Sway Like a Snake
The dance, which is meant to mimic the swaying movements of a serpent, with performers usually dressed in black, was classified as “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 2010 and has attracted a steady stream of global artists and researchers to Rajasthan.
Such access to international collaborators played a key role in their evolution as digital entrepreneurs, said Sapera, who is one of 11 dancers on Kalbeliya World, an online platform offering classes for a $10 fee that goes directly to the performers.
“They were very enthusiastic. They were also intimidated”, said Belgian anthropologist Ayla Joncheere, one of the co-founders of Kalbeliya World, describing the dancers’ initial response to the idea.
Joncheere and the group’s other co-founders Aakansha Maheshwari and Christina Gomes set up a “buddy system”, partnering each dancer with an overseas counterpart who could help navigate the administrative and technological challenges.
Since its launch in mid-May, some 600 students from 20 countries including Chile, Morocco, France and Finland have logged on to learn dance from the Kalbeliya.
The lessons, and the income they bring in, have been a lifesaver for the women, many of whom are the sole breadwinners for their large extended families.
The group’s success has prompted other Kalbeliya dancers to follow in their footsteps, but with mixed results.