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Soni Khan _ from Kathak Dancer to trainer and transgender activist

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Sunaina Khan is a renowned Kathak dancer, trainer, and trans-gender activist whose mission in life is to support trans-gender community and promote classical dance.

Soni, known as Sunaina Khan is a famous Kathak-dance trainer and she is giving training of this classical dance to students at schools, colleges, and universities in major cities _ Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi since 2009.

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She said: “I learned Kathak dance in 2005 and then adopted it as a profession in 2006. Since 2006 I have participated in many traditional dance contests across Pakistan and won a number of awards for my best performance”.

I have also performed Kathak dance at a contest in Southern India that was my first international performance and I hope to attend more international classical dance contests/events.

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Kathak is a classical dance that is very famous in Pakistan and other countries in the world, said Sunaina, a trans-gender, who is waiting for upcoming law about trans-genders in Pakistan, to get the option of declare herself as a woman or trans-woman in the computerised national identity card.

This classical dance is very difficult and one cannot learn it without giving complete concentration and devotion. Soni Khan is a graduate of Human Psychology & Social Work from the Government College University, Lahore.

Soni Khan proudly said that she had been working with Pakistan National Council of Arts, Islamabad, as Dance Head for two years and gave Kathak dance training to several youngsters there.

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“I have also taught Kathak dance at Pakistan’s famous art centers _ Rafi Peer Theater, Al-Hamra Art Center, Lahore and National College of Arts in Rawalpindi”, Sunaina said, who is also raising issues relating to the trans-genders in the country. Soni is also working with a couple of NGOs to promote the cause of the trans-genders in Pakistan. She wants her community members to learn some skill, get education, find jobs to earn their livelihood in a respectful manner and give up begging and prostitution _ the most abhored things in our society.

Soni Khan had conducted research on all folk and classical dances in Pakistan and documented them for the UNESCO’s project, titled “National Intangible Heritage Archives”.

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She said now my focus is on trans-activism and I am working with a couple of NGOs to give some skills, education and confidence to my community members so that they give up begging, prostitution and earn their livelihood with respect in our society.

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The federal and provincial governments should open more avenues of jobs for the trans-genders and also motivate the private companies and institutions to accommodate the members of this community by giving them maximum jobs.

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Supreme Court supports trans-genders

In Dec 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) to issue computerized national identity card (CNIC) to all the trans-genders in the country while through another order issued Nov 14, 2011, the apex court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to register trans-genders as voters.

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Resultantly, in 2013 about a few trans-genders contested elections although none of them won the seat while thousands of others exercised their right of casting vote for the first time. In the ongoing national population census-2017, all the trans-genders are being registered as third-gender in Pakistan.

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How to promote Kathak dance

Kathak dance’s teaching should be made compulsory from school-level to promote this classical art in the country, Huma Nazz, a professional female Kathak trainer said. In India a number of institutes are dedicated to the Kathak dance training, but we don’t have a single full-fledged institute for this classical dance.

In Pakistan there must be an organisation or institute that should prepare a framework for the development of Kathak dance, its trainers and students, Huma suggested. She had learned this classical dance from India about 20 years ago and giving its training in Pakistan for the past 17 years.

She said she had been teaching Kathak dance for seven consecutive years at the Pakistan National Council of Art, Islamabad, but on contract basis as government and private organisations neither give permanent jobs nor offer desired pay and perks for those are promoting this classical culture in the country.

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Mehrin Ilahi, CEO of Majmua Art Gallery, former TV actress and Chairperson of the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) Standing Committee on Art and Heritage said: “Kathak means telling a story. So Kathak is a story that is being told through dance. Kathak dance is one of the most graceful dances that employs the body language to express itself”.

Sonikhan in yellow dress

She said that it is a courtly dance enriched with Mughal nuances, romantic movements and it was mostly danced with classical music and equipment like “thumris” and “dadras” created by the legend of music late Amir Khusro.

Mehrin said the Kathak dance was originally created in the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh  in the 19th century in Hindustan as he himself was a brilliant classical dancer. In Pakistan Mahraj Kathak in Lahore as well as Naheed Siddiqui are the legends of this art that was followed by Sheema Kirmani, Nighat Chaudhary and Fasih-ur-Rehman, Mehrin said.

“I am also a fan of classical Kathak dance and my daughter is also learning it from Mohsin Babur, a student of Sheema Kirmani,” Mehrin said, adding the Kathak dance is a language of ‘dervaish’ that keeps the audience enraptured by the thrilling performance.

Merin Ilahi is running her Majmua Art Gallery in Karachi Defence for years that offers unique paintings of classical dances in Pakistan.

Javed Mahmood
Written By

I am an experienced writer, analyst, and author. My exposure in English journalism spans more than 28 years. In the past, I have been working with daily The Muslim (Lahore Bureau), daily Business Recorder (Lahore/Islamabad Bureaus), Daily Times, Islamabad, daily The Nation (Lahore and Karachi). With daily The Nation, I have served as Resident Editor, Karachi. Since 2009, I have been working as a Freelance Writer/Editor for American organizations.

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