"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Feminist Analysis of Salsa

"The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces." - Maureen Murphy

***

Sunday entertainment; a hilariously problematic piece:


"The unequal relationship between the male and female dancers in the salsa coupling incarnates gender dynamics that stand apart from the wider social context. Since the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, which lasted from 1960 to 1966, the province has sought, in both legislation and practice, equality between men and women. Women may “submissively” follow the male dancer’s lead in salsa, but they also direct the production and distribution of the dance in the city... many instructors promote salsa as a dance privileging masculine authority...

Although the fact that men lead in salsa remains an unchanging characteristic of this dance, how salsa produces male and female identities does not correspond to fixed essences. Consequently, the subversive potential of salsa dancing in Montreal lies in how different modes of masculinity and femininity are both produced and promoted by teachers in order to sell the dance. Most teachers do not consciously try to subvert cultural constructions of gender by demonstrating how identity is artificially fashioned. Nonetheless, through their teaching and promotion of gender identity as a performance, salsa dancers in Montreal inadvertently show that sexual identities are cultural constructions... The teaching of male and female identities in salsa dance classes shows how gender identities are contrived, but unlike the intellectual focus of postmodern dance, most salsa instructors are not interested in objections to stereotyped gender fabrications in their classes. My concern with uncovering and analyzing asymmetrical relationships between men and women in salsa did nor seem to be of primary interest to most salsa club goers...

Most people view the leading and following in salsa as simply part of the rules of the dance. They are dispassionate about the male domination and female submissiveness that they recreate as they perform steps and turns. Nonetheless, salsa dance provides a concrete example of how gender identities can be formed and fashioned and how, through repeated performance, they can pass for “natural” differences between men and women. The footwork, stylized figures, and bodily gestures in Montreal salsa classes are taught as those of a man or a woman. These gendered patterns are reiterated and practiced to such an extent that they become automatic and may ultimately be experienced by the dancers themselves and those observing their movements as natural corporeal expressions. This exploration of the production of the gendered body in salsa dancing draws on a feminist postmodern perspective that posits embodiment not as a fixed and natural given but as a construction that is continuously open to flux and therefore a site of possibility...

Adapting Michel Foucault’s theory, Judith Butler claims that the performance of masculinity and femininity, which is considered natural, conforms to the dictates of heterosexual hegemony or compulsory heterosexuality, a term first coined by Adrienne Rich. The system of compulsory heterosexuality is both produced and kept hidden through the creation of bodies as distinct sexes with “natural” demeanors and “natural” heterosexual habits and temperaments...

Power is at work in the creation of distinct gender identities. Butler’s understanding of the construction of gender as a stylized repetition of acts is vividly demonstrated by the fact that salsa’s male and female movements are learned through the repeated practice of contrived dance moves. Gender is brought into being through the stylisation of the body and consequently must be comprehended as the manner in which varied corporeal gestures, movements, and performances institute the deceptive appearance of a conforming gendered identity (Butler, 1988: 270). Gender is not a fact that refers either to an actual essence or to an ideal. Rather, the repeated corporealities that constitute gender itself create the notion of gender; without these performances there would not he gender (273). As Judith Butler states, “Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis” (273)... When men and women perform their sex according to heterosexual criteria of natural and ideal sexual behavior and through adherence to gender norms, each individual is participating in the production of sexual stereotypes...

Both the man and the woman can find fulfillment on the dance floor by moving together as one, which mediates the predominant position of the male dancer, or they can jointly yield to masculine dominance, sharing in the enjoyment of this power dynamic. The two models of heterosexuality that Richard Dyer identifies in the coup1e dances of the musical are analogous to the two prevailing ways that Montreal dance teachers interpret gender differences in salsa. He cites the “Jane Ausen model,” in which male and female partners achieve equality and joy in dance through the blend of their opposite roles. On the other hand, the pleasure that dancers experience in what Dyer refers to as the “Barbara Cartland model” lies in the performance of inequality. The woman revels in her relinquishment of power to the male dancer, who in turn luxuriates in his mastery over her...

Vermay argues that competitive Latin American dance embodies a contrived and extreme image of heterosexuality. In training to compete in the Latin American dance competitions, female dancers are taught to be sexy and feminine. Male dancers emulate a macho, masculine, and butch demeanor. The dancers forge these stereotyped gender distinctions through overstated choreographed gestures, excessive facial expressions, and over done costumes (Vermay, 1994: 5S). Performances stress images such as a “dynamic sex kitten,”“a high-class prostitute,”“a sophisticated romantic,”“an animalistic undulating look,” and “a gypsy look”...

