A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

A World of Global Dances

Prof. Lester Tomé

Under the influence of globalization, many dance genres have become international and grown roots in locations far from their birthplaces. Hip-hop, salsa, tango, capoeira, ballet and bharatanatyam exemplify this trend. Globalization has also accelerated the creation of hybrid dance forms that fuse elements from various cultures, as illustrated by Bollywood choreographers who interweave Indian dancing and MTV aesthetics.

Each essay in this site offers an overview of a specific dance form from the perspective of globalization. Together, these essays relate global dance practices to migratory flows, media technology, multiculturalism, tourism, colonization, cultural hybridization, transnational identities, global citizenship and the commodification of cultural products, among other trends and phenomenons. These texts explore these processes and contexts, while identifying challenges and potentials in dance globalization.

The authors wrote these essays as final projects for the seminar Interrogating Dance Globalization, which sought to illuminate the effects of globalization on the practice and study of dance today.

The course addressed a number of questions in relationship to its topic: How can dance forms be meaningful outside their original culture? How does globalization affect definitions of authenticity? What does it entail for the preservation and ownership of dance traditions? What are the ethical connotations of global practices that enable the appropriation and exploitation of dance heritages, but also their fruitful dissemination and hybridization? How does the global circulation of dances reproduce or challenge international power relationships? Within dance, how is globalization reconciled with the articulation of local, regional or national identities? How have globalization affected the creativity and production processes of dancers and choreographers? How have mass media and the internet fostered and represented the globalization of dance? What is the connection between dance globalization and multiculturalism?

Ballroom: The Dance That Globalization Built

By Sarah Godel, Smith College

Ballroom dance is consistently transforming itself.  From its earliest form in the late sixteenth century, ballroom has continued to grow and evolve into what it is today.  Ballroom has been “ a living thing influenced by events and sensitive to what is going on all around,” whether it be “a change of fashion, war, an upsurge of interest in a particular foreign country, pop music, increased opportunities for travel, social upheavals, the popularity of film… television [or] music” (Silvester 14).  The transitory nature of ballroom is what makes it so exciting to study within the context of globalization.  By examining the ways in which ballroom has evolved due to cross cultural contributions, whether borrowed or appropriated, and consumption, I hope to provide insight into the role that globalization has had on ballroom as a genre. In fact, I propose that it is globalization, and its influence on ballroom’s shifting form and popularity, that has allowed for the form to exist for as long as it has.

Continue reading Ballroom: The Dance That Globalization Built

Voguing: Madonna and Cyclical Reappropriation

Madonna in the “Vogue” music video

Voguing: Madonna and Cyclical Reappropriation

by Stephen Ursprung, Smith College


Voguing has left its mark on the world largely due to the commercial success of the Madonna song of the same name.  On the surface, voguing appears to be the dance of black gay men that has been appropriated by popular culture.  However a close examination of the form reveals that voguing gives a voice to the oppressed: the gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, black, latino, female, and otherwise marginalized subcultures of American society.  Although characteristically American in its geographic roots, Voguing has evolved in a community that pays homage to global culture and celebrity.   Furthermore, voguing continues to hold relevancy thanks to an ongoing reciprocating exchange of influences with commercial entertainment.

Origins of Voguing: Holding Court in the Ballroom

Voguing first found its roots in Harlem, the neighborhood of Manhattan directly north of Central Park.  Characteristically black and latino, Harlem has historically been home to marginalized communities.  Where there is oppression and poverty, there is always art and creativity, and Harlem is certainly no exception.  For the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transexual (LGTB) communities in Harlem, creativity found its home in the ballroom culture.  Ballroom culture saw people group together in social circles, called houses.  These houses act like families; in a society filled with individuals cast out of their homes for being perceived as moral abominations and living a life of taboo, the house system provided a support system to those in need and trained young newcomers how to compete in the ballroom.

Similar to beauty pageants, balls test the creative and artistic talents of the contestants in their ability to impress the crowds as well as judges.  Men compete to pass as straight men, biological women, and everything in between.  Women compete to pass as straight women, biological men, and anything else.  There are a plethora of subcategories: “realness,” “executive,” “military,” etc.  Regardless of the competition, categories provide an escape from the pain of oppression felt by these individuals in a heteronormative world.  I would argue further that the ballroom culture was not only born out of a need to respond to racism and heteronormativity, it was a response to heterofascism, gendernormativity, conformativity, and the socioeconomic oppression enforced by classism.

An album cover advertising music from ballrooms.

The movement itself is unique and easily identifiable.  With sharp, angular gestures of the hands, vogue dancers frame their face and bodies as if performing for a fashion photographer.  The evolution of the movement itself is eloquently described by the late Willi Ninja, mother of the House of Ninja and one of the most prolific and globally known vogue dancers and choreographers.  In this clip, from Jennie Livingston’s critically acclaimed documentary Paris Is Burning, Ninja describes the subversive power of voguing:


As described by Ninja, voguing is essentially a form of battling.  Like bboying and breakdancing, voguing provides a safe and creative alternative to outcasts in Harlem.  These dancers compete and earn respect and notoriety without resorting to violence or crime.  Regardless of how these dancers “read” each other or “throw shade,” there is an underlying assumption of mutual respect and compassion.  Even though each house competes to earn the most titles at each ball, the community benefit of the ballroom is continually respected and cherished by all those that participate.

Not only does this construct a nurturing and supportive environment to the participants, the formation of ballroom culture guaranteed longevity and immediately challenged young dancers to master the moves and techniques of their teachers in addition to coming to each competition with new and innovative moves and tricks to give them competitive advantage.

Global Roots

Even in name, voguing finds its roots in global popular culture.  It is named after the popular magazine Vogue, which is a powerhouse in fashion journalism that is published in 8 different countries and follows fashion trends all over the world.  By emulating the preening and detail of fashion posing and modeling, voguing establishes global relevancy by referencing universally recognized gestures and stances.

The obsession with celebrity also deepen voguing’s roots in global culture.  Participants in drag balls mimic the fashion of global celebrities as a way to live out fantasies of grandeur without the reality of wealth.  By perpetuating a referential homage to global culture, vogueing is a unique example of American vernacular movement based in global trends rather than U.S.-centric experiences.

Madonna: The Catapult into the Public Eye


Voguing was first appropriated by pop culture by pop music icon Madonna in her 1990 single “Vogue.”  In Patricia Hluchy’s review of Paris Is Burning she writes,

Combining gymnastic contortions with the preening moves of fashion models, it is a highly vampish style—which perhaps explains its appeal for Madonna, pop music’s reigning siren.  In a recent interview with the Los Angeles gay-culture magazine The Advocate, the singer said she discovered voguing while planning last year’s [1990] Blond Ambition tour.  At a New York City disco, she encountered some gay men who regularly attended the so-called drag balls where voguing was invented, and she said that she was “blown away.”  Madonna went on to write her song about the dance, and recruited some of the drag-ball stars to perform on her tour. (Hluchy)

The drag-ball stars Hluchy refers to were members of the house of Xtravaganza.  As chronicled in the Madonna documentary Truth or Dare and the recent voguing documentary How Do I Look? (visit the website for more information), Jose and Luis Xtravaganza designed and choreographed the dance sequences for the music video.  The video also served to reference the glamor and elegance of celebrities ranging from early Hollywood stars through the contemporary artists of 1990.  Ever since Madonna imprinted voguing into the minds of pop music consumers worldwide, the dance form has enjoyed a continual exchange with popular culture.  While in its early days voguing appropriated the fantasy of fame, the fame of voguing fueled mutual dependency and inspiration between mainstream commercial entertainers and the participants of the underground drag ball scene.

By bringing voguing into the limelight, Madonna created a market for voguing in the commercial entertainment world.  As interest in voguing spread, the popularity of the already critically-acclaimed Paris Is Burning skyrocketed.  Other dancers outside of the the house of Xtravaganza also highlighted in the film catapulted to fame.  One of those dancers, Willi Ninja, whom I have previously mentioned, became one of the most recognizable vogue dancers, choreographers, and modeling coaches in the world.

Vogue legends Luna Khan, WIlli Ninja, and Jose Xtravaganza

In her obituary article after Ninja’s death in 2006, New York Times columnist Lola Ogunnaike remembers Ninja:

An androgynous, self-described “butch queen,” Willi Ninja taught vogueing [sic] throughout Europe and Japan, modeled in runway shows for the fashion designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler and danced in music vides.  He also taught models how to strut, giving stars like Naomi Campbell pointers early in their careers.  Most recently, he worked with the socialite Paris Hilton, whose red carpet sashay has since become her signature.  In 2004, he opened a modeling agency , EON (Elements of Ninja), but he never gave up dancing, appearing on televisions [sic] series like “America’s Next Top Model” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and dropping in at local clubs. (Ogunnaike)

Ninja’s success is indicative of the type of apetite popular culture had for voguing.  In my own experiences, I have seen a continually increasing number of voguing classes taught in commercial dance studios all over the country.  At the popularly known Broadway Dance Studio in New York and Millenium Dance Complex in Los Angeles, students can study not only with vogue instructors from the early ballroom days, they can learn from instructors that mastered voguing in ballrooms in London, Toronto, Chicago, and countless other cities previously unconsidered in voguing’s history.  Not only does voguing reference a global culture, it has become a global network and a commercial phenomenon of global culture.

After Madonna: Shift in Ballroom Culture

As the global obsession with voguing fell out of the limelight, the focus of the ballroom scene shifted.  While still emphasizing community-based support and striving for innovative new dance steps, ball culture has devoted itself to rebuilding the community in the wake of AIDS.  As chronicled in Paris Is Burning, many participants in ball culture make their livings in the sex industry and risk infection and violence.  Even now, decades after the hight of the AIDS crisis, voguing legends continue to succumb to the disease.  Most recently, Willi Ninja passed away at the age of 45 after a long battle with AIDS-related heart failure.  By forging a long-standing relationship with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and various HIV/AIDS organizations, ballrooms have focused on providing sexual health and lifestyle education to newcomers too young to have experienced the outbreak of AIDS and the immediate loss of a generation of gay men.  How Do I Look? documents this shift towards health education.

