"She could tell tales through her body."
Female Bangladeshi dancers have been evolving the South Asian dance industry for decades.
Often overshadowed by mainstream performers and western dance styles, these women have continued to break down the barriers for Bangladeshi dance.
Not only do these artists creatively embrace their cultural influences, but they successfully promote classical forms of choreography.
Although, these icons go beyond just showcasing dance in a gripping way.
They are putting their own spin on traditions to modernise the landscape as well as keep a historical value intact.
These female Bangladeshi dancers exude charismatic hand placement, engrossing twirls and symbolic expressions.
DESIblitz dives into the 10 female Bangladeshi dancers who are sending shockwaves through the industry.
Shamim Ara Nipa
The list starts with one of the most formidable female Bangladeshi dancers.
Shamim is a highly decorated choreographer and a specialist in folk, contemporary and kathak dance. Her versatility is an ode to her dedication as an artist.
Studying under renowned dance specialists, G A Mannan and Nikunja Bihari Pal, Shamim is an elegant, captivating and immersive mover.
Impressively, Shamim’s work ethic has allowed her to gather the intricacies of dance from different cultures.
This includes achieving a certificate in choreography from the National Academy of Fine Art in China.
With such a plethora of training, Shamim joined the Shilpakala Academy, a prestigious cultural centre of Bangladesh.
Unsurprisingly, she became the leading female dancer there. Whilst touring with the institute, Shamim visited over fifty countries and hypnotised the audiences with her beautiful performances.
What makes Shamim so unique is the pride she takes in her cultural dances.
Her gracious footwork, mesmerising facial expressions, and vibrant clothing collectively shine with every step.
These elements have not gone unnoticed. Awards amongst her catalogue include the ‘Prothom Alo Award’ and ‘Bachas Award.’
Additionally, in 2017, she won the ‘Ekushey Padak Award’, the second-highest civilian award in Bangladesh.
Since 2000, Shamim has worked with established dancer Shibli Mohammad, creating the Nrityanchal Dance Company.
Passing on her depth of knowledge and artistry to the next generation, it is not hard to see why Shamim is a fabulous female Bangladeshi dancer.
Mehbooba Mahnoor Chandni
Similar to Shamim, Mehbooba has danced all her life. Having started her training at the tender age of 4-years-old, Mehbooba has learned multiple dance forms.
Notably, her skills lie in modern Bangladeshi dance and the historical Bharatanatyam.
The latter is a form of Indian classical dance, which bursts with flexible choreography, spiritual ideas, and gorgeous complexity.
Mehbooba’s remarkable talents provided her with a gateway into mainstream media.
Taking part in the popular reality TV show, Notun Kuri, the dancer came first in the group dance category.
Not only did this emphasise Mehbooba’s superb dancing but it also catapulted the starlet’s career.
Writer, Israt Akter, goes on to describe Mehbooba, stating:
“She is a true woman of honour, who has managed to win hearts wherever she goes in her quest to become a megastar.”
She announced herself on the world stage in the Bangladeshi movie, Dukhai (1997). In the same year, the film went on to win an astonishing nine awards at the National Film Awards.
Mehbooba has also appeared in other projects such as Lalsalu (2001) and Joyjatra (2004). For both of these movies, she won ‘Best Supporting Actress’ at the National Film Awards.
Although, it is the icon’s dancing that always leaves fans in awe. Providing uplifting energy on stage, audiences can clearly see how intuned Mehbooba is with dancing.
Her movement patterns, eye contact, and majestic twirls are intense yet irresistible to witness.
Sharmila Banerjee is a household name when it comes to the top Bangladeshi female dancers.
A master in classical and folk dancing, Sharmila’s knowledge of dance and musicality is extensive.
This was highlighted when she achieved a Bachelor of Music degree in Dance from Visva-Bharati University, Bangladesh.
Whilst studying, the artist developed her skillset in the Manipuri dance style.
However, she also lasered in on kathakali choreography, a genre that hones in on storytelling, with dramatic costumes and vibrant makeup.