The pantomimic and potentially racist performance of Latin American dance also becomes apparent in how dancers cover their faces with makeup to appear darker. Juliet McMains argues that the “darkening” of Latin dancers evokes the racist performance of blackface minstrelsy...

Another heterosexual narrative that conveys inequality between the sexes is a visual display of the female body being manipulated by the male dancer. This demonstration of feminine passivity through spectacle is found in competitive Latin American dance and at some dance schools in Montreal. Seeking more equality between men and women in Latin dance, Ruud Vermay decries the objectification of the female form: To some, indeed many people, the portrayal of women as mere objects of sexual desire, thrown around by men, treated as men’s pleasure is wholly distasteful today. It still strikes me as incredible that during the final heat of a competition the ‘announcer’ can ask the audience to show its appreciation of a female competitor’s look (never a male’s) by applauding accordingly when [her] number is called” (Vermay, 1994: 99).

Various Montreal dance teachers promote a dance style that focuses on the male dancer using turns to display the woman, thereby transforming her into an object of spectacle. The male concentrates on maneuvring the female and consequently dances less; his body is not exhibited to the same extent as the woman’s. The man’s leading facilitates displaying the woman’s body... Marcus views the exhibition of the female dancer as an element of the dance that balances out the male leadership, as women derive pleasure from being led through steps and spins that transform the female form into an object of beauty to be flaunted and exhibited. He says, "There always has to be someone who follows. That is not sexist... if we look at it from another angle, we see that the woman is the spectacle of the dance. It is the man who displays the woman. The man makes the woman move. Then it’s the woman who is displayed. And it’s the woman who always follows” (my translation).

There is a certain degree of truth in what Marcus says. Many female salsa dancers luxuriate in being observed and admired as the male dancers display their bodies. Many women revel in how their dancing enables them to be appreciated and desired. The overt objectification of the female form is one element that draws both women and men to salsa clubs and schools. Both in clubs and in dance classes, some women actively participate in the metamorphosis of their bodies into objects of spectacle. They dress in alluring and revealing clothes that draw attention to their legs, breasts, and navels. In contrast, men’s bodies are usually completely covered...

Proponents of the politics of pleasure may argue that female salsa dancers are not simply at the mercy of the male gaze when their bodies are exhibited, but also able to obtain power as the gesticulations of the dance and their enticing attire mold them into objects of male desire. Nonetheless, the power that women might attain in salsa never transgresses the male leadership in the dance. Jane Cowan illustrates that any supremacy that women attain in the dance is always circumscribed by masculine control... “Any sexual or gender complementarity—like women’s powers generally—that may be observed in particular sites and moments must always be seen in the context of a broader asymmetry of male dominance and of the androcentric and patriarchal institutions through which it is manifested”...

[Ballet] transforms the female body into an obcct of pleasure for the male gaze. The dancer, rendered ethereal and frail by her pointe shoes and her lithe frame, is supported and lifted by the male dancer. This dynamic of female subordination and male dominance transforms the ballerina into something to be looked at, or an object of the male gaze... Stephanie Jordan and Helen Thomas... refigure, for instance, Daly’s interpretation of the “drag step,” in which she claims “the man literally carries the ballerina on his back” (Jordan and Thomas, 1998: 247; Daly, 1987: 9). Jordan and Thomas propose this step as a means by which the female dancer increases the movement of the male by “clinging aggressively to his back”...

Ruud Vermay writes, “In Latin dance, despite the emphasis on the notion of the ‘male lead,’ successful partnering is the result of the equal flow of energy between two people, two people dancing with each other. If the energy flow is unequal, manipulation results. The manipulator dances at the partner, the manipulated dances for the partner”... Viewed from the perspective of body dynamics, accomplished male leading does not apply strength and force kit concedes to gravity and the woman’s energy"

--- Salsa and its transnational moves / Sheenagh Pietrobruno


From elsewhere:

"I am very happy if a man knows how to lead and lead well. I am a feminist, but somethings just work better when you don't try to lead. I don't want to lead--I don't know what I'm doing. And the rules of hand-to-hand (contact??) dancing are that the man leads. Some feminists will argue that the rules of dancing need to be changed, but I am not one of these. I don't want to change the Bible so that God is referred to as a woman. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. What matters to me in terms of feminism is gender equality before the law and in society. Domestic abuse (although either gender can be abused), prostitution (ditto), equal legal rights, equal working rights, freedom from sexual harassment etc are far the more serious issues that feminism should deal with. Not dancing.

It's dancing for God's sake, not war."
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