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European Tamil dancers stun with Kuthu at Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games, a multi-sport event which takes place every four years, landed in Birmingham for 2022, a UK city well-known for its diverse population with many communities with roots in the Commonwealth. The city’s South Asian cultures were represented in the games’ opening and closing ceremonies, and for the first time in the history of the games, Tamil representation also gained pride of place with upbeat performances of Kuthu folk dance.

The dances were choreographed and performed by French Tamil dancer Usha Jey, and Swiss Tamil dancers Janusha and Mithuja.

Thanks to her eclectic style of fusion Tamil styles and hip-hop, Usha has gained a platform through several viral videos which she has choreographed and performed, landing opportunities such as becoming the face of a Lancome campaign promoting dance and women’s empowerment. She has also recently worked with M.I.A., choreographing and performing for the Eelam Tamil music star’s concert. 

Janusha and Mithuja are sisters that have a shared passion for dance and choreography, especially through Bharatanatyam. They have featured on IBC Tamil dance shows and also have a loyal following through their dances on Instagram and TikTok.

The trio said they were extremely grateful for the opportunity to bring Kuthu to a new stage.

“The whole ten days was really great, the energy and everyone’s faces when viewing our performance was just truly unforgettable,” Usha tells Tamil Guardian.

From the viral videos to the international stage, Usha was delighted when she was approached to perform a dance piece for the games.

“When I proposed my own piece, the Commonwealth games team trusted me and said go for it, and I was so happy because I didn’t want to change anything about the dance for this event, whether it was a Tamil show or an international show, I wanted to keep it to my choreography.”

When asked about the reasoning behind this unique style of dance, Usha mentioned that she always felt free when performing Kuthu folk dance or Bharatanatyam.

“I was like you know what, we all together feel happy when doing this so I am going to challenge and push the choreography and include a freestyle to show our love towards Kuthu.”

Kuthu is a dance style, going hand in hand with Gana music, with origins in oppressed communities in urban Tamil Nadu, and made popular by Tamil cinema.

This performance created a massive buzz on social media, as folk art forms rarely gain representation on larger platforms. Usha was particularly elated about this.

“It made me feel so comfortable being around so many South Asian and Tamil people, and being able to represent my own culture. It makes me so happy. Many Tamil people approached me after the event and were so glad and very supportive regarding the representation.”

Representation is important and it should be done the right way, as Usha has faced a lot of misrepresentation in her life, she felt like this performance would be a small push in the right direction.

“I have seen a lot of French TV shows misrepresenting and disrespecting my culture and it honestly makes me so sad that many viewers don’t question it, hence this performance means so much to me because I wanted to represent my culture the right way.”

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