Usha Jey

Usha Jey, a Paris-based dancer whose Bharatanatyam and hip-hop fusion is winning hearts 

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Usha Jey, a 25-year-old dancer and choreographer living in Paris, shared a video on Instagram earlier this week that combined two very different dance genres — Bharatanatyam and hip-hop — in an attempt to bridge the gap between them. Bharatanatyam adavus (basic steps) hold with ease, popping, locking, and breaking the result is a wonderful mix. As they dance to American rapper Lil Wayne’s 2018 song, Uproar, Jey, Mithuja, and Janusha (Tamil-Sri Lankan Bharatanatyam dancers from Switzerland), switch identities with each step. “It’s what I call hybrid Bharatanatyam.” In an email, Jey writes, “It’s my method of moving between hip-hop and Bharatanatyam, two dance traditions that I love, learn, and respect.”

The three, dressed in chequered bottle-green Kalakshethra saris with jasmine blossoms in their hair, gave a captivating performance, and the response on social media (with 25 lakh views on Instagram and a lengthy list of gratitude posts) has been very popular. The video was recently uploaded on social media by Swiss Beatz, an American record producer, rapper, and record executive who also produced the original music.

While many people praised the performance’s distinctiveness, some objected to the use of profane language in the lyrics with Bharatanatyam. “As I am living in this hip-hop world, I didn’t realise at first that it could disturb. I took a ‘clear’ version of Uproar, a version where curse words are muted. My intentions are right and I’m true to myself. The interpretation one can have is based on their own story and background so I respect every opinion… I try my best to find the right balance and not hurt people’s feelings, while still being me and letting my creativity be,” Usha Jey adds.

Hip-hop, on the other hand, was a natural evolution in Paris, which served as a vital training ground for the genre. She went to a lesson with her best buddy since she didn’t want to attend by herself.

Jey only began to reconnect with her roots a few years later. She’d learned koothu, an informal dance representing themes from ancient epics from Tamil movies when she was a youngster and would perform it for family and friends. She knew it was too late when she wanted to learn Bharatanatyam at the age of 20, but she went ahead and did it anyway. She found a mentor in Bharatanatyam dancer Anthusha Uthayakumar and dedicated the next few years to the style, but hip-hop remained.

Her desire to understand identity persisted as the conflict in her homeland and its atrocities filled her with rage and despair. The dance evolved to become a means of expression. She danced to One Hundred Thousand Flowers, a song about the oppression and slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka, produced by Canadian-Sri Lankan rapper Shan Vincent de Paul in his album, Made in Jaffna, in a prior video she made in her hybrid Bharatanatyam series in 2020. (2021).