Standort: / Meldung: "The Politics of Dancing"

Riem Higazi

Cultural mash-ups, political slip-ups, and other things that make me go hmmm.

10. 2. 2017 - 17:43

The Politics of Dancing

My upcoming stint on 'Dancing Stars' got me thinking about how dance cross-steps politics.

FM4 Reality Check Special: The Politics of Dancing

Dance has always been a form of expression for human beings. The connection between rhythmic movement and politics (be it war, nationalism, activism, terrorism, feminism or human rights in general), is as tight and eclectic as the tango, vogueing, ballet, breakdance, the paso doble, Schuhplattler, crunking, American contemporary and a whole host of other dance genres.

Join soon-to-be ‘Dancing Star’ Riem Higazi as she quick-steps from the Russian Revolution to the Trump administration this Saturday, February 11th, 12-13, on FM4’s Reality Check and afterwards seven days on demand.

Tänzer am Dienstag, 14. Juli 2015, während der ImPulsTanz-Eröffnung mit der Aufführung "Uhlich & Dancers - Hit The Boom (... 'cause it's more than summer!)" im MQ in Wien.


ImPulsTanz-Premiere performance of "Uhlich & Dancers - Hit The Boom (... 'cause it's more than summer!)" MQ, Vienna, 14th of July, 2015

I've been thinking about dance a lot more than I ever have in my life and since I've been submerged in it, I've been astounded at just how intertwined dance and politics are.

Regimes have used dance as a form of propaganda... all sorts of regimes. Isadora Duncan, described as the creator of Modern Dance, was a huge supporter of the 1917 Russian Revolution and that suited Vladimir Lenin just fine.

To celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Revolution, Duncan and one hundred of her students performed her work Internationale (1921), set to the Communist anthem, in Moscow’s famed Bolshoi Theater with Communist leader Lenin in attendance.

Rudolf Von Laban and his dance students, approximately early 1940's


Rudolf Von Laban and his students, circa early 1940's

The Nazis used modern dance and then ballet as a form of propaganda - the idea was to highlight the aesthetic of what the Nazis referred to as the Master Race. Poignantly, there was no place in their vision for a pioneer and master of modern dance, the Austro-Hungarian artist and theorist, Rudolf von Laban. He was just one of many dancers and choreographers forced to flee Nazi rule. Laban's life of dance and how it intersected with quite a few political situations is fascinating and I recommend you at the very least, check out his wiki page.

The city I feel most at home in beside Vienna is Barcelona and I travel there basically every year and have done for about 27 years now.

One thing I try to plan and schedule in to the timing of my visit is Sardana season. Between late spring and early fall, right in front of Barcelona's main cathedral, a Sardana band fires up a distinct and proud-sounding melody and groups of people of all ages, wearing special slippers, clasp hands and start to move rhythmically in a big circle. The dance goes from a gentle sway to a rousing, jumping, hands-still-clasped-but-up-in-the-air expression of joy. It looks like a simple dance to do but believe me, it's not.

I love joining the big circle of Catalan people who are always patient with me the few minutes it takes for me to remember the steps...usually tourists don't dare to join in because it is apparent that the dance is a serious thing, a cultural institution, not to be pounced upon but to admire and respect.

You can totally feel that it was started in the middle of the 19th century and is an expression of the then-newborn Catalan nationalism.
The dance affects me deeply every time I watch it or dance it.
It makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

A dance that is solely based on tears and is hugely political is the 'Cueca Sola'.

Women dancing La Cueca Sola

National Film Board of Canada

Women dancing La Cueca Sola

A military coup in Chile brought Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973 and over the next 17 years, thousands of women and men were taken from their homes - never to return.

Since then, Chilean women have danced the country’s traditional courtship dance alone, and La Cueca Sola has become a symbol of women’s struggle against the dictatorship.

Not only has politics influenced dance, the rhythmic movement of the body can be a strong political statement in itself.
Think nudity (go on).
Think gender norms questioned and re-arranged.

The crossroad-subject of dance and politics is so massive, I have barely scratched the surface.

 Ballett Company Gauthier Dance

APA/Wolfram Kastl

Ballett Company Gauthier Dance

To even just get beyond the surface, I was really thrilled (I mean that) to have spoken with Associate Professor in Dance Studies at Middlesex University in London, Dr. Alexandra Kolb, Ananya Chatterjea who is founder, Artistic Director, choreographer, and dancer at her contemporary Indian American dance company based in Minneapolis, Stefanie Cumming, choreographer and dancer at the Vienna-based Liquid Loft Dance Company, and TJ, a Viennese-based hip hop dancer and dance teacher.

They are all featured The Politics of Dancing which you can listen to here:

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