Highlights

  • Story of Pakistan's classical dancer Sheema Kermani
  • Sheema featured in video of Coke Studio song 'Pasoori'
  • Sheema also a social activist fighting for women's rights

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How 'Pasoori' dancer defied Pakistan dictator Zia's dance ban: Sheema Kermani's story

When Pakistan's military dictator Zia-ul-Haq banned dance, calling it un-Islamic, and discouraged attires like sarees, Sheema Kermani defied by wearing sarees, sporting 'bindis', and continuing her art.

'Pasoori', the hit Coke Studio song from Pakistan, has thrown the spotlight on a doyen of the Pakistani cultural world. The music video for the song, starring Ali Sethi and Shae Gill, also features a dancer that many members of younger generations might not be aware of.

She is Pakistan's classical dancer, and social activist, Sheema Kermani. Her story has been as exciting, colourful, and challenging, as her art.

She was born in 1951 in a progressive family in Rawalpindi, and raised in Karachi. Her foray into dance began early, through her mother, a Bharatnatyam dancer.

Sheema also visited India many times for training in the 1980s. She turned into a politico-cultural rebel when General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's military dictatorship began.

The military regime banned dance, calling it un-Islamic, and discouraged attires like sarees. However, Sheema continued to wear sarees, and sport a 'bindi' on her forehead, as a symbol of her resistance.

She told The Indian Express that she had to play with words to get permission from the Pakistani government for her events. Instead of "dance performance", she would call it "cultural programme".

One of her most memorable performances with a social message was the dance at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, days after the suicide attack in 2017. The bombing had killed over 85 people.

Sheema said that she performed at the shrine to ensure that the attack did not "change anything".

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