(Another) Reinvention of Madonna


On March 21, 2012, Madonna caused a stir when she released her music video for her newest single “Girl Gone Wild.”  The song references her continuing experiences as a lapsing Catholic and sexual deviant.  The video depicts Madonna as the only woman in a sea of scantily clad (presumably) gay men—mostly famous male models.  Most fans and critics have marked “Girl Gone Wild” as a return to “Vogue.”  Like “Vogue,” the video is black and white and references Madonna’s Blond Ambition years in countless ways.

The most striking reference to the “Vogue” video is the dancing.  Most importantly, Madonna enlisted the Ukrainian boy band Kazaky to choreograph and perform in the video.  Kazaky has become a viral phenomenon on YouTube due to their intricate choreography, subversive play on gender performativity in fashion and popular media, and their wardrobe (most notably their signature 5.5 inch stilettos).


Madanna perpetuates the codependence of celebrity and voguing yet again by refocusing our attention on the brilliantly referential movement form.  This time around, however, she does even less to mask the sexually exploratory and indulgent influence on voguing—the intrinsically sexual and exploitative nature of voguing is certainly performative, however it is this exaggeration of sexuality that makes the movement somehow more honest and human.

In MTV’s review of the video, they note,

“Those moves!  Those angular, cutting arm, leg and body movements.  Check.  A bunch of scantily clad male dancers posing in formation.  Check… Madonna and her dancers are definitely “vogueing”—or at least as close to it as she’s gotten since she struck her pose most famous post in 1990… She embraces the connection [to the gay community in “Vogue”] and appears to be doing the same here.  In “Girl Gone Wild,” we have two male models gnawing at the same apple, dancers in heels (and little else) and many, many suggestive close-ups celebrating the male form. (Mitchell)


Voguing continues to forge a path of global relevancy through it’s unending reference to global culture, celebrity, and fashion.  Through a close connection with the continued commercial success of Madonna, a woman known for constant reinvention and commercial reincarnation, voguing has solidified itself as an unapologetically staple of global society.

Selected Bibliography

Bleyer, Jennifer.  “Life’s A Mini-Ball.” The New York Times. 29 June 2008: CY6.  Print.

Freeman, Santiago.  “Strike a Pose 2.0.” Dance Spirit. Jul/Aug 2008 Vol. 12 Issue 6: pgs 112-115.  Print.

Hlutchy, Patricia.  “The World of Voguing.” Maclean’s. 13 May 1991: pg. 49. Print.

Holden, Stephen.  “In the Margins of 2 Minorities: A Double Fringe.” The New York Times. 23 July 1993: C3. Print.

How Do I Look? dir. Wolfgang Busch.  Web. 5 April 2012. <www.amazon.com>

Mitchell, John. “Madonna’s ‘Girl Gone Wild’ Video: Five Key Nods To Her Past.” MTV Reviews. MTV, INC.  21 March 2012. Web. 25 March 2012. <http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1681501/madonna-girl-gone-wild.jhtml>.

Ogunnaike, Lola.  “Willi Ninja, 45, Self-Created Star Who Made Vogueing Into an Art.” The New York Times. 6 September 2006: D8.  Print.

Paris Is Burning. Dir. Jennie Livingston.  Web.  1 March 2012. <www.netflix.com>.

The Globalization of Bollywood Dance

By Erica Marcoux, Smith College


Over the past few decades, Bollywood films have become their own distinct entity, given rise to a new variation of a genre of dance, and have developed into a globally recognized and appreciated phenomenon. Globalization is defined by dictionary.com as “the act of extending to other or all parts of the world”. In the case of dance, globalization takes place when dance companies go on tour, students go abroad or travel, and particularly since the dawn of the internet. Dancers may adopt movements from foreign genres, may train completely in various styles, and some will even work to adopt the cultural behaviors associated with a dance style. Others might put their own twist on a dance style to “make it their own” or to adapt the style to fit in with the context of dance in that culture. When dance forms become globalized, the question of whether or not the style can maintain its authenticity is raised. This, in turn, raises the question of what it means to be culturally authentic in the first place, as well as whether or not a style of dance can truly be possessed by a person or people. All of these questions become even more complex when looking at Bollywood dance, a form that in its “original” state was already a hybrid of elements of both Eastern and Western dance, but was located in India and primarily based on the classic Indian Kathak dance. Does this make it an Indian style of dance? By examining a brief history of the development of Bollywood films and dance, one can trace the evolution of Bollywood from a specific and hybridized movie dance form into a global phenomenon.


Bollywood films have been in production since the beginning of the 20th century. Similar to American films, Indian movies were originally silent, black and white films, and developed into “talkies” and musicals during the 1930s and 1940s. The first Hindi film with sound was Alam Ara, directed by Ardeshir Irani, and was released in 1931. The first talkie produced in India was Ayodhyecha Raja, directed by V. Shantaram and released in 1932 (Subhash, 1970). The early 1930’s  marked a time of great upheaval around the world, with the advent of the Great Depression, the start of World War II, and the Indian Partition. A potential explanation for the popularity of musicals at the time lies in these current events; the escapist and unrealistic nature of musicals is attractive when day-to-day life is overwhelming and distressing. The first Indian color film was produced in 1937, marking the start of the “Golden Age” of Indian cinema. The Golden Age lasted into the 1960s, and marks a period in which several of India’s classic and most popular films were created, as well as the time of India’s Independence. During this time, there was a growth in the commercial aspect of films, and a definition between commercial films and new wave films was unofficially established. The term “Bollywood” did not appear until the 1970s, when India surpassed the United States as the largest producer of films in the world. The name came from a combination of “Bombay” (which is now Mumbai, a cosmopolitan center of India, comparable to New York City in the United States) and “Hollywood” (Chidanand). “Bollywood” does not refer to films produced all throughout India, but to a specific region. Other areas of India and South Asia now have similar names, including Tollywood, Kollywood, Lollywood, and Dahliwood.

Following the Hollywood model, Bollywood films incorporated several aspects of musicals. During a movie, the characters would spontaneously burst into song, and at least one large “fantasy,” show-stopping number would be included. These sections of the films incorporate many theatrical elements, including costumes, lighting, special scenery or props, singing, and of course, dancing, as can be seen in the following clip from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, produced in movie form in 1955. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wMFXSFKRBU&feature=related[/youtube] In earlier Bollywood films, the style of dancing used was based on classical Indian dance or folk dances from throughout India. These dances included primarily the Kathak and Bharatanatyam, seen in the following images:

Since the inception of MTV the 1980s, Bollywood dancing has been heavily influenced by Western dance styles, and incorporates elements from American MTV and Broadway. In many cases, the musical numbers are released as separate music videos, and the soundtracks are released prior to the film, in order to further advertise the upcoming premieres. In modern Bollywood films, the musical numbers are oftentimes based on the hip-hop style of dance as well as the variations on hip-hop dance found in the music videos that are played on MTV in both the United States and in India. These images, from Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love music video, and from “Chhabeela, Saawariya” in 2007 show similarities between MTV and Bollywood music videos.

The inclusion of unrealistic music and dance sequences and the importance given to these music videos in Bollywood movies are a continuation of the escapist quality of films desired in the 1930s and 1940s, and put on display the extent to which these trends have circulated.
The musical numbers in Bollywood films most often include either the hero or heroine of the story, in addition to a large group of unnamed characters who have been hired as dance extras. The dance sections are often part of dream sequences or large production numbers that are disconnected from the plot line of the movie or have little to do with advancing the story. The songs being sung are most often Hindu, but may be heavily influenced by Western culture, or in some cases may be completely Westernized. Dressed in colorful and flashy costumes, the dancers perform on elaborate sets either on location in scenic regions or in artistically designed indoor settings, as can be seen in this image from Miranda Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, released in 2001. These elements add up to present a scene that is decorated with intricate details, brightly lit and embellished, and that feels separate from the “real world.” There are usually multiple musical numbers throughout a Bollywood film, but most Bollywood films are characterized by one major show-stopping performance. This number, referred to as the “item song,” is probably the longest and most fantastical of them all; characters will be seen in various costumes within the same song, and often bounce around from ornate location to ornate location and back again.

Parallel to the rapid expansion in communication technology and global interactions over the last few decades, the film industry grew, and movies from other countries became increasingly available  and accessible to the masses, particularly in terms of speed. Since roughly the 2000s, Bollywood has been the producer of the highest number of films per year, with an astounding average of over 1000 films per year. This is more than double the average number of films produced each year by Hollywood (Matusitz and Payano, 66). Today, one can purchase a Bollywood dance workout DVD, watch Bollywood routines on competition series “So You Think You Can Dance,”  which is broadcast in twenty-four different countries, attend numerous international film festivals that feature Bollywood films, sign up to take Bollywood dance classes at local studios, and more. One such studio, run by the Young Indian Culture Group in Albertson, New York, states:

Elaborate Bollywood dance numbers are an important highlight of Bollywood films. This engaging Indian dance style blends various dance forms including Indian classical dance, Indian folk, jazz influences, and Western popular.                                         (http://www.yicg.com/bollywood-dance-classes.asp).

This brings to the forefront the fact that instructors of Bollywood dance in the United States are conscious of the fact that Bollywood dance in itself consists of numerous elements and has many influences, and find this important to share with their potential students, thus amplifying the hybridity of Bollywood in a commercial way.

