This paper aims to look at the layers of value for Indonesian dance tradition as a form of pedagogy of women’s citizenship. It uses the discourse of Goddess not only as a form of agrarian politics and aesthetic but also as a critique of a different kind of embodiment of womanhood in the context of court dance. Looking at dance technique as a tactic to embody different methods of remembering, it proposes the dancing body not merely as an artistic embodiment in the sense of memory/technique as the materiality of regulation and artistic endeavor, but rather as a philosophical strategy of remembering to encounter different kinds of social and political economies of culture. The paper examines the mode of production that standardizes dance, and interventions negated not only by national projects but also by the global paradigm that strips its grounding by forgetting the spatial concerns of land dispossession.
Micro Politics: Dance and Tradition
It is my grandmother, Siti Samidjah, the Ghost narrative—the unfinished death that needs to be properly revisited—expert, the master teacher, who leads the dance rehearsal. We are near the southern part of Malang, surrounded by a sugar cane plantation and an empty field. The whole village is a kind of family, all of us like relatives, connected one to another. Some speak Javanese in the East Java style, some speak Madurese, and some speak Osing, a language from the Banyuwangi region. The regular rehearsal that she leads is held at no particular time, rather whenever she feels it is appropriate to conduct such activity, when no other ceremony or official event is being held, nor during state functions, such as an official religious (Islamic) event. This particular measurement I do not understood then, but I learn the special timing, the creation of the sacred as a time when she feels safe to do an aesthetic project. It is a sacred time that relates to a state mandate, a regulation, a sensitive framing: the good and proper time to dance. The rehearsal is conducted at a time that constitutes the sacred as a careful mapping of “staying out of civilian tension.” Sometimes it is in the morning, but more often it is in the late afternoon when some of us, the children, are around. She will just start singing and moving her body, her hands and feet forming certain gestures and steps that I can replicate and follow. Often I fail, and she will fix them by telling me what the incorrect part of my gesture is or how my body has moved differently than hers.
The dance is beyond the idea of confined femininity. Rather, in my remembering and understanding it is a technique, a dance, a moving body to expand the power of imagination in protecting ecological space, to hope for a different result for panen, the harvest—the season when families can eat sustainably. It is a rice paddy Goddess story, and although often (but not always) the paddy is absent in that particular space, my grandmother always tells me of the possibility of its return—the Goddess’s return after the sugar plantation’s lease is cancelled. She also often brings me to dance at the different site of tegalan, the dry farm land that mediates between the rice paddy plantation and the sugar cane plantation.
On other occasions, I learn from my teacher Lek Djono, with his long hair, an elegance I never understood back then. He is “he” or “she”; what I understood then is that his dance is as detailed as my grandmother’s and that he teaches me a maneuver. It is a tactic of how to move the bodily remembering of the Goddess stories, female and/or male (or non-gender specific): the absence of the rice paddy replaced with sugar cane. The maneuver is called egolan beda (something that in the current discourse of dance technique I argue is a “queering” of the technique). This technique of resilience and the persistence of the ecological spirit make visible the absence of the rice paddy and its dance. I argue that, in its current form, this dance is a traditional cultural performativity that was born and grew from the encounter of the aesthetic and state mandates. It is both local and global, but at the same time it is an individualized intervention.1
This dance tradition, with its sacred movements and sacred timing, is a marker of resilience. The dance—contextualized through spatially sacred timing, the practitioner, and the role—is transmitted despite layers of bureaucratic narrative, institutionalization, and anthropological colonization. The state narrative and reconstruction of the sacred dance for the Goddess competes in my mind with my grandmother’s carefully measured distribution of rice and coconuts to the neighbors. She teaches us how to make many decorations for the field and how to create house cleaning tools from wood and coconut leaves. She is a leader for the gathering, and she decides the post-harvest topic. She is the decision maker in charge of whether our neighbors are going to release their rights (of leasing their land to the air force) for sugar cane (managed by the army) and many parts of the military training center (an empty field for training that often involved a small plane, explosion tests, and many other unnamed global products), which means we will need to distribute the harvest to the peasants because the money is actually not enough in the end, or perhaps will never even arrive.2 She negotiates these complexities to find context for the dance, and she rehearses and practices it as a form of sacredness. She clearly maps for me the local value of tradition and the complex questions of translation that emerge when it travels in globalized space.
