheema Kirmani dance show at least once before we lose this priceless gem too.
Sheema Kirmani’s Courage.
You cannot be a performing artist in Pakistan and not be ridiculed or threatened.
- “I have received threats right from the beginning” – and it has been 40 years since.
At least she dared to take the challenge to the enemy’s doorstep.
- Sheema Kirmani performed the Dhamaal dance right after a suicide bombing of Sehwan Sharif Shrine so that the loving spirit of Sufi musical order is not diminished.
- The lady defied objections by the established order in Pakistan by paying glowing tributes to other human rights giant Asma Jehangir at the Faiz Aman Mela. Here she said “peace, harmony, and equality” will come from sharing and loving one another.
- See, Imran Khan’s courage of Conviction
Sheema’s passion for performing arts
- “Without music, life would be a mistake,” said Nietzsche and I tend to agree.
- Also, see Music, Song, and Dance in Pakistani Society
Her quest to perfect dance started since she was 13, and is now considered a pioneer of Bharatanatyam dance in Pakistan.
- “There is nothing in the Quran (ic) text that prohibits Dance”
- “I believe in what I am doing. I thought it was the truth and still think it is a profound art form. I do not think dance, music, and performing art has harmed anyone. In contrast, it has always promoted love, peace, good health, and will. I rose above whatever criticism came”
- “The performing arts provokes people to think and change their lives”
Sheema Kirmani’s devotion to women’s rights
- “The message we want to give to the public is that you teach your daughters the same as your sons, give them equal rights of education; women must have health facilities”
- “They are told to be ashamed of their bodies that is what I want to subvert. I want them to be proud of their bodies”
Notice the subtle use of the word “subvert” – right on lady!
While talking of women who are raped and then shamed into dying by suicide for honor, she said,
- “No one can give me my rights, nor can anyone take it away from me. My honor is not in my body or my existence”
- “My body is my choice. Whether I put on lipstick, wear a dupatta or not, it is my right”
- “No woman should be looked down upon. She is worthy of respect in every way, not just as a mother, wife or sister”
- “women are not living to their potential, they are surviving”
Her love for Pakistan’s Indus Valley Culture
- “what I try to do is to create something that we can call a Pakistani classical dance, that means something to me and women”
- “It is so much part of the culture that dates back to Moen Jo Daro and Indus Valley Civilization. The artifacts and sculptures found were of dancing girls, figures in yoga postures and history deeply talk about it. They found masks that indicted theater and puppetry”
- Also, see My tribute to Pakistan.
Her abhorrence of Exploitation
Sheema Kirmani believes tribalism and patriarchy are a recent entry into the exploitation spectrum. In earlier times, having a powerful matriarch was considered perfectly normal in society.
- “Men benefits from Patriarchy. And when we speak about patriarchy, we are not attacking men, we are attacking the system and it is against patriarchy and not men at all”
- “When women came out on the road, they sought identity, rights, irrespective of our men than women are trying to take control and that’s what they fear. So they attack you in a way calling women and Aurat march “Behayai (shamelessness)”
- “Men kill women, they pick up guns, shoot people, men are terrorists, and women are not violent in any way.”
Her commitment to excellence
- “Quality work is gone because we are so satisfied with whatever is produced. There is no such hard work, instead, everyone is quick in copying and imitating and I see that in all art forms there is total mediocrity”
- “This is all about morals, we have lost honesty and integrity and that is why we can never produce any sort of art”
Her rejection of material self
- “I am not interested in cars, branded clothes, big houses, crowded with much furniture and glittery items”
- “I do not even like furniture and I live in an empty room. I like to read, write, dance, sing”
Her eye on Pakistani society’s health
- “It was different during Zia’s time. Only the state was trying to impose puritanical Islam on people. The public was not that closed-minded. Now, after years of incorrect teachings, the public has become illiberal
- “Religious fundamentalism has seeped into people’s way of life more than ever before. The enemy is now obscure”
Sheema Kirmani the mentor
- “Be brave, come up, fight it out and do it. Rise above and believe in yourself, because whatever I am today is what I have believed in and that was it. I believed in myself and I always knew that what I am doing is not going to be wrong”
- “I realized this and decide that this is a very rigid and patriarchal society, dance gives me the greater freedom to no not only express but to maintain my body and should together”
- Also, see Top motivational speeches.
Her Intellectual conviction
- “for arts to flourish, you must have freedom of expression”
- “Anybody who questions anything is termed a blasphemer, then you can be killed”
- “I have never understood how dance and music can be defined through religious categorizations – what is Hindu dance and what is Islamic dance?”
Choice of Revolutionary poetry
The subtle but powerful revolutionary words used in her ballads are half the battle.
- Fehmida Riaz “Raqs Karo” dedicated to Matriarchy and strong women
- Sarojini Naidu’s Palanquin Bearers
- Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Intesaab “dedication”
- Faiz Sahib’s Dasht-e-Tanhai “the desert of loneliness”
God knows Pakistan needs a revolution of the people to happen yesterday.
Furthermore, God bless the people who tread the unseen path in an unforgiving system.