One way to look at Bollywood dance from a global perspective is to recognize it as a hybrid, globalized form even in its original, “authentic” state. The movements incorporated into early Bollywood films were based primarily on classical Indian dance and folk dances from the time, including both the Kathak and Bharatanatyam styles. This aspect of the dancing comes from  South Asian tradition and is based on Indian culture. The Western elements of Bollywood dance come into play in early Bollywood films mostly in terms of context. The set-up of having disconnected dance sequences that feature elaborate costumes, sets, choreography, and music dispersed throughout a movie is directly connected to the musicals being produced both by Hollywood and on Broadway during the early to mid-twentieth century. Currently, Bollywood dance is still influenced by Western culture, perhaps even more so than when it began. However, rather than taking their cues from Hollywood and Broadway, directors, producers, and choreographers are incorporating elements from music videos that one might view on MTV in both the United States and in India. These modern elements include the frequent costume and location changes during musical numbers, as well as the use of larger, more extroverted movements to capture an audience’s attention. “…the formation of Bollywood is a process at once entirely Indian and cross-cultural.” (Kao and Do Rozario, 313). The musical number “Mhare Hiwda Mein Naache Mor” from Sooraj R. Barjatya’s Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999) uses both costume changes and drastic changes in location. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WkynEY0YfA&feature=related[/youtube]

Aside from the tremendous growth in technology and communication, the rapid spread and popularity of Bollywood films and dance can be attributed to migration. Close to 60,000 people leave India each year with the destination of the United States alone (NationMaster.com). The resulting Indian diaspora is large and quite prominent, and with the spreading of people from different cultures comes the dissemination of culture. As more and more individuals leave India, (many for business related reasons), the Indian population in countries outside of India increases and leads to the development of Indian communities in these countries. These communities are

dislocated from nation and establishing communal solidarity through shared cultural practices and media. The coincidence of ‘imagined space’ and ‘imagined community’ intimates a connection between Bollywood and its diasporic audiences defined by the act of imagination. (Kao and Do Rozario, 314).

The escapist nature of musical Bollywood films described previously causes these “imagined spaces” to be created, and allows for audience members to avoid reality and seek comfort in an imagined and fantasized world. In the case of the Indian diaspora, these films provide a means for remembering their home culture and reminding themselves of their Indian identities.

This appeal is, of course, not limited to Indian audiences; the pull for American audiences stems from a similar place. However, in this case, the desired escape is not to a place of imagined community, but to a place that is exotic and far away. Western culture holds a fascination with exoticism and, through media like films, makes elements of Eastern culture appear more foreign and different than they are in truth, and often does so by developing or reproducing stereotypes. In the case of Bollywood, audiences often see bejeweled women with dark eyes and long, dark hair singing in a different language and dancing in ways that are not common in the United States, in locations that are unfamiliar, providing the exotic and escapist quality of early and modern Bollywood films. The following clip puts this image of women prominently on display. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waEXlvat5GA[/youtube] Bollywood films have also become prominent in diverse Israel, and are featured at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. In Israel, there are two cable networks, “Hot Bombay” and “Yes India”, that are devoted solely to the playing of Indian films. Not only are Bollywood films and dance enjoyed by those in Israel, but they are part of a current process of collaboration between the Film Foundation of India and Israel’s Project Interchange and the American Jewish Committee to produce hybrid films.
Another contributor to the global spread of Bollywood film and dance is the growth of India as a world power. With a population of more than one billion, India ranks second in number of inhabitants in the world, and is continuing to grow significantly with each year. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats8.htm). Similarly, India is in the top five countries economically worldwide, and is a current model for successful education and business (therichest.org). Having these kinds of power means being an important influence on national and international culture. With the successes of India comes healthier finances, and with healthier finances comes the capacity for Bollywood to produce more and better films, for actors in the films to become celebrities, and for audience members to attend more movie showings. The prevalence of India in today’s world makes it a driving cultural force that is recognized at festivals and awards ceremonies internationally.


The existence and globalization of Bollywood dance can be viewed as both a positive and negative phenomenon. On the positive side, bringing dance to film is an effective method of both spreading the art of dance to the masses and inspiring people to participate in or become interested in the dance world. Propagating Bollywood dance creates a sense of multiculturalism in the countries it is brought to, and brings an awareness of a portion of Indian culture and dance to these countries.  When other dance traditions in these countries, incorporate elements of Bollywood dance into their own repertoire, it creates a fusion of styles, and expands the movement vocabulary accessible to both dancers and choreographers. Trained students or instructors can make adaptations to the dance style or use the movements from Bollywood as inspiration for a different piece of choreography. This exposure to “other” forms of dance not only provides opportunities for individuals to learn more about dance, but may inspire people to learn about tradition, and develop a better understanding and respect for other cultures.

On the other hand, there are several negative aspects in the globalization of Bollywood dance. While it can be seen as increasing multiculturalism, it is vital to note that Bollywood dance is not and cannot be considered representative of Indian dance or India. Making these assumptions or being oblivious to these facts leads to the production of or continuation of stereotypes that are unhealthy in creating a respectful, multicultural setting. This subliminal stereotyping is not exclusive to foreign films. For example, the way that the jitterbug might presented in a Hollywood movie doesn’t really represent the dance that originated out of black harlem culture. The context and intentions of the jitterbug as well as the depictions of the developers and dancers of the jitterbug are most likely inaccurate, and are most certainly incapable of representing an entire group of people. Another issue with Bollywood dance is the fact that its origins lie in a hybridization that makes some form of an exaggerated mockery of classical and traditional Indian dance forms.

Writer Drid Williams discusses his strong disgust toward the dance style in an article that connects Bollywood dance to post-modern dance:

Bollywood’s originators and managers are aware of the rules of Indian aesthetics, Indian           dancing and the many traditions that over the centuries produced India’s dance     forms…Bollywood’s pundits undoubtedly know—or at least know about—such things, but they have chosen rampant commercialism and consumerism with its inherent tastelessness instead. (Williams, 21).

Williams’ point of view brings up the question of authenticity in dance traditions. The Kathak’s roots are in storytelling, and the movements were often performed as part of some rituals. Bharatantayam is even further linked to spirituality; in its early forms, dating back to 1000 BC, the dance was performed as an act of the utmost devotion to the Hindu gods. The Western adaptations made to and the sexualization of the classical Kathak and Bharatanatyam dance forms may be considered offensive, and in being altered, may lose their original intentions and meanings.


Bollywood films and dance are, and continue to become, globally recognized as major elements of the Indian culture. These Indian films are prime examples of globalization, as they involve a hybridization between the West and India, migration, and the global propogation of Bollywood with the growth of India as a world power. Through the means of technology and communication, migration, and India’s increasing power and influence in the world, the dance style has been quickly dispersed throughout the world. As Bollywood films and dance become more popular, the dance form itself has taken on many forms and adaptations. Now, the dance style can be used as an element for musical films, taught in classes, performed in competitions, or used as a form of exercise. As the already hybridized dance form continues to be altered and expanded upon, it becomes questionable as to whether or not globalization is a positive or negative phenomenon. Bollywood on a global level can lead to financial gains as well as recognition for India, but it also perpetuates stereotypes. Also, an increase in the recognition of dance can be viewed positively, while the alteration of a cultural treasure can be viewed as both offensive and unnecessary. Whether or not this question of positivity or negativity is ever answered, one fact remains clear: globalization is a force that takes place for numerous reasons and on many levels, and one that does not look like it will cease any time in the near future.


Williams, Drid. “Bollywood: Postmodernism’s Legacy to the International Dance World.” Visual     Anthropology 23.1 (2010): 20-32. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web.

Nijhawan, Amita. “Excusing the Female Dancer: Tradition and Transgression in Bollywood     Dancing.” South Asian Popular Culture 7.2 (2009): 99-112. EBSCO Academic Search     Premier. Web.

Shah, Purnima. “Transcending Gender in the Performance of Kathak.” Dance Research Journal     30.2 (1998): 2-17. JStor. Web.

Prickett, Stacey. “Techniques and Institutions: The Transformation of British Dance Tradition     through South Asian Dance.” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance     Research 22.1 (2004): 1-21. JStor. Web.

Kao, Kai-Ti, and Do Rozario Rebecca-Anne. “Imagined Spaces: The Implications of Song and     Dance     for Bollywood’s Diasporic Communities.” Continuum: Journal of Media &     Cultural Studies 22.3 (2008): 313-26. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web.

Sundar, Pavitra. “Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance.” South Asian Popular     Culture 8.2 (2010): 203-05. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web.

Matusitz, Jonathan, and Pam Payano. “The Bollywood in Indian and American Perceptions.”     India Quarterly 67.1 (2011): 65-77. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web.

Morcom, Anna. “An Understanding between Bollywood and Hollywood? The Meaning of     Hollywood-Style Music in Hindi Films.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 10.1 (2001):     63-84. JStor. Web.

K. Jha; Subhash (2005). The Essential Guide to Bollywood. Roli Books. p. 1970

Rajghatta, Chidanand (6 July 2008). “Bollywood in Hollywood”. The Times of India.


Early Globalization and The Roots of Dancehall

By Canace Morgan, Mount Holyoke College


The pulsating digital sounds of dancehall music permeate Jamaican life, sometimes to the point of intrusiveness. Its tracks, played in an empty bar, keep community members hearts dancing at nights, and create a steady pulse that leads them into the mornings. This was my first experience of dancehall; as the sound that invaded my room at nights. My second came in a summer school. The voice of artiste “Elephant man” bounced off the walls and a classmate pulled me to my feet. “Let’s dance”, she said and after protest, I found myself hitting my hands above my head, jumping on one foot and “giving them a run” for the next two hours. That day I learned that I could dance long, that I could feel alive in dance, and that my back could sweat. The music felt like a part of me and until it stopped playing, I was going to keep dancing.

