ON A CHILLY NOVEMBER EVENING, two men completely engrossed in dancing the salsa effortlessly lead and follow each other across the dance floor. The older of the two men twirls the younger on the spot and pulls him in close. They are oblivious to the spectators who may have been wondering, like me, how it feels for a man to follow another man’s lead while dancing the salsa—a dance known for its rigid gender binary. They shift their weight from right to left, and hold their arms just so, demonstrating the syncretic dance form to an eager group that has come to take part in a “queer-style salsa workshop”—one of the events at Delhi’s annual Nigah QueerFest.
The older man is Subhashish Mandal, or Subbu, an enthusiastic, graceful salsa instructor who, between teaching the basic steps, reminds the participants of the workshop to enjoy themselves. “Sometimes, in the advent of thinking queer, one forgets to just dance and enjoy the music,” he tells me during a brief chat before the workshop begins at The Attic, a large gallery tucked away in a corner of Connaught Place. The gathering is open to queer and queer-friendly people, and during the first session, I find myself in the company of three seemingly heterosexual couples and a few unaccompanied men. We all regard one another with a friendly inquisitiveness: a glance that stumbles out of the inevitable unspoken curiosity about our respective sexual orientations that makes it, perhaps, a little difficult to just dance and enjoy the music.
Subbu grins when he is asked about queer identities that emerge while dancing. “That depends a lot on the setting,” he points out. “Here [in a non-regular class], you’re bound by the fact that you’re queer, and it changes the dynamics between people. Your struggles, social acceptance, values and needs go against stereotypes. You can’t watch queer couples dance salsa and think of men leading and women following.”