Stavros book- Dancing Fear and Desire

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Academia? Like it or Trash it!

2 Books Reviewed: Dancing Communities & Dancing Fear and Desire

by Joette Sawall

posted 2/15/09

Dancing Fear & Desire:
Race, Sexuality, & Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance
by Stavros Stavrou Karayanni

Academic papers, journals and books pertaining to Middle Eastern dance are often difficult for the average dancer to take the time necessary to dive in and question the thought process and research of these scholars. Although the information can be priceless in a dancer’s quest for knowledge and expertise, the academic jargon can be tiresome to get through. As a dancer and researcher, I try hard to balance approaches to exploring my love of the art form including scholarship.

One thing that I have found within our community is the general lack of scholarship and a feminine voice within the research.

There is much our community can learn from academia by helping us to debunk myths and move the art from the challenges of social, cultural and sexual constraint. The following two reviews are mainly written for the academic dancer by explaining models that define and control identity performance.      

Winner of the 2006 European Society for English Studies (ESSE) book award for cultural studies, Dancing Fear and Desire: Race, Sexuality, & Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance bridges the discourse of postcolonial and queer studies associated with critical body and mind. The author, Stavros Stavrou Karayanni, brings genuine understanding and enormous commitment to cross-cultural scholarship, and to the rich tradition of Middle Eastern dance itself. He examines the cultural politics of Middle Eastern dance in the nineteenth, twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries using historic images and descriptions combined with a narrative of his personal experience of Middle Eastern dance as a colonized Cypriot male homosexual. Thus the reader is presented with the challenge of understanding the complex web of issues and events that surrounds autobiography. Karayanni’s perspective is a combined look at neo-colonial, gender and race inflected perspectives on performance art that is rarely analyzed in Middle Eastern dance.

Sidebar by Joette Sawall:

Defining “Queer:” a deviation from slang. Read more.

In today’s culture “queer” is often used as a short hand to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The use of queer to mean "homosexual" was formerly and is often still considered derogatory. However, in the way that all language is dynamic and pliable the word is now used primarily as an adjective or as a neutral and even positive descriptive term. In its modern neutrality queer can be applied to all genders and sexual orientation creating a positive term for people who reject mainstream values and culture. Individuals, who identify with this version of queer, distance themselves from the commercialization and relatively conformist values of the gay mainstream and embrace fluid and unconstrained definitions of sexuality and gender. The academic community has embraced queer studies not as a theory of homosexuality but instead of sexuality, more generally identity. Queer Studies considers sexualities and genders as identities, social statuses, categories of knowledge, and as lenses that help us to frame how we understand our world. Queer studies include some of its major strands of analysis and work on public perception. This perception includes a great deal of emphasis being placed on the integration of theory and practice with many programs encouraging community service work, community involvement, and activist work in addition to academic reading and research. Although homosexuality and queer practices are nothing new, the association between queer practices and deviancy is taking on new meaning in the modern world as queer community and queer culture becomes more apparent. Queer culture is not limited to queer sexuality. Queer culture, from an ideological standpoint, represents the queer community and its arts, lifestyles, institutions, writings, politics, relationships and everything else encompassed in culture.

In this study, Karayanni (Professor of English Literature and Cultural Theory in the school of Social Sciences and Humanities at Cyprus College) explores how Middle Eastern dance actively engages issues of race, sex, and national identity. His approach combines personal reflection as a Greek Cypriot with historical investigation and theoretical analysis. Close readings of colonial travel narratives, Oscar Wilde's Salomé, and accounts on Greek dance reveal how Middle Eastern dance has been shaped by Eurocentric Oriental models of performance. He pays particular attention in chapter two to the travel writings of Gustave Flaubert in the mid 1900’s through Upper Egypt. The dancer Kuchuk Hanem is an obsession of Flaubert’s writings. Flaubert’s description of Hanem is a poetic exuberance of mysticism, passion, tenderness, and sex. Karayanni challenges the lack of attention Hanem’s dance is given by Flaubert and calls for detailed consideration and examination of the movements not the meaning given by the Oriental fantasies. Chapter three is an examination of the dynamics of Western interaction with the Middle Eastern male dancing body. Chapter four examines Salome’s seductive dance associated with the decapitation of John the Baptist as it relates to colonial dynamics and the gaze which cannot be passive or complacent while watching a dancer. Chapter five takes a look at Dora Stratou's national Greek folkloric dance company and the effects of the influx of refugees from Asia Minor on Greek cultural development. The final chapter is a final reflection and incorporates many thoughts and themes including the West’s love of making Oriental dance its own. “Similarly, the attempts of many followers of Oriental dance in the West have focused not simply on performing versions of this dance but in taking it under their guardianship, so to speak, as if to reimport it piecemeal to the places where it came from in the first place, considering its subsistence in the East as defunct.” Karayanni goes on to discuss the white North American dancer and identity suggesting that there exist a parallel between the Western dancer and Eastern tradition.

