Photo by Emma Grima
Activism is the effort to change politics. Pleasure activism1 is making the pursuit of social justice a pleasurable experience. Dance as pleasure (activism) is using the joy of the body as a tool to fight for transformation. To break away from the framework of norms within which we have to behave is an act of resistance.
Dance is an art of the body, which makes it extremely political. Especially when it comes to young people, it is influential in the development of identity. This factor imprisons the body within certain parameters. Therefore, dance has the “ability to render an expressive image of the world and the human being”2, but it also has the ability to break those codes.
[…] the body and dance as a barricade of political disobedience, of sexual rebellion, of deterritorialization of heteronormative sexuality, its naturalized disciplinary regimes, and its forms of subjectivation […] destroying the foundations of heterosexuality as a political regime. That is our destiny.
The Map of the Future, An Invitation to a Party,
María Hamilton aka Materia Hache3
Movement is a craft of the body-mind-spirit, of a Self who needs and wants to heal. In the following words, I will share the work of dance pleasure activists who inspire me, whom I admire, and who also see dance’s healing capabilities.
Jenny Granado, aka Maldita4 Geni Thalia, is a Brazilian based in Mexico who founded the movement Movimiento desCULOnización. This term is formed by “decolonization” plus “culo”, which is Spanish slang for ass. Through dance, using movements from twerk and perreo, she encourages people to decolonize their asses, their anuses, their genital area, their bodies. She uses an (anti)erotic format to explore dissident bodies, territory, and sexuality. The dirty, the obscure, and the rebellious of the anti-Vitruvian comes about.
desCULOnización is an anti-civilizing campaign for the joy of a body that enjoys, that feels pleasure and dances on the ruins of order and progress, of good customs, of the traditional family. It arises with the force of destruction, occupation, invasion and re-existence that is concentrated in our hips and that resonates throughout the body.
Jenny Granado a.k.a. Maldita Geni Thalia5
Culos are shaking. Fannie Sosa is an afro-sudaka6 artivist who made an enlightening video with Marilou Poncin about twerking. She explains its origin as a fertility ritual, used not only for conception7 but also for contraception. Traditional dances like belly dance or Hawaiian hulu share these roots. “[T]hey are the dances of the hidden magic womb space and her self regulating powers […] Twerking is definitely spiritual.”8 Also seeing the healing capacities of this practice, Kelechi Okafor, a British-Nigerian “angry, black woman”9, sees twerking as therapeutic. More than simply teaching to shake the bum, she uses it as a feminist movement, by inviting women from diverse backgrounds to empower themselves and heal from trauma like sexual abuse, a journey she herself went through.10
Chile is a country of extreme inequalities. Starting a couple of years ago, it has undergone a period of mass uprisings against corruption and structural injustice. Women are at the forefront of the battle, calling attention to gender inequality. Baila Capucha Baila11 is a women and dissidents collective from Chile, united through dance and in the social-feminist battle. They dance in demonstrations, as a form of protest, covering their heads with a red hood to symbolize the spilled blood. Similarly, Las Tesis collective, also from Chile, has been working with performances in protests to scream for change. Un violador en tu camino12 made such an impact across the world that it was performed in feminist protests in several countries. “[…] And the fault was not mine […] The rapist is you […]”13
As a way to build community, Black and Latino people gave birth to Vogue, a street dance born in the 60s in Harlem, NYC, within the LGBTQ+ scene. Street dances (e.g. house, hip-hop, break-dance) occur in social gatherings, where dancers encounter each other and often compete. The gatherings of vogue are called balls, the competition format emulates a runaway, and the movements mimic poses, hence the name Vogue. Community members belong to houses, which are groups that represent the “chosen” family. Vogue shows “how gender is a performance […] the courage of black and Latino LGBTQ communities […] a sense of identity, belonging and dignity […]”. However, anti-racist feminist bell hooks poses the question of whether voguers imitate the very structures that marginalize them, while other scholars argue that these imitations create a (Black) imaginative space where aesthetics and LGBTQ+ life can be explored.14
Dance can be a powerful threat against the cis-tem15. Some countries even ban dancing. For example, in the majority of Germany it is prohibited to dance during Good Friday (Easter).16 In Iran, even if dancing has not been defined as a crime, the law is vague, and dance falls under the interpretation of “indecent public acts”. The underground scene is bustling, but such parties are illegal; dancers are often at risk.17 In England, during the 80s recession under the governance of Margaret Thatcher, a series of acid house parties, held illegally in warehouses, became a great menace to the government.