Interestingly, Sharmila admits that her dedication towards her craft comes from the inspiring work of her mentor, Amala Shankar.
It is heartwarming to see how impactful Amala’s teachings were as Sharmila expresses:
“It felt like a dream to see the tall and beautiful opshora. She was so graceful, and she could tell tales through her body.”
Sharmila goes on to state how the insights of Amala moulded her own method of dancing:
“She would ask us to represent nature, or numbers, alphabets and shapes with our body.”
This divine concept of dance is highlighted throughout Sharmila’s productions.
The way she engages every limb, hits every beat, and flows effortlessly across the stage is evocative of her flair.
Managing her own dance institute, Nritya Nandan, the superstar is shaping the dancing superstars of the future.
Although, her accomplishments don’t stop there. She won the ‘Meril Prothom Alo Award’ in 2009 for ‘Best Choreographer and Dancer’ of the year.
Additionally, she was awarded the ‘Shilpakala Padak’ in 2018 for her fantastic contribution to Bangladeshi dance.
Interestingly, Sharmila’s infinite strides in dance are not limited to just her students. The advancement of her teachings hit much closer to home.
Sudeshna Swayamprabha is the daughter of Sharmila and has undertones of her mother’s skill but with a more modern twist.
With such a fantastic teacher, the capabilities of Sudeshna shone the first moment she took up the art form. She also had the supervision of Amala Shankar bearing over her.
Some may find it challenging to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Although, Sudeshna welcomes it and admires her mother’s diligent firmness:
“No matter what, my mother never compromises with the quality of a performance. I respect her deeply for that.”
This exquisite base of talent and knowledge allowed the superstar to perfect Bharatnatyam, Kathak and Manipuri dance forms.
Sudeshna’s versatility is remarkable and that is emphasised by her attention to detail in Manipuri choreography.
This is a charming genre that boasts motions of devotion, longing, and faith.
The dancer’s meteoric progression was quick and admirable. This was emphasised through Sudeshna’s captivating displays on Bangladeshi TV.
Winning first place on the show, Tarana, Sudeshna went on to mesmerise fans at the Indian Kalidas Festival in 2003.
The audience could clearly see Sudeshna’s dedication to perfecting the patterns of numerous styles.
The way Sudeshna’s footwork balances drama and beauty and her arms surge through the air with complexity is wonderful.
Moreover, the artist has performed across the world in places like Dubai and Norway, clarifying Sudeshna’s worldwide appeal.
A glorious female Bangladeshi dancer is Munmun Ahmed. Although she was born in 1966, she rose to prominence in 1978 at 12-years-old.
She grabbed the majority of her knowledge from her teacher, Syed Abul Kalam, who polished the dancer’s proficiency in kathak dance.
However, she also enlisted the guidance of choreography maestros Ram Mohan Maharaj and Raj Kumar Sharma.
Munmun’s determination led her to the tutoring of Pandit Birju Maharaj, one of the catalysts of Kathak dance.
Absorbing the elements, which make up this unique form, Munmun’s signature style started to take shape.
Her enchanting twirls, rhythmic hand placement, and smooth transitions shed a light on the dancer’s amazing ability.
Though, the star, reports how her encompassing qualities are not down to sheer talent:
“I am at this position today because I learned how to dance and practiced to become an eminent artiste.
“[It takes] practice, perseverance, and dedication. I passed many days when I didn’t even have sleep and practiced till dawn.”
Clearly, Munmun’s application to dance is unquestionable. Taking this forward, the dancer opened her own institute – the Rewaaz Performing School.
The icon saw how South Asian culture challenged dance as a profession and Munmun wanted to abolish this mindset. Nonetheless, Munmun’s inspiring enthusiasm does not stop there.
Her poignant input in movies such as Golapi Ekhon Bilatey (2010) and Ghetuputra Komola (2012) reiterates her versatile expertise.
Also, in 2010, she choreographed a dance performance at the South Asian Games held in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The breathtaking production included 900 dancers, all of whom learned Munmun’s stunning moves and executed them fluently.
