A preface: I’m currently working on a story for my internship that looks into the competitive dance industry for youth under 18 here in Columbia. One of the dance studios had a competition showcase on Friday, and was in the right place at the right time to get two free tickets to go see it. The production value was amazing and the performances seemed well-choreographed and of professional quality. I did notice a few things about the content of the dances, and they made me think about some of our discussions in class.
So the dance company offers lessons to students in Columbia and also a platform for joining a competitive team. These teams then perform nationwide. The competitive teams ranged in ages from as young as 7 to up to 17. The majority of dancers were young women and girls, but there were a few boys as well.
The handful of dances from the younger competition teams were generally lighthearted and fun. One of them was a group of nine girls in bike helmets and tap shoes who did a routine to Queen’s “Bicycle Race.” Fun stuff. But other than that, I noticed two predominant themes in the performances last week.
Another disclaimer: I’m not too familiar with the dance community here or even in general. These are just thoughts that came to mind in regard to discussions of gender in society.
But the two themes I found were narratives that placed the main subject, in these cases a singular woman or group of women, who were either A) in some kind of vulnerable, hoping and longing state, trying to find out more about herself to navigate the world “beyond” what she knows; or B) the subject of demonstrating female empowerment, which in most cases here meant freedom of sexual expression and owning her sexual body.
I’m in no way saying that these performances weren’t good, I’m just curious about the decisions behind the selection of these themes in the content.
In particular, I thought back to the article “If it’s not on, it’s not on…Or is it?” about the condom usage campaign.
A major flaw that the authors brought up about this campaign is that it emphasized the male sex drive and the female’s secondary sexual needs. It also did so by masking the act of initiating condom use as female empowerment and sexual independence even though it was generally for the sake of satisfying the male-centric coital imperative. So here, the premise of the campaign was in the right place as far as making safe sex a priority, but it failed to address sex in an inclusive way.
In the case of the dance showcase, I felt a little that the two major themes made the female experience represented through dance form were a little one-dimensional, kind of like the way the condom campaign addressed women. I felt like over and over again, these young women were telling stories that showed their weakness and vulnerability about facing the future. On the flip side, there were several overtly sexual dances that were choreographed to songs talking about sexual acts (“I want your lips to drink from my rosewater” was definitely the opening line to one song. Umm…what?). I couldn’t help but wonder what the parents in the audience thought. I felt like Cady’s parents in Mean Girls.
Of course, these onstage representation don’t mean anything about the girls themselves other than that they’re talented dancers. But are there other ways to show that a woman can be powerful besides taking charge of her own body, specifically her sexuality? There has to be. I realize that dance is all about expression of the body, and that can be sexual, but I feel like it doesn’t have to be all the time. Showing that women can only be powerful while being sexually liberated, but still on a pedestal for the objectification by and serving the needs of men, is a dangerous idea to impose on anyone at any age.