To Claim: The Proper Aesthetic
In this paper I propose a study of performance, in this context a dance, as a form of cultural sociopolitical expression and a bodily act that enacts an archival process through memory. The dance technique is transmitted, and memory choreographed, through the embodiment of cultural values and women’s citizenship. Looking at dance technique as a tool to embody different methods of remembering, I propose that the “dancing body” (tubuh tari) contains the stories of many dancers’ resilience to the nationalized standard aesthetic form, to different reconstructions, engagements, and contested narratives, and also to the effect of global political discourse on tradition and the aesthetics of multiculturalism. Therefore, I propose looking at the dancing body not merely as artistic embodiment in the sense of memory/technique as the materiality of regulation and artistic endeavor but also as a philosophical strategy of remembering to encounter different kinds of social and political economies of culture.
This study also engages the question of “emancipation” with which I aim to extend the critique of the transmission of dance when it is categorized as a form of tradition but the meaning and the remembering is negated by state policy. This paper also addresses the current discussion on citizen’s engagement and how dance maps bodily acts as archival memory containing the technique that replicates and mandates as well as the technique that is remembered through the particularity of resilient family alliances and knowledge of spatial ecological arrangements.
The intervention that I pursue through this paper is how then the archive from bodily memory functions when the body is remembered differently, because of a lack, or gap, or a different kind of mandate for embodying the dance. I am also thinking about when the translation of embodied knowledge and values travel, and the transmission of embodied ecological memory—a pedagogy of earth and human relations—through different modes of production, especially when the locality emerges in globalized space and vice versa. I also consider the feedback of forms that have traveled and that reveal layers of translation and interpretation. This discussion of the issue of world art forms that return to home, as Marta Savigliano suggests in her theorization of world dance in the case of tango, provides the opportunity to study this travel pattern of circulation in the globalized world.3 To pursue these questions, I purposefully employ different kinds of approaches and methodologies for mapping the various limits and possibilities of the study of emotion and aesthetic expression that is mediated by many stages of translation, staging, and media. I am interested in how corporeality, the archival memory, mediates the local and global, and what implications this might have for transmission, resilience, and loss.
In thinking of the global, I am inspired by many critical narratives about exchange and interaction between practitioners.4 Here, however, I also extend the study of the global by discussing the encounter in the absence of native travel. I locate a post-colonial critique regarding the arrival of Western (European) influence in Indonesia.5
The Dancing Goddess, as an example of a dance tradition, both represents a locus of identification for nationalized memory—being a cultural marker—while it embraces ecological and genealogical values for practitioners at the same time.6 Through its ties to the social and the political, the dance becomes a form of resilience by referring to the symbolic order, but there is also regulation of how the dance is done with careful remembering of the particularity of it—not only the dance technique itself but also dance composition and other matters (costume, music, text/chants). These limits and possibilities of dance as a form of engagement and emancipation, not only for the dancers but also for the social milieu of the audience and the dance, are linked to modes of travel, citizenship, and embodied memory.
Returning to the story of the Dancing Goddess, I argue that because of the (massive “cultural reconstruction” and post-Cold War violence of the early 1970s) contextualization of this tradition, its value in terms of the sacredness of traditional dance forms became similar to the early European scholars’ orientalism and the resilience narrative that provoked different critiques of being marginalized. Through their discourse, the memory, the transmission of technique, and its meaning are shared widely, not only among a family of practitioners but also globally. Therefore, to trace embodied knowledge and its transmission constitutes a methodology for mapping the various ways in which translation, perception, and empathy build through emotion and aesthetic expression (dance). Dance then, as a locus of memories of pain, loss, and the negotiation of historical traces, requires further examination that cannot be separated from the core context of its historiography.
