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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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Five: Dance and the Outside Observer 113

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5 DANCE AND THE OUTSIDE OBSERVER ach dance and each faith tradition is nuanced differently, with the unique history of each tradition illuminating fascinating truths about faith, culture, arts, and women’s empowerment. This chapter takes this exploration one step further by asking how Bharatanatyam, the kabuki onnagata, whirling dervishes, and Israeli folk dance teach outside observers about the experiences, expressions, and understandings of women within their particular faith traditions. Globalization and mass media have carried these dances out of their countries of origin and onto the global stage; the world is now the dancer’s audience. So, what do these dances teach the world? Dance as Interfaith Dialogue: Comparing the Dances Bharatanatyam, the kabuki onnagata, whirling dervishes, and Israeli folk dance have their own unique histories based in their particular cultures of origin and embedded in their respective faith traditions. Each dance is unique, complex, nuanced, and teaches about faith in its own particular way. Yet, the developments of all four dances share some striking similarities. Additionally, some of the dances share parallel developments with one or two of the other dances. Fascina- tingly, amidst all of the changes these four dances undergo, the essential dance form and movement vocabulary has remained the same. In order to illustrate this, it is important to begin with similari- ties between some of the dances. E Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions 114 Both Bharatanatyam and the kabuki onnagata share subversive beginnings; the dances were closely linked with sexuality. In...

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