There is a barely concealed perception is that someone is not Jamaican if he or she does not listen to or participate in dancehall. It after all, surrounds you from the birth. This characteristic of dancehall music to surround you explains the actions and beliefs of Jamaicans. Though the word dancehall connotes being in a particular space, it really means creating a
space wherever the music is being played, whether on your own, with friends or in a club. Because of this, one can find a woman in the middle of town “bubbling”; a term used to describe rhythmic hip movement to the heavy beat, or a group of friends on a corner creating their own rhythms. Jamaican’s seem to walk with dancehalls within them.

This transportable view of dancehall points to its ability to maintain an identity that is distinctly Jamaican regardless of the changes it undergoes. It also speaks of dancehalls transnational identity that is able to assimilate the culture of whatever country it enters yet maintain its strong Jamaican roots. This paper will  explore how various cultures have contributed to the forming of dancehall and how that dance has spread globally, returning constantly to its source.

Early Globalization and the Roots of Dancehall

The Oxford Dictionary defines globalization as the process by which business or other organizations develop international influence. Globalization, however, also has cultural implications. A reduction of barriers in trade and travel, characteristic elements of economic globalization, creates the opportunity for a meeting and intermingling of cultures, and has given rise to the term “cultural globalization”, defined by Takis Fotopolous, philosopher and economist, as the homogenization of culture.

Despite popular belief, this homogenization is not a recent occurrence. According to Noël Carroll (2007), the exchange of culture began a long time ago between Europe and Asia, Rome and India, and amongst Hellenistic Empires that arose after Alexander the Great. Certainly, in the mid 17th century a form of globalization was taking place through the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean. The intermingling of people from diverse cultures, Spanish, English and other European slave owners, African slaves and Indian and Asian immigrants, created a hybrid of culture in the Caribbean, and specifically, in Jamaica. According to Yvonne Daniel (2011), Caribbean culture is itself, a constant cultural collision; it is fundamentally global.

The thesis of this paper is that dancehall, a dance expression emerging from the inner-city communities of Kingston, Jamaica, is fundamentally global, being an outcome of centuries of varied dance expressions, predominantly African but with European influences as well. The paper also outlines that having been developed in Jamaica from imported cultures, dancehall is being re-exported through the force of cultural globalization.

The term dancehall in its broadest sense refers to the physical space in which dances are held, but also to the music created for and played within those spaces, to the fashion and very importantly to the dance styles emerging from the music and performed within the physical arena. Most academic research on dancehall has however focused on the music, lyrics and lifestyle, and material on the “dance” in dancehall is relatively sparse. In an interview I conducted with a young Jamaican male, I sought to determine the place of “dance” in dancehall. Because I had previously gotten a response from another interviewee about the music alone, I stated that my interest was in both the dance and the music. He promptly corrected me, “you can’t have dancehall, widout dance”. When I asked for clarification, he explained, “It’s just the way it is ever since. Even before us.” The sparse information on the dance history of dancehall may be a result of the fact that the dancehall tends to be heard before it is seen. As mentioned in the introduction, the music tends to intrude every public and private place, the dance however, tends to go unnoticed unless it is stumbled upon, such as in passing a zealous person or group on the road,   or if it is sought out, in a club, concert or “dancehall” (space). The dance therefore is usually the last to be seen, after the music is heard, the language is spoken, and the fashion is seen. For many Jamaicans however, the dance and music are inseparable.


Despite the emancipation of slaves in 1838 and Jamaica’s independence from Britain in 1962, a cultural dichotomy has persisted in the country. The society was divided into what was perceived as “high-culture” of the white group, and “low-culture”, which was predominantly black. This division created a struggle over the identity of Jamaica, which would display either the “superior” European or American culture or the denigrated African culture.

Dancehall is the most current manifestation of what is deemed low culture and is historically negated. Its primary language, patois, patwa, or Creole, is a mixture of African retentions and British English with some similarities in Chinese syllables. Rather than being considered a separate language it is considered an informal, lower class English. By relying on patois, dancehall created a resistance to the existing state structure of British superiority; it demonstrated the creation of a new state that occurred through the blending of the languages that existed in Jamaica during the times of slavery to the 19th century. Similarly, the dance in dancehall is a blend of dance languages shaped by globalization.

Stanley- Niaah (2004) describes dancehall as the choreographing of an identity that comments on aspects of Western domination. It is, she says, the manifestation of a performance culture created by people exposed to various, differing cultures, in the confines of a small island space. As such, dancehall contains a unique revelry, space, and tension with the ruling class. It is a representation of a restless spirit arising from a globalized environment.

Globalization and the Dance Language of Dancehall

Dancehalls historical dimension is generally unacknowledged. Instead, Jamaicans and onlookers perceive dancehall as a purely Jamaican product; the definition of Jamaican generally suggests that the product was developed in the country or by someone who was lived there. However, the dances are the result of meeting of forces from different points of the globe.

Even during slavery, the African population in Jamaica was allowed some freedom in dance on particular nights. Generally, cultural expression such as drumming was banned, but despite this, hybridized African cultures thrived. Dancehall, which as of this point refers to the dance styles, has its roots in African religious dances as well as in dances of entertainment and celebration. For example Nyaah (2010) traces several dancehall steps, chief among which is the limbo, back to the slave ship experience.


This limbo dance style, she states, emerged from the practical need to “loosen up” after spending days in cramped positions in the holds of slave ships. It is characterized by bending backwards with the torso of more agile dancers almost touching the ground, and was practiced even after arriving on the plantations. It was reintroduced into the dancehall (location) by now deceased dancer Bogle, and so carries his name to this day.


Slave dances in the Caribbean served a practical purpose, were a source of entertainment to the enslaved people and were also a medium through which the slaves could get back at their masters by mocking their manners and attitudes. “Bruckins” a traditional Jamaican dance which is said to be a fusion of Junkanoo and Set Girl parades of the 18th and 19 centuries, portrays rival kings and queens and their entourage in mock duels.   Bruckin’s is a stately, dipping-gliding dance typified by the “thrust and recovery” action of the hip and leg. The movement was said to have been derived from the Pavane, a European court dance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However strong African elements include the jutting out of the pelvis, bent knees and backward tilted torso;  elements attributable to the dances of West Africa. Similar moves are also evident in late 20th century Jamaican dancehall moves.

Other dances in the dancehall echo Kumina an African religious dance practiced in some sections of the island. As described by Shepard, 2003:

“The basic dance posture (of Kumina) is an almost erect back, bent knees, and feet flat in either first or fourth position stance (ballet term) itching and shuffling along as the hip performs side to side or forward thrusting actions. This is accentuated by dip (a subtle drop on the right leg) as the dancers move forward. Intricate footwork, the undulation of the ribcage, shoulders and arm movements, along with wide flat-footed spins followed by a sudden break (a stop in movement) are performed in response to the polyrhythm of the drumming, and reflect retentive African traditional dance elements within Kumina.”

In 1992, The Butterfly dance reigned as the top dancehall move. With the hands and spread legs, it depicts the life force of a butterfly. It is danced on plié (knees bent), a characteristic feature of dance movements of Africa and its Diaspora, with the feet flat, supporting the dynamic displacement of the hip and shoulder girdles and legs, while the fluid movement of the knees laterally on a horizontal axis imitates the flapping of the butterfly’s wings in flight. The dancehall’s Butterfly presents not only a dance but also a dancehall philosophy and ethos of freedom, creativity, celebration, struggle, and beauty. Dancehall style revolves around and is expressed by the body. In particular, the dancing body embodies dancehall style and becomes a crucial site for articulation for the individual and the group.


Jamaican dances have therefore emerged from the brutality of the transatlantic slave trade, the patterning of dances and behaviors of European masters and as well, from African religious expression.


Dancehall and the Jamaican identity

Louise Bennett, Jamaican poet who broke local literary tradition by writing in patois, defines a “Jamaican” as one who has “a whole heap a culture, an tradition, an birthrite dat han dung to dem from generation to generation.” In other words, a Jamaican is one who has had the culture formed in Jamaica and passed down to him/her from birth. I dare to push this further and say that one is not considered as fully Jamaican by only possessing the culture, but by also proudly claiming and acting on with it. A Jamaican therefore will eat the local foods, speak the local language and partake in the local culture. The less one appears to participate in the things considered deeply Jamaican, is the less Jamaican one appears to be.

Participating in dancehall is one of those cultural qualifiers to the Jamaican identity. Though dancehall does not readily acknowledge its historical dimension, it recognizes the continuity of culture within its community, especially when one is heard saying, “is just the way things have been from ever since.”

Dancehall, being the product of black, lower class Jamaican youth responding to (and continuing) the way things have

QQ, a dancehall artist, had already gained recognition at age 10, with a hit song on iTunes titled Stukkie

always been, is Jamaican. It is furthermore, the proud articulation and projection of the distinct Jamaican identity that they have experienced. By creating the dancehall, lower class Jamaicans continued to respond to life through a culture of dance and music passed down to them from birth. By doing so they continue to create a cultural counter-world to Western society that applauds its own fashion, music, dance and language, and works on an almost separate economy. This world passes on its worldviews, motivations and values to the next generation, long before they choose to participate in it. Dancehall therefore, is not merely a genre of music and dance to Jamaicans it is an identity. Ricky Trooper dancehall DJ expresses this belief when he says that dancehall is a part of him because it was in the dancehall that he was born and grown.