I argue that the context of the Dancing Goddess, enmeshed in the changing discourses of local, national, and perhaps global discursivity, opens questions of transnational feminism that are not only reliant on Western thought, particularly the tension between nationalized genre and global performances that look only at bodily engagement as a form of mobility and tradition as a form of cultural preservation. The global and national, then, collaborate in making the displacement of the tradition itself, because the intervention relies on the public visibility of dancing, while at the same time both perpetuating and functioning as a reminder of violence through the invisibility of women’s leadership and diminished spatial material value (through the control of the rice paddy). Many scholars of globalization argue that this is where the study of the global and local requires transsubject flexibility (Ong 2006). It is constant negotiation and adaptation while at the same time working hard not to be co-opted.
Goddess, Femininity, and Intervention
Several established scholars of the theorization of citizenship and law, such as Ruth Lister, suggest that the willingness of many (female) citizens to engage in certain state work marks their emancipation under specific mechanisms of patriarchal norms (Lister 1998:13–14). Here I would like to expand this “willingness to perform work” in the context of this paper to include female dancers who perform dances that authorize the co-optation of agency in mandating the space of engagement. In the Indonesian context I argue that performances for tourism or state ceremonial events in which female dancers take roles thus function as displays of state patriarchal/spatial co-optation. The Dancing Goddess, which in Indonesia is found widely as a symbiosis of aesthetics and ecology, mediates both the need to embody traditional knowledge and to satisfy the state’s ideal notion of tradition within the neoliberal context, echoing the aesthetic erasure (not necessarily attached to ecological concern but that becomes sexualized femininity for tourism or official state events). Dancers in some villages perform in both contexts. In some cases the dances are performed by different practitioners.7
Theories of the body in dance8 and cultural critiques of social recovery and loss that focus on stigma and revolution in continuing imperial relationships with former colonizers9 have provided inspiration for this thinking of how the notion of loss and presence are both mediated through dance. In light of this theory, I would like to reconfigure the study of the body, emotion, and aesthetic expression as a methodology of recovery in terms of the personal as connected to the social. Using the “Seblang” (Dancing Goddess), a dance from Banyuwangi in East Java, to locate the idea of loss/pain where empathy of land dispossesion or loss of a good harvest is limited and accompanied by the trance and text (chanting) of the embodiment of (the imagination of) haunted land, I identify the ambiguity of embodied practice to be at the specific dedication of meaning with consistency of narrative to the Goddess’s symbolic power that is also, at the same time, pondering decontextialization (fig. 1).
“Seblang” is a dance performance that is strongly attached to the ritual of village ecology. It is mostly performed by a young female dancer, with an old woman and man nearby as she parades through the village. The dancer performs with her eyes closed and her head covered with an omprok, a crafted head decoration made of flowers and coconut leaves. In this dance, the dancer is considered successful if she is able to perform in a trance for almost seven days. The dance movements are marked by synchronicity of hand and head movements, and some sequences also require rapid footsteps and scarf throwing to the audience to symbolize an invitation to dance together. In some villages the costume color is always green, and the dancer also wears white socks. The expression of the dancer often signals restraint and pain, and the trance is performed in silence (movements are quiet and focused on the upper torso and hand gestures).
I also argue that the loss/pain in the dances is often directed at a more performative, intimate creation of meaning through gaze and the detachment of alliances, similar to the experience of loss itself. This includes the presense of trance in the dancing that often displaces the more structural aim of genre (patokan secara teknik) instead of context. Here I am inspired by Shaden Tageldin for the idea of Liberation and Language (Tageldin 2009) in referencing translation as a method, and also by Assia Djebar in Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade (Djebar 1993). In her intellectually daring and hybrid historical novel, Djebar reimagines future knowledge as a transmission of resistance, enabled by the (nonetheless questionable and fraught) use of colonial language in order to return to the memories of childhood, reliving—and rethinking and interpreting—moments of encounter from the perspective of the present.
