The Ways Dance Can Be Used for Politics Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

arts consistently contribute to socio-political change. As a uniquely personal and corporeal art form, dance can directly contribute to socio-political change by combining the best features of theater with those of more abstract art forms like music. The body can be used to convey torture, anguish, pain, and death. Choreography enables the acting out of complex battles fought between multiple players, helping the audience to envision multiple possible outcomes. Dance sometimes makes a statement about current affairs in succinct, immediate, and palpable ways.

This week's content highlights the ability for dance to become a vehicle for social change. Though not typically associated with politics, dance has traditionally served as a political medium and continues to do so. We have witnessed the political function of dance in multiple cultures and historical epochs. Dance has been used as a tool by the political elite to establish or reinforce social norms and codes of behavior. Placement of the body, and bodies in relation to each other, send messages about proper comportment. The elite have also used dance to serve as a stratifying marker between social classes. Occasionally, the political overtones of dance are overt, as in which members of society are permitted to attend dance performances. The courts of Catherine de Medici and Louis XIV used dance to assert their power as well as dictate norms and codes of behavior.

In other cases, vernacular dances have been appropriated by the elite in an attempt to divest the underclass of power, whereas the underclass has continued to use dance as a means of resisting oppression, communicating specific messages, and keeping one step ahead of the establishment. African-American street culture and hip hop dancing represents multiple examples of the confluence of dance and politics. Hip hop dancing and the original break dancing were "street" forms of art, the dance counterpart to "lowbrow." After breakdancing and hip hop culture penetrated the mainstream, these art forms became "pop art." Gradually, though, the political power and potency of hip hop has reinvigorated the fine arts and rescued it from tired monotony. Although appropriation of African-American art forms by white academics remains problematic, the emergence of prominent black performers and choreographers proves that dance has helped to transform the social landscape of the arts indelibly.

Touching the audience through dance, performers and choreographers can actually evoke real change by inspiring action. For example, even animal rights activists can harness the power of dance to achieve political goals. The imprisonment of intelligent animals like orcas and dolphins can be reframed as a social issue and expressed through dance. Members of the dolphin family in fact move much as dancers do, embodying grace and struggle at the same time. An exquisitely choreographed piece depicting the encirclement of dolphins and orcas would involve a circle of dancers in a ring around those whose movements mimic the sea creatures. Because one of the core features of porpoise shows is the training of the creatures to do tricks, a master-slave element would be conveyed through the interaction between dancers who are part of the outside circle and the dancers representing the captured creatures within. Such a dance calls into question the role or position of humanity in the cosmos, much as Javanese courtly dances examine cosmological issues and help raise existential questions.

To be successful in inspiring socio-political change, a dance performance must be staged, performed, and promoted in ways consistent with its goals. The timing of a performance should coincide with events like public protests against Sea World, or alternatively, with Sea World promotions. Garnering media attention helps the audience to continually draw an intellectual connection between the emotional content of the dance and its concrete representation in the political sphere. It is critical that performers and choreographers become willing spokespeople for the dance performance, in order to deliver the messages that might not be obvious or immediately apparent to an audience that appreciates the visual presentation but could miss the deeper symbolism without viewing the show in context. Presenting a dance for free, even simply a short teaser that captures the essence of the political message, is one way of…

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