Yet, not all Jamaicans were born in the inner cities, in which dancehall was formed, so why is it considered such a defining part of the Jamaican identity? Aside from continuing a tradition of social commentary that others in the society can relate to, especially youth, dancehall is continuously invasive and loud. Through dancehall, the “lower-culture” has fashioned a sense of pride in where they have come from, despite its unfavorable appearances. This pride demands that one wears who they are on their sleeves. As such, dancehall surrounds the island. Combined with its social and personal commentary, its influence is not only far reaching but relatable and thus secure. In fact, by the 1990s dancehall influence was recognized as outweighing the combined influence of the church, politicians and the educational system, as it spoke bare facedly about life. This bold life commentary is acceptable as a solid representation of Jamaican identity, because it is recognized as true for the majority of the Jamaican population and because it embodies well the Jamaican motto, “Out of many, one people.”

In a world that is becoming increasingly conducive to globalization, the dancehall music and dance have migrated beyond the confines of the small island space to North America, Europe and parts of Asia, amongst other countries. In fact, dancehalls global reach has been expanded through the thriving tourism industry in Jamaica; Jamaica was named “The Caribbean’s Leading Destination” in 2011, and the constant display of culture when Jamaicans migrate to the UK, United States and Canada and other countries.  As a major definer of the Jamaican identity, it follows that dancehall is usually proudly displayed in music and dance in the global world.

Dancehalls Global Reach


In 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt 100m sprint and 200m gold medallist, performed several dancehall movements during his victory lap. The most memorable involved pointing to the sky, then leaning backward  as if launching an arrow. The move, “To Di Werl (world)” was a statement of the extent to which Jamaicans wanted to display their culture. Dancehall was not simply a culture that would rise and die quickly in Jamaica, but is intended for the world, to achieve international popularity.

To di Werl

Usain Bolt celebrate his victories with the famous To Di Werl pose and other dancehall moves, increasing the popularity of dancehall worldwide

Bolts performance, however, was not dancehalls first launch into the global world. In fact, in the second half of the 20th century dancehall planted itself firmly within the Japanese, European and American markets.In 1990, Buju Banton, a prominent dancehall artist began touring the US at the release of his first album, by the turn of the 21st century his tours would cover between 17 and 32 of the states, and on occasion all 50. His tours also took him to Europe, Israel, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa (Stanley Niaah 2010). In 1994, dancehall record sales, in the US, had reached a high of $300 million a year in the market (Stolzoff, 2000). In 2006, US movie producers launched a DVD titled “Dance-U-Mentary” that featured the top dancehall dancers and celebrities in the history of dancehall and their commentary on the dance and music. That same year the top dancehall DJs in Japan, Mighty Crown, celebrated their 15-year anniversary with both Jamaican artistes and Japanese DJs. The anniversary indicated the achievement and uncompromising nature of Japanese performers and audiences at having a dancehall culture that can support its own clubs, sound systems, dancehall tunes, and dance competitions in Japan (Stanley Niaah 2010).  Before that, in 2002, Junko Kudo, from Japan, became the first international dancehall queen. She opened the door for other international dancers to compete in the competitions held yearly in Jamaica. Since then, Japan, Finland, Austria, Germany, and several states in the United States, amongst other countries have held their own National Dancehall Queen Competitions. The start of the International Dancehall Queen Competition in Jamaica, alongside its personal competition, further defined the increasing popularity of dancehall in the face of globalization.

Dancehalls Rejection Letter

Two Dancers engaging in a small scale dancehall event


Alongside dancehalls increasing popularity however, there remains disapproval. Much like the responses from upper class Jamaican citizens, many in Britain deem dancehall a vulgar and inappropriate expression of sexuality and violence. In several other countries, including Caribbean countries such as Barbados alongside, dancehall artistes have been banned from performing because of the violent lyrics, sexually explicit songs, and homophobic content. There has been however no attempt at stopping dancehall events and dancing. Perhaps because the dancing itself changes so quickly, it is hard to put a hand on.


In 2006, however, the US media warned and joked about the dangers involved with the then popular Dutty Wine dance. This mirrored the actions of “high-class” members of Jamaicans in the 1970s when the news and churches carried information on the dangers of performing dances such as the erkle.


Carolyn Cooper suggest that the reason there has been such a backlash on the content of dancehall songs, and by my extension a denigration of the dance style, is because of the lack of understanding of Jamaican culture and language. Indeed much of Jamaica’s culture involves the taking of “Serious matter mek play”. Cooper expands on the matter by saying that much of the language used should be interpreted within the observed context of both current Jamaican culture and historical happenings. It is not enough, I believe she is saying, to claim violence and vulgarity as the centrality of dancehall, and furthermore as the main issue of Jamaica, one must look at the social commentary in light of how the people making it have been taught is good and bad and judge its behavior from there. After all, what is vulgar in one context is not always considered vulgar in another; many Jamaicans have looked at American in disgust claiming they are pompous. This however does not mean that dancehall does not display vulgar commentaries, they do and despite the ban on artist from some countries, they continue to.

The Jamaican Response to Global Reaction

The responses of Jamaicans to commentary have varied depending on which commentary one views as important to respond to. Anisha P. explained for example that the commentary on over sexuality is actually in reference to only one part of the dancehall. In fact, she says, sex only takes up about one quarter of dancehall events. Brizelle T. on the other hand, stated that she no longer identified with dancehall because of its homophobic and sexually demeaning lyrics towards women. She however, sees no problem with dancing to it because she knows it is purely fun for her and her friends. Latanya C. further explains that one cannot simply describe the dancehall they have to experience it. She suggests that, if they do, they would no longer have negative comments.

A group of Japanese dancehall dancers take some time out for a picture at a dancehall event in Jamaica

Latanya’s belief seems to support itself on the large number of people who do support dancehall and its dancing. This fan base, if I may, is highly valued in the dancehall community as valid responses to the dancehall culture.  It is believed that these people are accepting (everyone else is considered “badmind”, a term used to connote bitterness and a desire to see ones downfall), and they are welcomed with open arms. They are met with patience when they attempt the dances and applause when they pull it off. Rihanna, for example, was highly praised after her Grammy 2012 Performance, in which she performed several dancehall moves.

The biggest criticism is reserved for those who are considered a part of the Jamaican family (or a descendant) who seem to reject a part of the dancehall culture to maintain popularity in the international popularity. Recent victim to this disapproval are Sean “Shanda” Paul. Sean Paul received  criticism from Jamaicans for not putting out authentic dancehall music since his award winning album “Dutty Rock”. Despite Sean Paul stating that his allegiance is still with dancehall, his critics have not been swayed, as “actions talk louder than words”.


The history of Jamaica with its convergence of peoples from varied cultural background created a solid foundation for the emergence of dancehall; dance and music. This same history has also made it possible for dancehall to extend its boundaries beyond the small island state of Jamaica to the rest of the world.


Cooper, Carolyn. Noise in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the “Vulgar” Body of Jamaican Popular Culture. 1st US ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.

Dodds, Sherril . “Re-inventing the Past at Sunday Serenade: The Residual Cultures of a British Caribbean Dance Hall” Anthropological Notebooks 16 (2010): 23-38.

Cooper, Carolyn. “At the Crossroads— Looking for Meaning in Jamaican Dancehall Culture: A Reply” Small Axe 21 (2006): 193-204.

Cooper, Carolyn. “”Lyrical Gun”: Metaphor and Role Play in Jamaican Dancehall Culture” The Massachusetts Review 35.3/4 (1994): 429-447.

Hamilton, Davina. “‘I Haven’t Turned My Back On Dancehall!’ – Sean Paul Says That His New Commercial Sound Doesn’t Mark The End Of His Allegiance With Reggae” The Gleaner. 30 Apr. 2010. The Gleaner Company. 01 May 2012 <http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120408/ent/ent1.html>.

Matthews, Laura. “Rihanna Does the Willie Bounce at 2012 Grammy Awards, Starts Twitter Trend” International Business Times. 12 Feb. 2012. International Business Times. 01 May 2012 <http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/297392/20120212/rihanna-willie-bounce-2012-grammy-awards-twitter.htm>.

“Why the ban on dancehall artistes?” National Weekly. 30 Feb. 2010. CN Weekly News. 01 May 2012 <http://www.cnweeklynews.com/commentary/editorial/2072-why-the-ban-on-dancehall-artistes>.

Stolzoff, Norman. Wake the Town and Tell the People: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica. London: Duke University, 2000.

Stanley Niaah, Sonjah. Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto. Ottowa: University of Ottowa Press, 2010.

Stanley Niaah, Sonjah. “Kingston’s Dancehall: A Story of Space and Celebration” Space & Culture 7.1 (2004): 102-118.

Stanley Niaah, Sonjah . Dance, Divas, Queens, and Kings IN Making Caribbean Dance: Continuity and Creativity in Island Cultures. Florida: University Press of Florida, 2010.

Daniels, Yvonne. Caribbean and Atlantic diaspora dance : Igniting Citizenship . Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2011.


Andrea Shepard, 2003. Dept of Educational Technology, San Diego State University,. Retrieved from http://mydancing.com/port/musicroots.htm





The Africanist Aesthetic in American Dance Forms

by Emily Willette, Smith College

The Africanist Aesthetic and American Dance Forms


The history of globalization and cultural hybridization goes back through time as long as people from different places have been interacting with each other. Through trade of all kinds, people all over the world have been sharing their practices with others and taking in those of others. Since dance embodies many cultural attitudes, it is one way to look at the effects of globalization. Through slavery American dance was influenced by African dance, and in turn the African slaves were influenced by the dances already performed in this country. This can be seen in many dance forms created and altered in the United States.



