Dancing Against Oppression

The One Billion Rising for Justice campaign is failing to recognize the systemic roots of women’s inequality as well as its intersection with modern day racism and classism. Because the campaign uses flash mobs as one of their main mediums, one cannot help but think that they are also missing out on using dance as a form of resistance. Although this short article cannot do justice to this topic, it is an attempt to acknowledge the ways in which dance has been used to fight oppression through its diversity across cultures and historical struggles.
Resistance dances are subversive because they question the norm and expose the hidden construction or roles and bodies in different cultures, shaking the ideologies in power. This has been the aim of many modern dancers in the turn-of-the-century, as well as more recent choreographers. Pina Bausch and Matthew Bourne are examples of this in Western societies. Chandralekha, a choreographer from India, has questioned the “Indian womanhood” and a woman’s role in family and marriage. As dangerous as the subversion of roles, is the claim of the pleasure of the body, something that Caribbean dances have asserted for centuries as a healthy expression of the self and of life.

We could also look at ways in which non-dominant groups have used dance and movement to express a sense of belonging and identity. Dance is a medium to fight marginalization and the decline of cultures. With the Spanish conquest, many Mesoamerican body art practices and indigenous dances (i.e. Aztec Amoxtli) were banned. These dances were once cultural, political, and religious daily rituals; but after the conquest became an embodied way to express identity, culture pride and resistance, which still lives in present-day manifestations. In the Andean region, the traditional dance (Qoyllur Rit’i) was mixed within imposed rituals of the Spanish Catholic conquerors, hidden to the eye of the dominant culture while resisting the repressive efforts of conquerors. We can also see covered practices in Capoeira dances, an age-old Brazilian aesthetic martial art form (with roots in African circle dances), used by slaves to disguise fighting and training for freedom.

Dance has also been a medium for those marginalized groups that were growing in number and were struggling to have a voice in the dominant culture. For instance, in Japan, the Sukeroku’s dance symbolically expressed commoners’ resistance against the samurai ruling class in the eighteenth century. This hidden meaning helped the rising class to build their own identity and power.
Performance has helped oppressed communities to channel frustration through creativity. Break-dance and hip-hop is an attempt to criticize, voice, transform and adapt to hard life situations. These styles also embody the need to taunt the younger people to toughen and prepare them for the struggles they will need to face in the future, as the big brother would do.
Finally, there are practices that try to recover forgotten histories, such as Ailey Company. He is an icon for African American diaspora artists who are committed to honor historical struggles and represent the ethnic diversity of the US in an immense ecumenical effort.
In essence, dances in different cultures have been used both as expressions of identity and cultures of subversion. It has the great ability to morph and transform throughout the years, adapting to new realities and keeping the integrity of their philosophy.

This content is also available in: Spanish

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