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Dance and Silence

Hummingbird's picture

On Friday evening, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Volshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble’s performance at Goodhart Auditorium here at Bryn Mawr. I was impressed by their performance first and foremost because of their talent, but secondly because it reminded me very much of the work on silence we’ve done so far in this class. I haven’t been formally trained in dance – except some basics of ballroom – but I do understand the way dance is used as an outlet for expression. I find this particularly interesting because dance is such a visceral way of expressing oneself, but at the same time, it’s silent. At one point in the Volshky performance, a male and female dancer embraced on the stage – after dancing away from and around each other for much of the dance. A number of people in the audience (myself included) responded to the embrace with a resounding, “Aww!” The way a movement can evoke an emotional response in people showed me the way we can communicate silently.

Another aspect of the performance evoked silence for me, but of a different type. During the final dance, the male dancers came onto the stage first and performed a hyper-masculine dance which involved loud stomps and shouts. When the female dancers came on, they moved slowly and quietly. While the men were lined in a semi-circle on the stage, the women walked in front of them to line up with a partner. As each woman passed, the lead male dancer reached out and caressed different parts of their body – breasts, butt, hips, upper arms, neck – so that the women lost any former autonomy and dissolved into objects for the gaze of their male partners. The dance continued with the men and women pairing up. Throughout the rest of the dance the men would shout “Hey!” or words in Ukrainian at intervals. The women, however, didn’t make a sound. I felt uncomfortable watching this not only because I felt that it was silencing the women, but also because I wasn’t sure I had enough background in dance or Ukrainian culture to make a judgment.

When I looked to my own experience, though, I was just as confused. From what I’ve learned in ballroom classes and watching dance programs on television, the role of the male dancer in partnered dance is to pair with the female in order to show her off. The focus of the audience should always be in the admiration of the female dancer. But in doing this, does the female dancer lose autonomy?  If there are any dancers in the class, perhaps they could explain their take on this?