In this context, I employ my current understanding of the Indonesian state’s official language of technique (i.e., the “refined” dance technique of a specific dance gesture of familial character that is geographically categorized by the state, such as Jawa Timur [East Java], Sunda, Betawi, etc., that has to be learned by dancers and teachers; specifically, there is a standardization of dance technique that relates to hip, chest, and head movements; there are also chorographical components that should be excluded from trance scenes, such as any text that expresses the presence of shamanistic or virile longing that must be removed from nearly all official events. In order to reanalyze the possibility of new meaning in the Dancing Goddess, all of these transitions, continuities, and changes should be considered. In so doing, I question the unspoken meanings and assumptions of inclusion and difference, national tradition and alterity—the result of an understanding of official technique as signifying precisely which bodies are appropriate, valid, or safe. This is the standardization that becomes the national/collective symbolic order of the harvest or Goddess; its meanings become the identity of the dance form, with or without a rice paddy as a form of reminder. The dance, then, loses its context when it is performed without the materiality of the land, and the ecological marker is also far more remote when it functions as an aesthetic reverse/erasure. This clear similarity and difference (between technique and content) layers the constant translation in the nationalized pedagogy of dance class.
Yet the second version, the decontextualized dance, is often the one that enables the journey of dancing bodies from the village level to move via competitions to regional performances. Therefore, obedience to the nationalized technique/dance style is the politics of aesthetic erasure; it is the very one that offers future access to travel and the crossing of international borders. Like Djebar, as I look back as a dancer, this could also be a critique, as I no longer seek the fixity of meaning that promises mobility in the case of such a journey, but a space to remember. I also look for the ways in which other, equally slippery “facts” and impressions may have lodged themselves in our bodies through the repetition of movements—the details, inflections, and specific connotations that might continue to live relatively “untouched” by the imposition of the broader language of nationalized form and of the belonging and the crossing of borders to international space: the global stage.
In a similar study of memory and the body, Awam Amkpa suggests the different reading of the body in global cultures by marginal people (read: in the presence of capitalized space/place) requires mediation, an intervention and its categorization, which he calls the performativity of the body (Amkpa 2010). It is marked by the possibility of “in and out” and also by the tactic of speaking after the body has been “spoken for” (Amkpa 2010:83–88). This foundation of thought invites us to think in the post-colonial sense of a new kind of engagement that reverses Judith Butler’s notion of “bodies that matter,” which in the context of this paper also includes desire and the memory of belonging, by thinking more of what matters within the bodies that perform (Butler 1993). This includes many different forms of representation and negotiation that invite us to look carefully at how, when, and what ethnography is (including regarding this particular dance) and also at the creation of meaning by placing our self, our body, in a site that has many values and is a dialectic of presence and invisibility.
The term “body” in this context refers to citizens’ corporeal engagement with knowledge and memory at a place and a time—a situation—that is contextualized by the involvement of a specific paradigm, a mechanism of governing ideas (read: colonial state and post-colonial state). The concept of the body importantly deconstructs the inherent struggle through the language of alliances that is co-opted by the corporate use of their land base in everyday life (Rachman 2012). Speaking of the body moves away from the discourse on the relationality between humans and the land, and it further interrogates how the state projects the neoliberal need for inclusion by the creation of empathy through a different kind of tactic of co-optation. For example, in the Indonesian nationalized art project, dance forms that were forbidden later become incorporated within the state education setting but follow the rigid, regulated nationalized narrative and its regulated form (Larasati 2013). The notions of participation, bodily engagement, and embodied memory apparently are not freely accessible mechanisms of citizenship but are a phenomenon that is often marked by the presence of Others, such as troops, aid workers, and policy makers at their land/site. In the context of such situations, dance mediates this negotiation. “Seblang,” if located as a form of tradition, mediates the two roles of citizenship: the dancers who remember the loss and memory of displacement, and the dancers who learned the institutionalized forms of learning and transmission. “Seblang” also embodies violent experience (as a dance technique there are parts that occur as movements, such as being punished) through collaboration between farmers longing for the protection of their rice paddies, womanhood, and ecological concerns, resulting in the creation of specific tactics as particular sites. The tactic in this example is trance, the placement of pain in the body that becomes performative, in the sense of performance as an act in the repertoire.
