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Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions

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Angela M. Yarber

Dances that embody the «feminine» teach the dancer and the observers inside and outside the faith tradition about women’s experiences, expressions, and understandings within their respective faith traditions. In Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions, the author immerses herself in four dance traditions and explores what their dance teaches about women’s experiences in their faith tradition. Bharatanatyam is a classical Indian dance stemming from the devadasi system; kabuki onnagata are Japanese male enactors of «female-likeness»; the Mevlevi Order of America allows women to train as «whirling dervishes»; and Gurit Kadman created folk dances for Jewish women and men.

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One: Introduction 1

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1 INTRODUCTION er eyes lined heavily with dark coal, she shapes her hands and fingers into intricately formed mudras ridden with symbolic value; the red coating on her hands and feet glimmers as she undulates her body in front of the deity. He powders his face white, purses his lips into a tight, red cherry blossom, and fashions a flamboyant scarf around his dark hair. With knees bent and feet bound, he glides onto the stage, subversively alluring men and women in the audience. She performs ablutions, prays, and mends shoes for years only to don her death shroud upon her back and place a symbolic tombstone upon her head. With death cloaking her compassionate body, she begins to twirl, invoking the name of the Beloved within her heart. Filled with vitality and a sense of pride, she skips barefoot across wet grass, clasps the hands of her community and grapevines in a broad circle. Shouting “mayim, mayim, mayim, mayim,” she claps, stomps, and leaps her nation into being. Such are the sensual, subversive, awe-filled, communal stories of Bharatanatyam, the kabuki onnagata, whirling dervishes, and Israeli folk dance. Dances that embody1 the “feminine”2 teach3 the dancer and the observers inside and outside the faith tradition about the experiences, expressions, and understandings of women within that faith tradi- tion. As such, in this book I step into the shoes of four select dance traditions and learn what their dance teaches about women’s expe- riences in their faith tradition. I have...

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