By 1991 acid house became the latest underground youth cult to threaten the moral majority. Reacting to the right wing press inspired public outrage, the police, in full body armour, with batons, shields and dogs, put an end to the warehouse parties.
High on Hope, directed by Piers Sanderson
(2010; UK, Quark Films)18
Examining the “threatening” capabilities of dance, Bogomir Doringer is an artist, researcher, curator, and raver who is engaged in an ongoing exploration of the rave as ritualistic and on the power of collective dance. “Dance of Urgency”, curated by him, focuses on this urge to dance and its socio-political meaning. From the previously mentioned Las Tesis, to the riots initiated in Tbilisi, Georgia, where the fight of rave and LGBTQ+ cultures are directly interwoven, he identifies movement movements as sites of contestation, togetherness, and community.19
What is it about dance that regimes are so fearful of? Perhaps it is the possibility of realizing aspects of ourselves and of our bodies that can physically, spiritually, and sexually connect us to our joy and struggles, those of our fellows, and those of our ancestors. The cis-tem does not want to take this risk because it would lead to disorder.
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
Dance is my love and my preferred way of expression. Throughout my bachelor studies, I often used it as a conceptual inspiration; it took diverse forms. For my graduation project, I want to dance. I feel the freedom of my body when I dance, I feel its beauty and power. I share these energies with others. I break free and enjoy my body, our bodies. It is my portal of connection and disconnection. Hence, I feel the need to transmit these ideas in a powerful dance and mixed media performance.
When exhibiting the first prototype of transcendence – trance ‘n dance at the GreySpace21, a U.S. friend remarked how “Latin” this was, regarding the hip movement and the ass. It is allegorical when conceiving the region as el culo del mundo (the ass of the world), both “in the ambiguous sense of the place of pleasure and contempt at the same time”22. At some point during the decision-making part, I was listening to an episode of the podcast La hora trans, where Jovan Israel, a Mexican non-binary artist and DJ, talks with Luisa Almaguer about how the anus is such an important degenitalization organ because it “unites us all”. It is a point of pleasure that we all share. Whether you have a vagina/vulva/clitoris, penis, or intersex genitals, you will always have an anus.23 For a while, I considered involving my anus in this project, or changing the original idea of using my vagina, precisely to make this statement, but then that would mean we would have already arrived in paradise.
The Periform® vaginal probe I use is an intrusive object; it is made of hard material, and I feel it all the time, especially when I move. This is a reminder of the oppression that my genitals, our genitals, are subject to, and which in my performance will liberate, express, and expand themselves through technological means. I feel the need to work from my own experience, where it is a about my body and my reality as a cis woman. This does not mean I disregard the fight of women who do not have a vagina, who are especially exposed to extreme danger, or even the fight of men within feminism. The great thing about the technology I am using is that it can be worn both in the vagina and the anus, and it works similarly, so it is for anyone and everyone. It is all about the hara, an energetic point which Fazle Shairmahomed says is the spot of connection with our ancestors.
Dance is expression; its language is non-verbal. Poetry is expression; its language is verbal. Plutarch once said that dance is “silent poetry” and poetry, “speaking dance”24. More to the point, “ballets mostly derive their aesthetic structure and narrative from some proceeding text”25. This is an intersemiotic translation. Through the use of themes, movements, gestures, facial expressions, spatial devices, costumes, and technical elements, it is possible to give meaning to a dance piece. The great difference is that verbal language is linear, whereas dance is multi-dimensional. But when taken to rave culture, the idea of silent poetry becomes compelling. The only language spoken on the dance-floor is that of movement—no words, just dance. This takes communication to a whole new level, one where we all share the same language, and there are no ideas lost in translation. Using the joy of our dancing bodies, we connect, transcend the norms, and resist.