This illustrates how deep-rooted this female Bangladeshi dancer is within South Asian dance and progressing the culture forward.
Minu Haque is a tremendous dancer who was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She went from the traditional kathak dance to specialising in the Odissi genre.
This form is incredibly luxurious, which boasts cultural symbolism, tranquillity, and rhythmic elements.
Like many dancers on this list, the dancing greats of South Asia trained Minu. These include the keen observation of masters Sunny Mahapatra, Ipshita Behura, and Dulal Talukder.
The latter went on to teach dance at Harvard University. The abundant amount of skills that these teachers passed onto Minu is mindboggling.
Expressive spins, engaging expressions, and experimental footwork all add to Minu’s athletic performances.
Her dramatic choreography thrived throughout South Asian communities. Hence, in 1997, she created the Pallavi Dance Centre.
Engaging with young dancers, Minu is able to provide an infrastructure of emotive dance, which oozes with the rich artistry of Bangladesh.
Talking to The Daily Star in 2016, Minu explained why it is important for someone of her stature to influence the youth:
“I want the youth of Bangladesh to learn dance, music and literature.
“[To] lead their lives with discipline and elevate themselves to a certain level from where the attraction of drugs, criminal offence, and other negative diversions will be totally absent.
“If one is a dancer, choreographer, his/her entire life will be engulfed in the pursuit of perfection.”
This highlights how strongly Minu is attached to dance and the belief she holds in this art form soothing the soul.
Her engaging attitude is refreshing and vital for her craft.
Also, the cultural delight that drips from her choreography makes her one of the most respected female Bangladeshi dancers ever.
Born in 1946, Laila Hasan is a well-established personality in Bangladeshi media.
Not only is she an actress and presenter, but she made her name through her breathtaking dance style.
Her impressive stature was moulded by the vision of her teachers at the Bulbul Academy for Fine Arts (BAFA).
This institution, based in Dhaka, is a staple in many Bangladeshi dancers’ careers as it provides them with the support of dancing legends.
Additionally, Laila’s master’s degree in philosophy has infiltrated the dancer’s choreography.
As the subject promotes thought-provoking topics, Laila’s performances were just as intriguing. Her mind expanded through education and her movements equally began to bolster up.
Fierce and aesthetically pleasing performances in productions such as Raktokarob and Neel Darpan embody the artistic qualities Laila possesses.
Her incredible work ethic is relentless and that is personified through the different mediums she has explored.
For example, she founded the dance organisation Natraj in 1990 and is a lifetime member of the West Bengal Dance Federation.
Also, in 1996, Laila published a book, Hridoye Bajey Nupur, which looked at the artistry and importance of dance.
Her invaluable contribution to her craft undoubtedly laid the groundwork for the female Bangladeshi dancers after her.
Not only has she embraced the particular aspects of cultural dance but has personified the vibrancy of South Asia.
Her priceless efforts were honoured in 2010 when she was awarded the ‘Ekushey Padak Prize’.
Like many female Bangladeshi dancers, Benazir has had an in-depth and immersive career path towards success.
From Rajshahi, Bangladesh, she is a genius in folk, kathak, and modern dance who astounds the audience with every move.
Her additional training in Manipuri and Bharatanatyam showcases Benazir’s versatility and the ruthlessness of her coaching.
The dancer’s credentials began to stack up when she was just 7-years-old.
In 1986, 1988, and 1989, Benazir was considered the national child in a competition organised by the Shishu Academy in Bangladesh.
However, this did not halt the young prodigy’s craving for progression.
In 1990, she won first prize in Kathak dance at the National Education Week in Dhaka. Within the same year, she also achieved the ‘UNESCO Clubs Cultural Award.’
With such an impeccable array of triumphs, Benazir’s career is a catalyst for Bangladeshi dance.
She proves time and time again how cultured South Asian styles are and slaps her own cinematic style onto it.
Having overcome the intricacies of popular dance styles, Benazir turned her attention to Odissi dance. Explaining her reasoning for this, she revealed:
“Odissi has the softness and attractive quality that other dance forms lack.”
“For instance, the movement of the body is very flexible in this dance.”