The Africanist Aesthetic, as seen in American dance, is not any particular aesthetic of any one group of people from Africa, but rather is a blend of common elements across many different groups.  According to Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, this blending and creation of an African-American culture came about because of homogenization of slave life.[1] Since the beginning of slavery in the United States, groups of Africans had been split up. No one group with a common language or cultural practices were kept together, which lead to cultural hybridization even in the early history of slavery.  With the invention of the cotton gin, many plantations that had previously grown indigo or tobacco began to grow cotton because this device made it so much easier to produce. Since almost all slaves were doing the same work, the shared practices were the basis for what Hazzard-Gordon calls, “a fairly stable, homogeneous, dominant cultural variant.”[2] The final force that Hazzard-Gordon cites is the outlaw of the slave trade in the early 1800’s. Since no, or almost no, new slaves were being brought into the United States and the percentage of slaves that were born in the United States was becoming the majority, the people were becoming further and further removed from their home culture with and had no way to recover what had been lost.[3]

In addition to these factors, there was no way for the enslaved Africans to completely hold onto their cultural beliefs because slave masters actively tried to take it away from them. The main ways this was accomplished was through the banning of drums, and the introduction of mind/body dualism through Christianity.[4] The slaves were robbed of their communication methods, and introduced to the idea that sacred and secular were entirely different. This stripping of culture functioned as a form of oppression, since the slaves could not have an independent identity or autonomy when they weren’t allowed to participate in their cultural practices. However, many plantation owners held secular dances for their slaves.[5] These dances were very important to both the plantation owners, and the slaves. For the plantation owners, the dances functioned as a way to keep their slaves from rebelling. If they could have one part of their life that brought them joy, they were less likely to run away, or strike out and revolt against the plantation owners- it was a way to pacify the slaves. For the slaves however, it was a way to hold onto their culture and keep it from being ripped away from them. It also functioned as a form of rebellion in itself through satire that their white masters did not understand.  Because these dances were so important to the structure of slavery, the qualities and values they preserved can still be seen today. Cheryl Willis argues that, “the deep structure within a culture is found in the retention of characteristics of behavior that are not effected by time and geography; surface structure is effected by time and geography”[6] These deep structures are what we can still identify as the Africanist aesthetic hundreds of years later on an entirely different continent. Through the interplay of cultural denial and cultural allowances, and homogenization of lifestyle, slaves were able to develop a distinct African-American culture and sense of identity


What is the Africanist Aesthetic?


The Africanist aesthetic is a set of qualities in art, and specifically in this paper dance and music that come from African art. Robert Farris Thompson’s observations of art in central and western Africa and Kariamu Welsh Asante’s observations of dance in Zimbabwe identify common themes of African art. From these two authors, I have selected six characteristics that specifically relate to my discussion of the Africanist aesthetic in American dance.

The first quality is ephebism, or youthfulness. Robert Farris Thompson states, “People in Africa, regardless of their actual age, return to strong, youthful patterning whenever they move within the streams of energy which flow from drums or other sources of percussion.”[7] This quality is characterized by strength, flexibility, speed, and intensity in all parts of the body. Flexibility in this sense isn’t about extensions or doing splits, but rather a flexibility in the joints. Bent knees and elbows that indicate a readiness to adapt and change, along with isolations and oscillations of the pelvis with a straight but not rigid spine define this type of flexibility.[8] Ephebism reflects a cultural value on what youth has to offer.

The quality of “coolness” is also very prevalent. This often has to do with presenting a calm demeanor while simultaneously performing movement described in the previous section, but is about more than that. Coolness also has to do with visibility and clarity. A cool person is someone who presents themselves out in the open for everyone to see- there are no secrets in their movement and thus they have no secrets. In order to be cool, a dancer must also have intention in their movement. This intention makes the dancing clear, and leads to smoothness of movement. Farris Thompson states, “seams do not show, the whole is moving towards generous conclusions based on total giving of the self to music and society.”[9] Coolness is about having composure, but also giving everything to the dance.

Musical qualities and their connections to dance in Africa are very different from European ideas about those. First, rhythm is the important quality in the music which can be seen in the widespread use of percussion instruments. Every beat gets equal stress, and there are none that are underplayed.[10] This can create a very bold sound in music, with no sense of legato. Because of this, timing is also crucial.[11] The connection of music and dance is very deep, the two cannot be separated. In Zimbabwean dance, Welsh Asante noted that, “Both dancing and drumming require accompaniment.”[12] Neither is a complete form without the other, and they both require a human body. This reflects a more embodied and holistic sense of being as opposed to the dualism typical of European worldviews.

Polyrhythm and polycentrism are also central to African dance. Polyrhythm is the layering of different rhythms over one another and polycentrism is the idea that movement can initiate from any part of the body. These two qualities play together because different parts of the body dance to different instruments that are playing at different rhythms. Farris Thompson describes learning polyrhythm and polycentrism, “my hands and my feet were to keep time with the gongs, my hips with the first drum, my back and shoulders with the second.”[13] All the elements of the music are displayed clearly in the body and nothing is left out. This method of dancing is another way of incorporating and valuing the entire body and bringing together the music and dancing.

Meanwhile, balance in asymmetry is a quality that comes from balancing ephebism, a “hot” quality, with coolness, but also maintaining balance when the body is in a physically asymmetrical stance. Hazzard-Gordon describes a specific instance of this in African worship, “Shango, or thundergod, devotees sometimes dance with a burning fire in a container on their heads.”[14] This particular dance is balancing of both hot and cold. In order to keep the fire from falling off their heads, there must be some restraint and focus on the body in relation to gravity.  Farris Thomson states that, “African design is, quite often rendered vivid by rhythmized, contrastive, changing elements within the pattern.”[15] Through opposites, artists create balance in their work. For the creators and performers, these contrasts are what make the art interesting.

Satire is also a very important quality in African dance. Barbara S. Glass writes about the Yoruba dance festival called Gelede, and notes that the dance is in part for, “Enacting and examining male and female roles in society, and satirizing any anti-social behavior of individuals.” [16] It can be used as a method of social control. It shows people what is allowed and what is not allowed often by exaggerating the unacceptable behavior. In this case it is being anti-social, which could be considered as going against the self-presentation required by being “cool.”

Even though these reference specific African examples, that does not mean these qualities in American dance are direct references to those instances. As previously described, they have gone through a process of hybridization with European culture in the United States, and have become a large part of the defining qualities that make American culture and dance different from European.[17] Many (if not all) types of dance created in the United States are influenced by African dance, even ones that are not considered African American. These qualities have often been overlooked because of racism and ignorance. Brenda Dixon Gottschild highlights how George Balanchine incorporated Africanist aesthetics into ballet to create a distinctly American ballet characterized by its angularity, speed, and intensity.[18] She also notes the importance of the connection to the earth in American modern dance through the rejection of shoes and rolling on the ground that has nothing to do with European concert dance and much more to do with Africanist aesthetics.[19]


The Africanist Aesthetic in Tap Dance



Cheryl Willis, in her article “Tap Dance: Manifestations of the African Aesthetic” outlines some of the major aesthetic qualities of tap dance in relation to the Africanist aesthetic. She identifies the attitude of tap dance as being, “visible, and smooth.”[20] These are clearly related Farris Thompson’s description of coolness in African Art. In this video, the Nicholas brothers embody what it means to be cool. Their dancing is incredibly clear. They are in perfect synchronicity and the sounds are not muffled at all. They always know exactly where they are going, and there is no hesitation. The way they keep their faces is also another element if coolness. They smile the entire time and present themselves to their audience, even when they are doing moves that could be potentially dangerous. They appear to be having fun when they jump over each other, and it doesn’t appear false. They never let on if they are getting tired, even if they probably are from the intensity of their dancing.

Tap dance is an excellent example of the interconnectedness of music and dance because the dancers make music with their feet. Neither the music nor the dancing can stand on its own in tap. Willis also describes the distinct musicality valued in tap dance. “The dancer does not dance on the beat of the music but establishes a rhythm that balances the music. The concept of stepping inside of the rhythms gives evidence to the polyrhythmic aspect of African music and dance.”[21] The Nicholas brothers dance with that type of musicality by dancing between the downbeats, and occasionally not making any sound on the downbeats. While this performance does not create polyrhythm in the sense of layering different percussive rhythms since the Nicolas brothers dance in synchronicity, it still is a layering of the accompanying music with the tap rhythms, creating a polyrhythm.

Willis also points out that tap is an ephebic dance style.  “Ephebism is manifested in tap dancers who are stealing the spotlight today… These men are bringing strong and youthful streams of energy into the dance and using this vitality to keep the tradition alive.”[22] The Nicholas brothers exude ephebism. They jump from table to table, ignoring the fact that they have a specific stage area. They aren’t competing for attention with other dancers, but they are not a performance one would be likely to talk through. The Nicholas brothers show their incredible flexibility by landing jumps in splits, yet it is not a straight split- the type of flexibility that Farris Thompson highlights. Their back leg is consistently bent. This may be a matter of ability, or a way to facilitate sliding up to standing, but it does show flexibility in the joints. This flexibility can also be seen in their buoyant stance. Their knees are bent slightly, and they easily bounce from floor to table, table to table, and up the stairs. Throughout the performance, the Nicolas brothers dance with an incredible amount of energy. There are hardly any breaks or parts that look less intense than other parts, and the dance actually gets more energetic toward the end when they jump down the stairs and over each other landing in splits.


The Africanist Aesthetic in Hip-Hop



The first video shows a dancer who dances with movement emanating from multiple sources at the same time, demonstrating polycentrism. Halifu Osumare, in her book about the Africanist aesthetic in hip-hop writes that “I contend that there is a physically ‘democratizing’ effect on the body because of various rhythms being distributed throughout the whole body.”[23] At 30 seconds into the video he is undulates his arms outward, circles his hips, and undulates his spine all at the same time. Not one of these parts dominates the other, and creates an effect that every part of the body is equally important and capable of dancing. In addition to this type of movement demonstrating depth in understanding of the music, it is also another example of the type of flexibility Farris Thompson refers to when he discusses ephebism. This dancer moves so fluidly, it almost looks like they don’t have bones, and “to say that a person dances as if she or he had no bones is one of the highest compliments a Liberian Dan, Nigerian Tiv, or Zairos Tanzi can bestow.”[24] By using polycentrism, this dancer is also showing that he has the strength, power, and flexibility associated with youth.