In addition, he suggests that Westerners assume the hegemonic role of emissaries who perpetuate, embellish, and safeguard its survival since we assume that Muslim fanatics have no appreciation for their own artistic production.

Karayanni uses himself as a human instrument for his study by questioning audience and moral standards that affect the response to his performances. He struggles with globalizing the “femininity” of this art form as disconcerting to him because “it predicates itself on certain romantic notions that have distorted crucial aspects of the dances’ traditions.” Many of us would disagree and suggest that modern belly dance is a feminine liberation that includes empowerment, sisterhood, spirituality, and healing. New ground breaking research in Middle Eastern dance is emerging and will be published very soon regarding belly dance as a feminist project by offering an ethnographic research based on American women’s experiences. Karayanni’s use of queer theory along with a new feminine prospective will eventually help us to understand the by-products of Western Orientalist renderings of the Middle/Near East, and contextualize it within our contemporary anti-feminist society.

The simplest statement I can make about this research is that it provides a fresh view of the complications of gender, imperialism, body, and art that challenge the still-present social judgment that many of us come across as performers. As a feminist and dancer myself, I found it difficult to take his agenda out of the work and look at it as a neutral party. Overall, this reading is not for everyone but is a must for the scholarly performer who finds literature resources a value.  Dancing Fear and Desire bridges the discourse of postcolonial dance and queer theory. Through its examination of “tsifteleli, folk, belly dance [and] Oriental dance” or whatever name you associate to the performance, the book will appeal to serious students of the dance as a cultural phenomenon. An interesting mix of personal observations, subjective conclusions, and scholarly research, Karayanni’s study advances our understanding of and appreciation for Middle Eastern dance forms.

This review gets a neutral rating:
four zills for the scholarly dancer4 zil rating
and two for the non academic dancer.
2 zil rating

Book- Dancing CommunitiesDancing Communities:
Performance, Difference, and Connection in the Global City.
By Judith Hamera.

The cultural landscape of Los Angeles abounds in sites and centers of various performing arts. As dancers cross dance genres and disciplines a network of overlapping communities emerges. Through dance these communities shape fashion, lifestyles, attitudes, and lay a foundation for a fusion of choreographies and techniques. In the introduction to Dancing Communities, Judith Hamera re-imagines the role of technique in dance, describing it as both an object of dancers' study and as an everyday practice that brings dancers together.

Hamera's understanding of technique as connective tissue makes several prominent contributions to dance studies, and also to any scholarship interested in the relationship between community building and the arts.

Illustrating how technique serves as archive, Hamera describes how dancers refashion older technical forms to forge new identities. Perhaps most significantly, she asserts that dance exists within language, functioning within legible codes just as talking and writing do. The dancers Hamera follows in her qualitative work are drawn from four Los Angeles-based case studies. She found that these dancers express themselves through dance technique and understand the expressions of others through that same language. The four case studies include a Pilates and ballet studio at Le Studio in Pasadena, Butoh with Oguri in Venice, Khmer classical dance from the perspective of a refugee family living in Long Beach, and the aesthetics and philosophies of the downtown modern dance company, Hae Kyung Lee and Dancers. Hamera’s ethnography focuses on the techniques of these communities by which practitioners come to understand themselves as creators and innovators within their own communities. While Los Angeles is the primary landscape for the ethnography the main investigation is to understand the role of performance in establishing civic infrastructure.

Hamera examines intimacy as a technique of community formation as it challenges spectatorship possessiveness.

Hamera asks, “Can’t the impulse to hold on to a performance be recast as a move to a deeper, sustained and socially productive intimacy in/as community?” Is Hamera suggesting a contrast to the spectators’ desire to “fix” a performance in time and place? Perhaps she is suggesting moving beyond the stage and studio as performers to form and inform our own communities in motion? In her writing on ballet at Le Studio, Hamera explores the dancing body by suggesting it moves between home and roam. Home meaning family life and roam meaning traveling to performances and within a company. The most compelling chapter of the book is Hamera’s personal account with her connection with a Cambodian refugee’s family living in Los Angeles. By focusing on the nuclear family, Hamera is able to uncover the deeply personal impact of dance practices as both cultural archives and ethnic identity.  Finally, as a culmination of fifteen years of ethnographic research, Dancing Communities exemplifies sensitively written and rigorously theorized dance ethnography.

How does this book relate to Middle Eastern dance? Well, Hamera simply describes the pulls of space and time on the dancer’s sense of their bodies which makes a strong case for the importance of bonds among dancers. For most of us we experience a daily negotiation of Middle Eastern necessitates as we embrace other dancers in our community. Through the coupling of ethnography and technique, Dancing Communities displays how dance can be a community-based practice of collectively building greater good. This book is extremely difficult for the average individual to push through on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is an academic read and not for the faint of heart.

The rating for Dancing Communities is on a neutral scale:
four zills for academia 4 zil rating
and one for the likeability for the Middle Eastern dancer
. 1 zil rating

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