Cultural Code and the Resistance
Many dances in Indonesia share the spirit of the Goddess as a form of femininity within a masculine space. Yet not all the Dancing Goddesses deal with the political ecology and social climates of agricultural life. As a comparison here I would like to recall that Dancing Goddesses, such as Bedhaya and Srimpi in the palace, are also about fertility, but in the court narrative context they are more attached to the symbolic class of rulers, of kinghood, where the land and ecological concerns are assumed to be under royal control (fig. 2). Most Dancing Goddesses associated with court culture share the meaning of the dance as a fertility symbol. I would like to point out, however, that the Dancing Goddess as a discourse (despite this correlation) enables the study of femininity and its politics and dance as a form of cultural negation within a local and global patriarchy.
In the palace of the Javanese king in Surakarta, Central Java, near the end of 1965, Ibu Urip Sri Maeny, a dancer from the coastal area of Pekalongan, performed “Bedhaya Ketawang.”10 For most scholars and historians of Southeast Asia, this is a special, “sacred” dance performed specially for the king. It functions as a symbolic legitimation of his royal governing power, which Benedict Anderson calls the “concrete but formless and mystic invisible,” a formulation at the base of state governance in Indonesia that does not require authorization through other, representative, or voter-based political channels (Anderson 1990:8). The arrival and residency of Ibu Urip Sri Maeny at the palace, at the center of the city of Surakarta, also made possible her studies and her position as a teacher at KOKAR, the conservatory in the Surakarta (Solo) region. This type of travel between regional spaces and places was often enabled by the coincidence of dance technique, artists’ familial lineage, and the embodiment of the “mastery of the form” (palace/court). Such mastery of technique is the tactic to enter the dominant space. This journey reminds me, in the context of different racial settings of class-structured society, of what dance scholar Tommy DeFrantz refers to in his analysis of the positioning of marginal (black) bodies in the context of modern dance in the United States (DeFrantz 2006).
In the national context of modernizing post-colonial Indonesia in 1965, dancers were drawn from outlying areas and villages not to the teeming cores of industry and politics, like the capital city of Jakarta or the port city of Surabaya, but to the centers of culture and education consecrated by their proximity to the palaces of Central Java and renewed by the foundation of the national arts institutes and academies nearby. This process lent a different kind of political historicity to Indonesian modernization, one strongly related with the “timeless” value of the king, the palace, and the symbolic order of power reflected in everyday life and manifest in state claims to ownership of, and the continuing production of national political value in, Javanese court dance. One example is the change of patronage in Javanese culture, as many dancers from the palace, the dancers trained in court aesthetics, have broken with the tradition of offering the dance “Bedhaya” only to the king. They sometimes perform it instead at the presidential palace in Jakarta or even on state diplomatic culture missions abroad. I often think that this could be the result of the playfulness of ethnicity in power, due to the inability of the new state formation centralized in Jakarta simply to tear itself away from history, whether feudal or colonial, and start again afresh. At that time, in 1965 many new dance groups formed and performed specifically for the needs of the presidential palace, for its foreign diplomatic guests, and as a sign to the people that the ethnically local governing body and its aesthetic self-performativity, a constant presence even throughout Dutch occupation, had shifted, temporally and geographically, and become a “modern” state. Both palaces—the king’s palace and the presidential palace—embraced and reconstructed the value of royal court dance, shifting the presence of “sacredness” it indicates between the king and the president, and creating a fragmented underlying structure of national time, space, and governance.
Looking at this change, I would like to return to the issue of intervention, on the issue of cultural reconstruction, specifically in terms of the significant changes in the nature of dance in post-independence Indonesia. As many readers are aware, the “new” state is composed of more than ten thousand islands and hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, and it is continuously politically fragile.11 Despite the authoritarian economic, political, and cultural centrality of Java, the irreconcilable diversity of the archipelago enforces a certain playfulness in the production of national narratives and in the national-level institution of state cultural ethnocentrism.
