Dance and Politics: Moving beyond Boundaries

Date of Publication: 27 February 2017

By Dr Dana Mills, Politics Tutor at Oxford Summer Courses

Human beings have always danced. Human beings have always come together to live in organized communities, and at the same time distanced themselves from other people.

As an activist and a dancer, I’ve always been interested in how these two forms of human activity relate to each other, and so ended up writing my PhD on this topic, and now, my first book.

My motivation and assumption throughout the long process of work on the book (8 years) has been that those who we see as unequal, marginal in formal politics can use various other forms of communication towards which we may not always be attentive in order to raise their voices against injustice. Two women who I’ve been writing about a lot, and have been faithful companions to me (I refer to them as “my dead girlfriends from the past”) are Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, two of the most important names in Modern dance. They differ widely on their approach to gender, but in their life’s work they made dance one of the most woman friendly space for creativity.

I am also very interested in questions of race, hence thinking about South Africa was obvious as well as challenging. A country recovering from years of apartheid formalized in law, the country has also given rise to some of the most inspiring egalitarian activism, in words and beyond. Gumboots dance, invented by black gold miners who were prohibited from speaking by their white bosses, became their only method of communication. The use of dance where words cannot be expressed- as Martha Graham said, “the body says what words cannot”, is also crucial in Palestine, where dabke is practiced as a national dance (though the country is in an ongoing struggle towards national sovereignty), and to gain freedom from Israeli occupation. At the same time, Israeli choreographers use dance to protest their own government’s actions.

There are many other instances I found while writing the book, you’ll have to read it to find out, and I look forward to hearing some of your own examples of how you understand the connection between dance and politics!

Click here to find out more information about her book.

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