Benazir believes that learning the honesty and devotion behind these cultured dances is a gateway for dancers to thrive.
These ideologies are principles in Benazir’s teachings at Nupur, her very own school in Bangladesh.
She has created a space for creatives to develop their perception of their craft and evolve their movements to fit any dance category.
A profound female Bangladeshi dancer from Dhaka is Zeenat Barkatullah. The iconic mover started to groove at 4-years-old under the surveillance of choreographer, Gazi Alimuddin Mannan.
However, Zeenat is heavily experienced in multiple dance forms, it was her early consistency with folk dance that built her character:
“I predominantly persisted with folk. It was not a respite from the arduous forms of dance; rather it was my professional integrity because I, as a dancer, could never indulge in remissness.
“I chose to continue with folk dance because, in my extremely occupied routine, it was almost impossible for me to invest ample time in practices.
“An artist is supposed to cultivate their mastery.”
This illustrated how focused Zeenat is with dance and dominating numerous areas. Although Zeenat’s career has been expansive, her training was not limited to just Bangladesh.
Her determination to evolve as a dancer took her to the depths of North Korea. It was here where she learned ballet for six months under the keen eye of experts, excelling at every turn.
Adding a more western form of dance to her catalogue helped Zeenat’s reputation in Bangladeshi dance.
She began penetrating the theatrical stage with her aura, which quickly escalated the demand for Zeenat.
The dancer has starred in over 70 TV plays, yet her most magical performance came in the dance drama, Shyama.
Created by Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, Zeenat gave an impeccable performance as the protagonist, Shyama.
The production received rave reviews. Given the dancer’s contribution to her craft and the Bangladesh arts, the accolades started to flood in.
These include the ‘UNESCO Award’ (1996), ‘Millennium Award’ (2000), and ‘Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Award’ (2008).
Although the dancer retired due to Covid-19 complications, her artistic qualities still symbolise the beauty of South Asian dance.
Amina is a creatively gifted dancer and choreographer who was born in the Sylhet Division, Bangladesh.
Although Amina moved to Oxford, London, it did not deter her avid interest in traditional South Asian dance.
Furthermore, her family were not enthusiastic about the idea of dance, forcing Amina to hide her passion:
“I was always interested in dance as a child, but I come from a very orthodox Islamic family.
“My parents were not going to hold my hand and take me to a local dance school – that was never going to happen.”
This experience is relatable for many South Asians worldwide. However, Amina’s early signs of passion and dedication motivated her to pursue this interest:
“I always wanted to do classical dance – and kathak was on my doorstep.
“It was an instant love affair and going to Croydon was my way out into the community.”
Amina’s initial training was steady under the eye of Alpana Sengupta. However, it was not until 1996 that the artist found her calling.
Learning from kathak pioneer, Sushmita Ghosh, Amina witnessed the intricacies of this dance style at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Educational Trust.
Embracing the power she felt when performing, Amina quickly wanted to use classical dance as means of challenging society.
In 2007, the dancer opened her very own company, Amina Khayyam Dance. This served as a platform to showcase her intense choreography, vivid movements, and dynamic footwork.
Though, it was actually her full-length creations that sparked interest with the audience. In 2014, she produced the iconic Yerma.
This is an adaptation from the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 work of the same name, dealing with the tribulations of married women.
Yerma is not only a beautiful showcase of dance but a poignant narrative on the marginalisation of women.
In the same year, Amina went on to construct other projects such as A Thousand Faces and Amad.
Her enriching sense of flow and vision encompasses all the unique elements of Kathak dance.
Additionally, Amina’s empowering messages behind each performance serve as a modern purpose for these classical forms.
With such an array of performers, dancers, and choreographers, Bangladesh’s dance scene is booming.
Even though most female Bangladeshi dancers face hurdles, their fascinating contribution is allowing more women to thrive within this lane.
Not only do these creators typify South Asian flair, but they provide gripping insight into the beauty of classical dance forms.
These women all possess catalogues of success and an abundance of creativity that has transcended the state of Bangladeshi dance.