A pioneer of Bharatanatyam dance in Pakistan

By: Wali Imran Khan, Pakistan.

Sheema Kirmani is without a doubt a passionate one-woman army. She is Pakistan’s not only a Bharatanatyam Classical Dancer but is also a social mobilizer, a feminist, a mentor, and an Actor – all rolled into one. Like Asma Jehangir before her, she is the only one to openly defy regressive norms in Pakistani society – and that takes guts.

Sheema’s Intellectual conviction

  • “for arts to flourish, you must have freedom of expression”
  • “Anybody who questions anything is termed a blasphemer, then you can be killed”
  • “I have never understood how dance and music can be defined through religious categorizations – what is Hindu dance and what is Islamic dance?”

The subtle but powerful revolutionary words used in her ballads are half the battle.

  • Fehmida Riaz “Raqs Karo” dedicated to Matriarchy and strong women
  • Sarojini Naidu’s Palanquin Bearers
  • Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Intesaab “dedication”
  • Faiz Sahib’s Dasht-e-Tanhai “the desert of loneliness”


Sheema Kirmani’s background

Born to an over-achiever family in 1951 that rubbed shoulders with our founding fathers, this daughter of an Army Brigadier father ansocial activist mother, has the right mix of empathy and discipline to do something for people. Call her a rabble-rouser, a social militant, a renegade, or a deviant, no one can deny the lady’s guts that would put the burliest General to Shame.

Her Bharatanatyam Kathak dance is just an expression of her willingness to take the unbeaten path of freedom for her pet project – women.

Tehrik-e-Niswan (women’s movement)

This woman started “Tehrik e Niswan,” when the dictator Zia ul Haq was still whipping dissidents in the streets and forcing systematic exploitation of women down our throats.

These are reasons why everyone should see Sheema Kirmani dance show at least once before we lose this priceless gem too.

Sheema Kirmani’s Courage.

You cannot be a performing artist in Pakistan and not be ridiculed or threatened.

  • “I have received threats right from the beginning” – and it has been 40 years since.

At least she dared to take the challenge to the enemy’s doorstep.

  • Sheema Kirmani performed the Dhamaal dance right after a suicide bombing of Sehwan Sharif Shrine so that the loving spirit of Sufi musical order is not diminished.
  • The lady defied objections by the established order in Pakistan by paying glowing tributes to other human rights giant Asma Jehangir at the Faiz Aman Mela. Here she said “peace, harmony, and equality” will come from sharing and loving one another.

Her quest to perfect dance started since she was 13, and is now considered a pioneer of Bharatanatyam dance in Pakistan.

  • “There is nothing in the Quran (ic) text that prohibits Dance”
  • I believe in what I am doing. I thought it was the truth and still think it is a profound art form. I do not think dance, music, and performing art has harmed anyone. In contrast, it has always promoted love, peace, good health, and will. I rose above whatever criticism came”
  • “The performing arts provokes people to think and change their lives”

Her love for Indus Valley Culture

  • “what I try to do is to create something that we can call a Pakistani classical dance, that means something to me and women”
  • “It is so much part of the culture that dates back to Moen Jo Daro and Indus Valley Civilization. The artifacts and sculptures found were of dancing girls, figures in yoga postures and history deeply talk about it. They found masks that indicted theater and puppetry”

Her eye on Pakistani society’s health

  • “It was different during Zia’s time. Only the state was trying to impose puritanical Islam on people. The public was not that closed-minded. Now, after years of incorrect teachings, the public has become illiberal
  • “Religious fundamentalism has seeped into people’s way of life more than ever before. The enemy is now obscure”

Read more about her at Watching Sheema Kirmani dance is a treat – How 2 Have Fun