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


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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Two: Contemporary Entry Points 11


2 CONTEMPORARY ENTRY POINTS: FORMAL ANALYSIS OF FOUR DANCES THAT EMBODY THE FEMININE s a way of entering into the discussion of how particular dances can embody the feminine within four cultural and faith traditions, we begin with a formal analysis of four different dance experiences. Rather than beginning with historical origins, ideological underpinnings, or critical analysis, starting with actual events and the dances of real people makes understanding the dances more accessible. To this end, I offer a traditional formal analysis of Bharatanatyam, the kabuki onnagata, whirling dervishes, and Israeli folk dance. While the same methods are employed for every analysis, each dance is unique because of its tradition, location, and the particular people dancing the dances. First, there is a description of a performance by one Indian woman dancing at a Theological Aesthetics Conference at a Jesuit chapel in Berkeley, California. Far from an ancient Indian Hindu temple, the dancer brings Bharatanatyam across cultural and religious boundaries in 2008. And the kabuki onnagata, Nakamura Kyozo embodies the Sagi Musume (The Heron Maiden) dance at San Francisco State University’s hosting of “Backstage to Hanamichi: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Color, Magic and Drama of Kabuki.” This performance, lecture, and demonstration offered the Western and primarily non-Japanese audience a glimpse into the inner work- ings of kabuki. The analysis of the whirling dervishes occurs, not in a Turkish tekke, but at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Califor- A Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s...

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