Dance / TV / Women and Gender

Dancing Queen: How Dance Evokes Feminism and Female Empowerment

Do feminism and dance go together? Film, literature, sculpture, paintings and music can all be feminist or reveal a feminist message. Can artists convey feminism through the power of dance? I’ve been mulling over these thoughts when I watch So You Think You Can Dance. Initially, I didn’t think so. But why not? Dancers can portray strength, self-reliance, confidence and power, all elements of female empowerment.

While I’m kinda hooked on the show, I’m not exactly knowledgeable about dance.  Well, unless you count my obsessions with the awesome Dirty Dancing and the ballet movie Center Stage.  My only experience with dance came a few years ago when my oldest and dearest friend Sarah M. and I took belly dancing classes together.  We shimmied our hips and undulated our bellies.  The feminine fluidity of the movements put me in touch with my body in a way I had never felt before. I found it incredibly sensual and surprisingly empowering.

After doing a quick Google search of feminism and dance, I stumbled upon an interesting article about the proliferation of women in modern dance and how feminism united famous modern dancers and choreographers Isadora Duncan and Yvonne Rainer.  Duncan, and later dancer/choreographer/icon Martha Graham who also explored female identity, railed against what they saw as the tortuous constrictions of ballet and ultimately puritanical society, demanding women’s emancipation, while Rainer combated voyeurism and the sexual objectification of women.

“In an age still dominated by the dictates of puritanism, Duncan dared to dance uncorseted. Dressed in a loose-fitting, free-flowing tunic, she rebelled not only against the corset per se, but also against everything it symbolized: The constraints – both physical and psychological – imposed upon women by Victorian culture. Miss Rainer on the other hand, is the product of a very different time (one inspired in large part by the example of Duncan and others like her): The so-called ”sexual revolution” of the 60’s and 70’s. Unlike the feminists of Duncan’s generation who longed for sexual freedom and viewed puritanical repression as an obstacle to the emancipation of women, many feminists of the 60’s and 70’s eyed the sexual revolution with considerable suspicion, fearful that it hadn’t really liberated women, but had simply made them more sexually available. Many radical feminists began to practice what the social critic Midge Decter calls ”the new chastity.” Thus, Yvonne Rainer’s insistence upon saying ”no” to so many of the voyeuristic and erotic pleasures that dance has traditionally offered begins to assume feminist implications when viewed against this ideological backdrop.”

Despite living in different eras, Duncan, Graham and Rainer all confronted conventions about dance, how women were supposed to dress and behave, and female expression.  And therein lies the crux of art: evoking emotions and challenging perceptions.  Dance captures what words cannot.  Last week on SYTYCD, I watched Sonya Tayeh‘s “combat jazz” choreography of the brilliantly graceful and athletic Melanie and the dynamic and charismatic Sasha.  Through this fierce performance, I’m now forever convinced feminism and dance can comprise the perfect pas de deux, pushing boundaries of the mind, body and soul.

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5 thoughts on “Dancing Queen: How Dance Evokes Feminism and Female Empowerment

  1. That clip was really amazing! Those girls are amazing dancers.

    I never really connected dancing to feminism before. This is probably because I am not as knowledgeable about dance as other people. I attended a school with a popular modern dance program, and I THINK man of the performances were about the women. I can only assume. As I know nothing about dance theory – but it’s interesting how dance can and is used to tell stories.

    • I loved the athleticism of the two women. It must have been more amazing live. I think it starts a conversation about the female body and empowerment the same way looking at women and sports does. The viewer isn’t focused on objectifying their bodies or seeing them as sexual objects, but instead admiring the strength and ability to partner one another. These are all components for applying a feminist lens to dance.

      For me, what I found lacking in the performance was some story or connection between the two in the piece. The dancing was amazing in and of itself but I didn’t see a relationship or story within the piece which is what I would have wanted – to tap into a more emotional response; whatever that might be.

    • Awesome shout out to Urban Bush Women! Politics regarding women have always found their way into dance. Martha and Isadora alike! And what is so fantastic about dance as the medium is that it touches on the viewer in a much more deeper emotional place than text. Also, we love to dance and watch dance. We don’t always read feminist theory. So yeah, sneak in some feminist theory onto the stage and see what happens!

  2. Your the one thing, i can’t get enough of…
    So i’ll tell you something, this must be love…because…
    I…had…the time of my life, and i’ve never felt this way before…
    I swear…it’s the truth…and i owe it all to yooooouuuuuu!

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