Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Mousumi Chowdhury striking a chau pose © Contact Base

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: One Somersault at a Time

Grand Prize Winner in the Category of Young Practitioner,
2019 Asia-Pacific Storytelling Contest

My name is Mousumi Chowdhury I am a female chau dancer—chau is a male-dominated form of traditional martial arts-based dance from the eastern reaches of the Indian subcontinent and, as such, there are many burdens that I bear on my shoulders.

As a girl who hails from a village, many people have been extremely cynical toward my choice of profession. Many have said that women are incapable of achieving their goals. They have said that as a woman, I must abandon such high aspirations, for I shall surely be unable to meet those. But my vision is different. I believe that women are not only capable of accomplishing daunting tasks but can also excel in them. However, to reach these heights, they must be provided with the proper opportunities that would enable them tap into their true inner strength, which, as a woman, I think is immense.

My father is a renowned chau dancer. I am lucky to find in him a constant source of strength, support and inspiration. My parents have been beside me through thick and thin, and I have reached where I am today owing to them.

Bridging Cultures, Mousumi conducting chau workshop at Trondheim in Norway © Contact Base

Chau training of young girls from the village being conducted by Mousumi © Contact Base
Having said that, it is also true that I have faced countless obstacles along my journey as a woman chau dancer. Many have tried to shatter my morale and confidence, but I have never given up. What I have in me is a ‘never say die’ attitude and an indomitable spirit towards pursuing my passion to excel as a chau dancer. In times of crises, I have found my father and my other Gurus beside me. I have found strength, support and solidarity from so many sources—from my family, my teachers, friends, and, last, but by no means the least, from banglanatak dot com. They have been like pillars of support for me, holding me up and enabling me in my quest for carving a niche as a woman chau dancer.
Many other great people, including, though not limited to, stalwarts from among chau dancers of Purulia, have been like beacons of light for me. Their blessings have played an immense role in stoking the fire of determination in me – the determination to excel as a chau dancer despite being a woman.

My father always says to me rings on in my ears, motivating me to push myself further and further towards excelling in my art. He says kono shomoy haar maanbey na which means never ever accept defeat. He tells me to aspire to work in such a way that everyone will remember me for my contribution. I am indebted for all the blessings that he and my other wishers have always showered upon me.

To reiterate, I am a women from Purulia, West Bengal, India. I am a chau dancer. Traditionally, it is mostly men who have been Chau dancers, which is a martial arts based dance form. So, what I am up against is years of patriarchal hegemony and I earnestly wish to carry on my pursuit, my fight. I want to make my village, my district, my state and, above all, my country, proud of my achievements and accomplishments.

Despite all odds, I have been lucky to find the support from and blessings of many good people, my father included. With all their kind words and teachings giving me strength, I shall strive fervently to make my village, my state and my country proud of my work. I sincerely thank the organizers of the Asia Pacific storytelling contest for considering me worthy enough to bestow their prestigious award upon me. It has been a crucial landmark that shall propel me in my journey forward as a chau dancer.