This dancer uses satire to simultaneously show what hip-hop is not supposed to be about, and how good he is at it.  Osumare writes that in hip-hop, “the self is examined, deconstructed, and reconstructed in the movement in relation to inherited principles of good form and the contemporary community”[25] The dancer examines what principals he values in his own dancing by pretending to be a robot from one minute on. Being a robot is about being automated, having someone else dictate how you are supposed to move and how you are supposed to function. These would not be considered principals in hip-hop, since such a huge part of hip-hop is individuality and being true to yourself. At the same he moves with impeccable timing and control. He shows what is unacceptable, while still embodying exactly what is idealized, so the audience finds it funny.


The second video is of the battle for third place at the Breakdance World Championships in 2010. The two dancers use a variety of freezes, flips, and spins to demonstrate their strength and skill. The freezes that get the most cheering from the crowd are those that are very asymmetrical such as those at thirty-two seconds, or a minute and twenty. They are more interesting than a straight handstand because their bodies are going in multiple directions at the same time.  Osumare references Sally Banes’ description of freezes in hip-hop, as “comparing and contrasting youthful male vitality with its range of opposites: women, animals, babies, old age, injury and illness… and death.”[26] By balancing their asymetical bodies, the dancers are also balancing their masculinity with any and all of its opposites. The dancers also balance their hot ephebism with their cool. They perform these incredibly strong moves full body moves, and alternate them with less powerful footwork patterns that demonstrate musicality. These asymmetrical freezes, and changes in intensity function as a way of balancing opposite qualities that Farris Thompson references as a way that African art is kept interesting.


[1] Katrina Hazzard Gordon, “Dancing Under the Lash: Sociocultural Disruption, Continuity, and Synthesis.” African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry. Ed. Kariamu Welsh-Asante, (Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1996)  109

[2] Hazzard Gordon, Dancing Under the Lash, 109

[3] Hazzard Gordon, Dancing Under the Lash, 108

[4] Hazzard Gordon, Dancing Under the Lash, 103

[5] Hazzard Gordon, Dancing Under the Lash, 109

[6] Cheryl Willis “Tap Dance: Manifestations of the African Aesthetic” Ed. Kariamu Welsh-Asante, African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry (Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1996) 145

[7] Robert Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974) 7

[8] Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 9

[9] Robert Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 44

[10] Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 7

[11]Correct entrance and exit is important for the quality of the dance, but also for being courteous (Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 20)

[12] Kariamu Welsh Asante, ”The Zimbabwean Dance Aesthetic: Senses, Canons, and Characteristics” Ed. Kariamu Welsh-Asante African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry (Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1996) 206

[13]Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 16

[14] Hazzard Gordon, Dancing Under the Lash, 107

[15] Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 22

[16] Barbara S. Glass, African American Dance: An Illustrated History, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2007) 9

[17] Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996) 2

[18] Dixon Gottschild, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Dance, 64

[19] Dixon Gottschild, 49

[20] Willis, Tap Dance, 148

[21] Willis, Tap Dance, 150

[22] Willis, Tap Dance, 155

[23] Halifu Osumare, The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop: Power Moves, (New York:Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) 51

[24] Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, 9

[25] Osumare,The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop, 26

[26] Osumare, The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop, 53


Works Cited

Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996)

Robert Farris Thompson, African Art in Motion, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974)

Katrina Hazzard Gordon, “Dancing Under the Lash: Sociocultural Disruption, Continuity, and Synthesis.” African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry. Ed. Kariamu Welsh-Asante, (Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1996)

Halifu Osumare, The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop: Power Moves, (New York:Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

Kariamu Welsh Asante, ”The Zimbabwean Dance Aesthetic: Senses, Canons, and Characteristics” Ed. Kariamu Welsh-Asante African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry (Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1996)

Cheryl Willis, “Tap Dance: Manifestations of the African Aesthetic” Ed. Kariamu Welsh-Asante, African Dance: An Artistic, Historical, and Philosophical Inquiry (Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1996)

“Best Break Dancer in the World!!!!!!.” YouTube video, 1:53. Posted by “TheRealTvGuyz”. April 30th, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV-R05PwVWQ&feature=related

Breakdance World Championship 2010 – 1 on 1 – Battle for 3rd Place.” YouTube video, 6:03. Posted by “Gacko83”. April 30th, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w86pbc6hWXI&feature=related


“Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather.” YouTube video, 3:11. Posted by “TapZatNYC”. April 30th, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBb9hTyLjfM



Batsheva Dance Company

By Clare Schweitzer, Mount Holyoke College


The Batsheva Dance Company is a celebrated contemporary dance company based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Under the current direction of Ohad Naharin, the Batsheva Dance Company as well as its youth company the Batsheva Dance Ensemble are fixtures in the international dance scenes. Their stunning physicality and acute sense of expression have done their part in captivating modern audiences and several works in their growing repertory are starting to be celebrated as classics of modern dance. Looking at them today, one would not necessarily think of them as a creation and a promotion of an American dance legend. Indeed, The Batsheva of Martha Graham’s ambitions and the Batsheva of Ohad Naharin’s creations could not be more different. Over the past forty years, the company has made the transition from the role of an international promoter of American choreography to the role of a creator and innovator of modern dance as a whole.

The trajectory of the company reflects trends of globalization in Israel. The country practically lends itself to global influence due to its relatively recent establishment and the subsequent amounts of people seeking residence in Tel Aviv among other cities. The company has reflected these trends as it has attempted to resolve issues of finding a common identity, both in terms of its composition and its technique.  The company has also played a role in global proliferation as well. It has toured for the better part of forty years and it’s dancers hail from all around the world.

A Country is Established and a Company Follows.

The nation of Israel came into official being in 1948, three years after the end of World War Two. In the years immediately following, immigrants began to settle in Tel Aviv from many different countries. Here, the word “immigrant” is used merely as a technical term as, from an Israeli perspective, there are no immigrants. Following from nearly two millennia of doctrine, followers of the Jewish faith who immigrate to Israel are said to be returning to the homeland (Benton-Short 302).  This effectively allowed those of Jewish ancestry to move to Israel and gain citizenship in the process and acted as a catalyst for immigration to the new nation. Immigrants to Israel hail from worldwide, though Israel acts as a sort of gateway to the Middle East for the United States and the two nations have maintained an amicable and supportive relationship. Therefore, many of the new immigrants came from the United States, bringing lived experiences from an international superpower to a land thousands of miles away.

As a part of this trend of immigration, a slough of New York-trained choreographers began to set up base in Israel. Although these choreographers managed to find passionate, competent dancers during the time, they struggled to find funding and often only had the resources to put on a limited number of performances a year. However, they received a brief reprieve when Martha Graham toured her company in Israel in 1956, giving both Israeli and global audiences a taste of American Modern Dance. By this time, modern dance has already found its place in the American dance scene. Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham had already established themselves and rising stars Paul Taylor and Alwin Nikolais were making important contributions to the field.

In 1964, Martha Graham and Baroness Bethsabée de Rothschild combined to form a company that was designed to be essentially an American company with Israeli dancers. In a brochure released during the second year of the Batsheva Dance Company, a quote attributed to de Rothschild states that before the company, there were “Israeli Choreographers searching for dancers. Dancers waiting for choreographers” (Gluck 45)”. At this point, the existence of the official state of Israel had not yet reached two decades and many of the dancers de Rothschild references had barely been in the country for half that time. However, the strong ties to the area and the need for a reestablishment of Israeli identity led to demand for these artists to create something in the image of a true Israeli form.

While globalization affects the way dance is distributed and promoted, it also affects the way it is practiced. In terms of globalization, dance forms inevitably change when they practiced in countries far from their origins and Graham technique is no exception. The Batsheva Dance Company holds a notable place in Graham lore as it earned the distinction of being the first company outside of Graham’s own to have the permission to perform her work. When founding Batsheva member Rena Gluck first arrived as a prospective choreographer in Israel, she arrived with a background in the Graham tradition. She had noticed that it after years of traveling worldwide that

“ It was fascinating to see how different teachers who had studied in Graham’s New York studio conveyed her technique in a manner unique to them, how subtle changes in technique took place all over the world, and how the dancers’ response is influenced by the indigenous realities of the country in which they have lived” (37).


Gluck notes an inevitable facet of technique in the midst of globalization in that it is subject to local interpretation. The words used to describe movement translate differently in language and occasionally in body when the movement is transplanted in another environment. Different words also resonate with different people depending on the language, leading to an emphasis on different movement than what were originally intended.

Although Graham technique was affected by globalization as it was practiced around the world, it managed to elude some of the stigma associated with such practice Although the normally reluctant Graham had shipped her work abroad, she was still able to tolerate it in a different setting. When Graham saw her own technique in practice, she noted that there were changes made to accommodate “Israeli” energy; changes that she noted were acceptable (Gluck 37). One of the common problems of globalization is the attempt to determine the authenticity of a dance form. However, the use of the word authenticity presupposed the form is rooted in the past and negates its status as a style of dance that evolved with time. In Graham’s case, she acknowledges that her technique is an evolving form and that it is up to the dancer to discover how it resonates, thus removing many of the negatives usually associated with the proliferation of such forms.

It would be daunting to argue that Graham’s association with the company didn’t play a role in their success, but it was their performance that gave them attention on a global scale. The company had its first international tour in 1966 and toured consistently over the next decade in Europe and America. Boosted by these tours as well as Martha Graham’s stamp of approval, the “Israeli children of American dance.” became acknowledged for their intensity and respected for its interpretation of the repertory set on them. The Batsheva Company had already established itself as a force in the international dance scene by the late 1960’s and had earned the respect of many companies, so much so that they jumped to Batsheva’s defense in times of crisis. In the early 1970’s finances became a problem and a merger between Batseheva and a rival company Bat Dor was proposed in the early 1970’s. An international uproar with companies and dance figures from around of the world prevented the merger, suggesting that the dance world would lose a presence should it happen. The company’s touring not only solidified its legitimacy within an international context, but also implied that their existence was necessary for the benefit of modern dance as a whole. This suggests that modern dance was thought of as a global form, with international components essential to its survival and advancement.

