Dancing In Skirts, Jainil Mehta Is Breaking Stereotypes One Step At A Time

Jainil Mehta Dancing In Skirts

Traditional boundaries between genders are slowly starting to blur. Jainil Mehta makes us realise that gender perhaps doesn’t have to be inflexible and constrictive. Gender norms be damned, says the dancer with a spring in his step and energy in his moves. The 22-year-old dancer and choreographer has taken to the streets of New York, using his dance skills as a form of self-expression and promoting gender fluid fashion in his videos. His hashtag #MenInSkirts became massively popular and is very well acknowledged because when you see Jainil Mehta swirling around in a skirt with grace, you can’t take your eyes off.

Jainil wants to create the first-ever accredited higher education dance program in India through global exchange, interdisciplinary learning and partnerships. His goal is to give dancers, dance-makers and creators a chance to develop their own artistic choices and artmaking process, hence helping them create a unique identity and career for themselves. In a conversation with ELLE, Jainil talks about discovering himself and talks about his journey from being a child putting on a show for his family to being a professional dancer with quite a following on Instagram.

ELLE: How did you come up with the concept of dancing in skirts around the streets of NY? What are some of the reactions you get when you film these videos? 

Jainil Mehta: I came up with this concept to post online in 2021. I’ve always danced in skirts when I was a child. It started at the age of seven or eight, when I used to perform in my living room in front of my family, after dinner. I used to have these random performances in front of my grandfather, grandma, to show them what I’ve learned in class, what I’ve seen on TV.  I forgot about it, as a teenager.  In school, I was never encouraged to wear skirts, because, gender norms! When I went to USC for my undergrad, I started to blur those lines between gender.

The concept came about during Navratri, when I wanted to undo those lines between Radha and Krishna and show them as one. And when you see the video, there were two guys who were wearing skirts and I was one of them. You cannot identify who is Radha and Krishna. And that was the whole magic of that.  That’s something which really motivated me to post more videos that included skirts. Initially, I was actually just using this one skirt a lot of the times in different ways. That’s when #MenInSkirts came to be. It started off with this really personal story of me loving this, the grace and the flair of the skirts into this public statement of hashtag men in skirts. And the reactions I got from people were mixed, but most of them were of love and appreciation. And that’s something which motivated me. There were reactions of hate, and they were like, you know- yeh ladki hai, he is gay. But as I said, I’ve seen the positives more. 

ELLE: Your comments are generally so positive and uplifting. But how do you deal with criticism?

JM: I have been confident since the beginning. I think my childhood has made me strong. I had a really rough patch in school where I was called a girl, gay – there was a lot of teasing happening because I used to dance all the time. And my movements are very graceful. People called me names but that just made me stronger. Now with criticism, I just ignore it and don’t care. It doesn’t bother me because I know that the people who are close to me are supportive of me. There are times when I’m reading my negative comments and I’m just laughing at how much time people invest in writing a negative comment.

3. What does the future look like for you professionally? What are some of your current goals? 

JM: I am a professional dancer, choreographer, teacher and artist. I have been dancing for 17 years now. I started at the age of five, with Indian folk, Indian classical dance and transitioned into western forms like ballet, contemporary jazz and hip hop g. I got a four year degree in dance. I am currently working in New York City with a contemporary dance company, and also choreographing for shows, events, weddings, etc. My future is with dance. I want to start a dance education programme for students in India. My future is in India, spreading the joy of dance and making people aware about dance as a profession and dance to study.

I imagined myself at a place by the river with my school. The dorms will be tents and this will be a sacred space for people to explore themselves and use dance as a meditative practice. But I also want to teach people about the commercial side of the talent form, make them aware of the struggles and help them sustain dance as a career for longevity.

My current goal is to go into creation mode. I want to take up this time to make connections, to be invested in different dance forms so that I can help other people in the future. And beyond that, I want to get into movies and music videos, choreograph them, be a part of it, in front of the camera.

4.What is the message you want to send out through your videos and the content you create?

JM: From the videos and content I create, I want people to be inspired and take up dance as a career. I also just want to make them have fun. I think everyone who watches my content, watches it for different reasons. Some love it because of me, some people love it because they love dance. Through my videos and through men in skirts, I especially want people to be comfortable in themselves, who they are, their skin, their body type, their insecurities. 

5.When did you realise that dance was your passion and you wanted to pursue it professionally?

JM: Throughout my childhood, my mom put me in various dance classes. But I continued because I felt like there was some kind of connect with the studio space. It was something that made me secure and made me known in school as well. And that’s when I realised that dance was my passion, and when I wanted to take it professionally.  

6.How do you go about picking the outfits for your videos?

JM: I think it depends on the song a lot. I do mix and match. I love creating and performing . For me, costumes are also my passion. I pick the colours or the patterns depending on the lyrics, the melody of the music, the vibe, etc. 

7.Why skirts? Is it to make a statement or because you enjoy dancing in them? 

JM: I started off loving and enjoying dancing in them. For me, skirts have always been so much fun. I love the flair and grace, especially when I would see people during Navratri. It’s always something which has fascinated me. My grandfather used to make me watch Hum Saath Saath Hai every week when I was a child, and I’ve loved the song, Maiiya Yashodha and the skirts they wear in that it. Not only do I enjoy dancing in them, but also it’s become a statement for people and an inspiration for people. It has inspired people to be who they are, in a lot of ways irrespective of their gender. They’ve been more confident, more bold in their choices. And that’s something which I have loved and been inspired to keep continuing #MenInSkirts.

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