“Dance needs bodies and every body has a political history” – Talia Lewis
What do I mean by political?
We understand that politics relates to the public affairs or government of a country. Politics in this post is seen as an act of power. The questions revolved around this power is who defines what is politically correct? Who controls what is ethically and aesthetically correct? In this case, in DANCE.
Dance is extremely complex to define, because it is constantly evolving like a culture. What is meant by this is that culture is a manmade construction, it is not one group of people, but a fusion of many ethnicities and communities. This defines dance today, it is a fusion of dance styles, a community of people from different ethnicities and training backgrounds. In addition to the dance training, the performance world and dance criticism within South Africa, one of the main reasons for the complexity is due to the influence of politics, culture, colonialism and migration. These aspects have hugely impacted the dance world in South Africa more so the perception of South Africa today.
By unpacking the issues within dance such as the body stigmas, which looks at the ideal body of a dancer, the gender discourses and more importantly race. These cultural markers effect how the audience (you) view dance works, which formally creates a perspective of what is ethical and aesthetically pleasing on stage.
By briefly looking into the history of dance in South Africa, Classical Ballet was dominant and seen as a ‘high art’ (a form of art that originates from the West that is strictly for ‘white’ bodies). It was the main form of dance. This is where colonialism took place. The influence of the West, their norms, traditions, dance forms and authenticity has opened many opportunities for South Africa, however created many disadvantages. The confusion in dance lies between the fusion of many dance styles, because politically with colonialism there is this constant search for the truth…What is authentically African? An identity crisis, which still prevails today, especially when it deals with African Dance…
Many dance companies, dance researches and choreographers strive for equality and beg to understand the reason for the restrictions, constraints and boundaries set politically in the dance world in South Africa. Politically this dates back to the Apartheid era and due to historical events as such, dance in South Africa continuously faces political and aesthetical challenges for example why is a white body on a professional stage performing a traditional African dance seen as politically incorrect?
Identity is a huge issue; we all face an identity crisis due to how society shapes our mind and how the media portrays perfection. As a South African audience member and performer we need to rid this notion of what dance is and what it should look like, the history in art has already broken traditions, overstepped boundaries and created a space for us to explore, experiment and express today. One must learn from the past and cease to live in it. Learn to tolerate, adapt and respect the evolving world we live in today.
In South Africa the fact that we are a multicultural audience the question an audience member (you) should ask is who is performing? Where is the performance performed? And what is being performed? For example the dancing that took place during the Apartheid era. The laws of apartheid, the Group Areas Act affected the performance space for dancers. The ‘Blacks’, Indians and Coloureds were not allowed to perform on professional platforms such as Artscape and the Baxter Theatre. They were forbidden due to their race, because white bodies were more privileged…How racist !
Consequently dance is not just a form of entertainment. The body is seen as a political tool, which is used as a powerful mechanism to educate, to change the perception and future of South Africa.
Click here to read about dance being political – It blew my mind !