Authenticity plays a significant role when it comes to dance and globalization, particularly when determining what constitutes as an authentic form of a particular country. . Although the company had found an audience abroad, it was still determining how to construct its identity in Israel. Both the artistic and general public wanted exclusively Israeli creations and among them, an Israeli dance company. The members of the Bathsheba dance company echoed this sentiment and from the company’s inception searched for an Israeli artistic director to manage the company. Over the course of two decades, Bathsheba rotated through a series of directors, many of who were foreign born. Though some were admired by company members, all of them felt out of place in a budding dance venture located in what was still a new nation. Facing pressure a company who would not cooperate with anyone who was not Israeli, many directors would not stay with the company for more than two or three years at a time. (Gluck 75, 296-298) This tumult in the company reflects issues facing Tel Aviv with immigration as well as numerous debates surrounding people who lay claim to an Israeli identity. As mentioned previously, being a follower of the Jewish faith is a fundamental component of Israeli identity.  In Israel’s early years, immigrants to the land who were not Jewish were considered foreign, even if their country of origin was closer to Israel than many coming from other countries.

However, a wave of non-Jewish immigration in the 1990’s caused many in Israel to rethink composed a native identity.  The sheer amount of foreign workers arriving in Israel during the time, particularly in the capital city of Tel Aviv caused special situations where foreign workers were granted rights of Israeli citizens. As a result, the city was able lay claim to a multicultural identity, though the embrace of it still remains tepid. As Israel has become more accommodating to newer citizens, so has Batsheva. The company today boasts dancers hailing from all over the world from at least nine different countries. As a result, it has been elevated from a niche company into a force in the international dance scene. This change may be partially the result of Ohad Naharin’s takeover of the company as he likely brought followers from a global scale of experience. Nevertheless, the new attitude of Israel during this time likely facilitated the introduction of more dancers to the company.

A New Identity for Israel and Batsheva.

Indeed, the catalyst for the growth of the company came with the appointment of Ohad Naharin as artistic director in 1990 (Galili 25). Ohad’s training and dance experience can be described as global as he is not only a product of the training of many countries, but the forms he has trained in have been practiced in countries far from their origin. He trained in the Graham tradition both at Batsheva and at the Graham school in New York. He also trained in New York at a time when it had been well established as a global city. He subsequently collaborated with many North American and European choreographers such as Jiri Kylian with the Netherlands Dans Theater. By the time he assumed the leadership position at Batsheva, he had already made a name for himself as a dancer and choreographer on no fewer than three continents.

Naharin’s takeover was the effective beginning of a new identity for the Batsheva Company. First of all, it marked the end of the company’s repertory model, meaning that the American influence would no longer be permeating the company to the extent it had been. Second, it marked the beginning of Batsheva as a springboard for new choreography as well as a new technique in the form of Gaga. Described as Naharin’s movement language, Gaga is designed as a method help dancers reconnect to the way they move as opposed to a codified technique. In a Gaga class, the instructor leads the participants through a series of images which dancers recreate in their own bodies. The class is intended to recreate the sensation of the movement rather than the look of it. Because of this, mirrors are covered or nonexistent in the class and observers are usually not allowed into the class. With this external pressure out of the way, dancers are free to explore not only their sources of power, but also the areas of their technique that may be weak, potentially creating venues for new movement. The technique is also not exclusive to dancers as actors have been known to use it as well as new movers who aim to connect with their bodies (Galili 25).

Given the nature of the image-based technique, everyone participating in a particular class must understand the instruction language, usually English or Hebrew. Although it allows for consistency within the class setting, it could potentially lead to problems with its global proliferation. Considering Batsheva’s international composition, different company members speak different languages and the impact of the words or images used will change with each language it is taught in. The specify of the words used as well as the amount of the times they are used could potentially lead itself to a form of codification as it has with other global dance forms which would completely defeat the purpose of the technique.

Gaga has become popular in Israel with as many as 900 people coming to a class at a time. Considering the origins of the form as well as the free-based movement, it is sometimes referred to as an Israeli dance form. Referring to the form in such precise geographical terms presents a few issues. First of all, not everyone in the company who created the form is Israeli. Naharin created the technique at a time when dancers from around the world were beginning to enter the company and he encouraged his dancers to bring a bit of themselves and their origins in creating this technique. Considering its middle-eastern origins and perceptions of other middle forms as they go global, reference to the technique as an Israeli form brings potential risks of exoticism. Its contrast in practice against the codified techniques of western dance forms could potentially further this stereotype. Time will tell whether the form faces the same threat of exoticism like many dance forms hailing from the middle-east, but for the moment its internal connection has found a place with practitioners around the world.

The incorporation of a local culture with a global form has its positives and negatives. Even as the reach and composition of the company becomes more global, the influence of Israeli society and Jewish culture is still palpable. Early Batsheva choreographers often found inspiration from religious scripture and were encouraged to choreograph to Israeli music (Gluck 76).  Batsheva at present has not strayed too far from this model. While Naharin’s work does not necessarily contain a cultural or religious agenda, it shows some influence of Israeli culture through the music used as well as a few instances where he apparently challenges it head on. For example, his work Seder (2007) could be read as a satirical comment on the paradox of rigid order and gleeful celebration of Passover traditions with dancers compressing a multitude of emotions in their faces and bodies in a somewhat regimental fashion.


Although these tributes to Israeli culture can be endearing, they can also be sources of conflict. Even as the mass immigration to Israel is done in part to fulfill a religious obligation, the immigrants bring ideas of Western culture that can lead to conflict. Considering the cosmopolitan nature of Tel Aviv, compromise is inevitable in the way Israeli identity is constructed. The use of religious motif in art in the context of globalization runs the risk of accusations of appropriation and blasphemy. This is especially pertinent in Israel considering how much of Israeli identity has been constructed around religion. In particular, the use of religious music such as holiday songs and Klezmer music in dance works has been contentious and subject to debate within artistic community of Tel Aviv.  However, few of these controversies matched the one Batsheva faced during a performance of Minus 16 at a government-sanctioned celebration.

A signature work for the company and a prime example of visceral nature of the company’s performance,  Minus 16 features dancers in suits sitting in chairs in a half-circle skimming the boundaries of the stage. Set to a rock version of the Passover song “Echad mi Yodea,” the dancers accumulate movement as the song accumulates verses. Towards the end of the work with all of the movement they have accumulated, the dancers begin taking off pieces of their constrictive suits, showing revealing leotards underneath. The work has found appeal with audiences worldwide, and is the most frequently set and performed work of the company with performances of it by school dance troupes as well as professional companies.


Thought the work has found its place as the company’s trademark, it caused uproar when it was to be performed at an anniversary celebration of the state of Israel. When it was announced as part of celebration festivities, several members of the Israeli artistic community accused the company of blasphemy as the work features dancers essentially stripping to a traditional Passover song. This led to an ongoing issue within the Israeli artistic community who fervently debated the outrageousness of the dance versus the overblown uproar that followed. Heated negotiations escalated to the point where they reached the prime ministers office and by the time the dancers were to finally perform the work, they walked out in defiance.  This event reflects the fine line dance artists walk when it comes to globalization. It reflects ongoing debates in globalization as to what constitutes as appropriation as well as debates regarding the rightful practitioners of a traditional form.

Even as the company faces issues in Israel regarding the content of the work, it has still found a solid place within the international dance community. The company performs half of its shows abroad, with its 2012 schedule taking them from Edinburgh to Toronto to Japan. With so much international exposure, many creators of dance from around the world are adopting (or at least, attempting to adopt) the visceral movement quality of the company (e.g. Gallim, Cedar Lake). Major dance centers around the world now offer gaga in tandem with ballet and modern dance. The form has become globalized in the sense people that it is reaching a global audience and people are beginning to pick up on its influence. Once at the receiving end of this global influence, the company has essentially turned the effects of globalization on its head, perpetuated it’s own global form



The trends of the Batsheva Dance Company and ensemble reflect the global trends that are prominent in Tel Aviv. The company has alternately held the role of global recipient and global force, one that simultaneously interests the world and gets the world in return. Time will tell whether its products become subject to casualties of globalization that have affected other dance forms, but for now, we can observe that it has pushed the art of modern dance beyond its boundaries. The worldwide composition of the company has given Batsheva its own voice and an identity that both the artistic and general public of Israel can claim as their own.



Dils, Ann, Robin Gee, and Matthew Brookoff. Intersections: Dance, Place & Identity. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Pub., 2008. Print.

Cluck, Rena. Batsheva Dance Company 1964-1980: My Story. [s. L.]: [Rena Gluck], 2006. Print.

Galili, Deborah Freides “Inside Batsheva” Dance Magazine February 2012. P.24-28

Ingber, Judith B. Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Detroit: Wayne State University Press 2011.

Kourlas, Gia. “Twisting Body and Mind.” The New York Times [New York, NY] 14 Aug. 2011, AR sec.: 7. Nytimes.com. The New York Times Company, 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/arts/dance/gaga-the-exercise-and-dance-comes-to-new-york.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Price, Marie, and Lisa Benton-Short. Migrants to the Metropolis: The Rise of Immigrant Gateway Cities. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2008. Print.

Sheflon, Michal, comp. Batsheva Dance Company. Tel Aviv: S.n., 1986. Print



Hora, Batsheva Dance Company performance. 2012.