1 Term coined by adrienne maree brown in her book of the same name “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good”.
2 Aleksandrovich, Maria, ¨Psychology of Dance: Barthes’ Ideas and Semiotics of Dance¨. 2016, http://ehs-ss.pl/images/book/book_mijnar_2016__01-4-19.pdf. Accessed February 2020.
3 Hamilton, María, “THE MAP OF THE FUTURE: from the basement to the rooftops. AN INVITATION TO A PARTY: a line of flight from the flight of control and discipline” in Vila Núñez, Fefa and Sáez del Álamo, Javier (Eds.), “El libro del buen [a]mor: Sexualidades raras y políticas extrañas”. Madrid, 2019. p.256. and Manada de Lobxs, “Foucault para encapuchadas”. Buenos Aires: MILENA CASEROLA, 2014. p.25. Translated by me.
4 Damned, wicked, cursed.
5 “Desculonización” Vertebral, https://www.vertebralmx.com/portfolio/desculonizacion/. Accessed March 2020.
6 South American of African ancestry.
7 It can have abortive results by stopping the fertilized egg from nesting in the uterus.
8 Sosa, Fannie and Marilou Poncin. “COSMIC ASS” Vimeo, uploaded by Marilou Poncin, 23 March 2015, https://vimeo.com/123000371.
9 “Kelechi Okafor.”, Kelechi Okafor, https://www.kelechiokafor.com/. Accessed May 2020.
11 “Baila Capucha Baila.” Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/bailacapuchabaila/?hl=es.
12 A rapist in your way.
13 Colectivo Las Tesis. “Un violador en tu camino.” Genius, 25 Nov. 2019, https://genius.com/Colectivo-las-tesis-un-violador-en-tu-camino-lyrics. Accessed January 2021. Translated by me.
14 “A Brief History of Voguing” National Museum of African American History and Culture, n.d., https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/brief-history-voguing. Accessed February 2021.
15 Combining the words “cisgender” and “system”. Origin unknown.
16 Carter, Abi, “Why is dancing banned at Easter in Germany?”. I am Expat, 9 April 2020, https://www.iamexpat.de/lifestyle/lifestyle-news/why-dancing-banned-easter-germany. Accessed February 2021.
17 Amidi, Feranak, “I risked everything to dance in Iran”. BBC, 10 July 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44777677. Accessed February 2021.
18 “About | High on Hope.” High on Hope | The Documentary Film about Acid House in the North of England in the Time of Thatcher’s Britain, 10 Sept. 2011, www.highonhope.com/about. from Sanderson, Piers, director. High on Hope. Quark Films, 2010.
19 “Dance of Urgency.” Dance of Urgency, danceofurgency.com. Accessed AJanuary 2021. and “Dance of Urgency”. Het Hem, hethem.nl/en/Het-Hem/Calendar/2020/09/Dance-Of-Urgency. Accessed January 2021.
20 Shulman, Alix Kates. “Dances with Feminists.” UC Berkeley Library, 3 December 1991, http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/Features/danceswithfeminists.html. Accessed May 2020.
21 Last Lab. 7-10 Dec. 2020, GreySpace, The Hague.
22 Galindo, María, “Las cinco pandemias que azotan al Culo del Mundo”. Lavaca, 2020, https://www.lavaca.org/notas/las-cinco-pandemias-que-azotan-al-culo-del-mundo-por-maria-galindo/. Accessed May 2020. Translated by me.
23 Almaguer, Luisa. “Jovan” La hora trans, Spotify, June 26, 2019, https://open.spotify.com/episode/2rk7ranCPgquuPYEDuy2H6?si=DX4FpECDTaaPHaAh_axSaw.
24 Schlapbach, Karin, “Plutarch on dance”. Research Bulletin, 2011, https://research-bulletin.chs.harvard.edu/2011/01/28/plutarch-on-dance/. Accessed January 2021.
25 Aleksandrovich, Maria, “Psychology of Dance: Barthes’ Ideas and Semiotics of Dance”. 2016, http://ehs-ss.pl/images/book/book_mijnar_2016__01-4-19.pdf. Accessed February 2020.