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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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Three: Dance and the Dancer who Performs the Feminine 27


3 DANCE AND THE DANCER WHO PERFORMS THE FEMININE: SOCIO-HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS his chapter recounts the socio-historical context of the dancers within each tradition in an attempt to uncover the experiences, expressions, and understandings of the dancing women. As such, this chapter explores the histories of the phenomena of Bharata- natyam, the kabuki onnagata, whirling dervishes, and Israeli folk dance. It is my aim to offer an overview of each dance’s history so that the main themes and historical movements of each dance form are clear enough to illustrate how the dancer’s faith and empower- ment is influenced by their particular dance. This chapter shall take us back in time to the origins and development of each dance form. Bharatanatyam For wherever the hand moves, there the glances follow; Where the glances go, the mind follows; Where the mind goes, the mood follows; Where the mood goes, there is the rasa (flavour).1 According to Prathibha Prahlad, to speak about Bharatanatyam is to “enter into a philosophical discourse on ethics, aesthetics and social reality all at once.”2 The origins of Bharatanatyam stem from a variety T Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions 28 interrelated sources. The most widely accepted source for Bharatana- tyam stems from the ancient devadasi system; the devadasi are temple dancers dedicated at a young age to be consorts of the gods. Their evolution is pivotal in understanding the development for Bharatanatyam, so I will explore their history in detail. Yet, before examining...

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