Ibu Urip Sri Maeny’s performance occurred four years after Indonesia’s political positionality in the Cold War was (re)set in Belgrade. Its post-WWII status as an independent state signified a spirit of alignment with others as well as membership in the international community. Its position as a post-colonial nation thrown into the midst of an epic struggle between (communist) East and (capitalist) West was fragile. Along with the presidents of Ghana (Kwame Nekrumah), India (Jawaharlal Nehru), Egypt (Gamal Abdul Nassir), and Yugoslavia (Josip Broz Tito), Soekarno, the first Indonesian president, became a founding father—in fact, the initiator—of a political alliance known somewhat paradoxically as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). As a strong sign of the spirit of post-colonial states, Indonesia under Soekarno, along with other members of NAM, refused to pick sides. They were seen as a potentially powerful opposition to dominant global power structures and policies; they were neither Eastern bloc nor Western bloc. Yet in the case of Indonesia, the local divisions caused by the influence of the Cold War and the sensitive nature of NAM became prominent tensions in the local political landscape as national power was forcibly shifted from the hands of Soekarno into the very much West-aligned arms of Soeharto in 1965.
As this build-up to the transition occurred, most heatedly from 1959 to 1965, the discourses of international support and stability competed to influence, mediate, and claim the allegiances of political differences within. This complex competition for power, in the continuing contexts of state formation and national stability, could no longer be seen as contained within what Anderson calls the Javanese homogeneity of power (Anderson 1990). Instead, the accumulation and manipulation of new and old symbolic orders were tested and used to conceive a new kind of state power and governance of society: a republic, with the combination of the multitudes of discourses struggling to establish themselves within the new state.
Returning to the Dancing Goddess and the palace setting, the continuation of the discourses of mysticism and sacredness in the dance became integral to the multilayered national discourse of value. The dance itself became a marker of the structure of aesthetic placement between culture, state formation, and the ideas of mystic power and international alignment, and it has heavily influenced the reform of national cultural identity.
The Courtly Dancing Goddess
Many dancers, like Ibu Urip Sri Maeny and others, operated within the “communally owned” palace culture that became an important marker in globalized dance forms. In this discussion, the village style of my grandmother’s Dancing Goddess is also a marker of the genealogy of femininity, and it is a popular one. Both must be present within this conversation without losing the ability to position them historically in terms of class, and national and global political and economic identity structures. The dancers are able to convey many examples of the importance of what female practitioners and/or queer politics (as embodied by Lek Djono) have done: the training of the mind, the embodiment of technique that fosters inquiry into the resilience of dance as resistance to various forms of domination, and the potential of creative space to engage and potentially encounter power.
In Indonesia, the particularity of the village-style Goddess is always under pressure to normalize, to be like the court, and as a result this normalization provokes different significations. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood, in talking about women in Egypt, calls such “normal” pressure subordination (Mahmood 2011). I would like to argue that Ibu Maeny moves within the context of such subordination, responding with a display of aesthetic mastery as resilience and flexibility. Since she is from the coastal region of Pekalongan, crossing contested intralocal and intranational borders and moving to the center are extremely complicated. They require a mastery of political differences and of the problems left over from colonial racial categorization that influence Javanese society and class, in addition to the challenges of technique. As an early arts institution, KOKAR became a bridge of this society divergence marker: from periphery to the center (the palace and court culture) and to the global international. These kinds of complex, multileveled negotiations have been my intellectual and political passion and have driven my inquiries into the histories of Indonesian dance.12
In referring to my grandmother’s Dancing Goddess and Lek Djono’s trans-body practices, the changing places, geopolitics, and life concerns brought different meanings to the study of feminine bodily movement and its ecological consciousness. However, with the process of the standardization of the feminine Goddess mandated by the state, it often changes the particular concerns of becoming the universal sexualized feminine.
This inquiry into Dancing Goddesses started with my grandmother’s introduction of a Ghost narrative, a resilient code, a story produced within the family compound that functioned as a strategic mode of talking about surveillance, not telling but listening and looking for hints or clues that would assist in mapping the geopolitics of local consciousness. The Ghost story, which later often reappeared in the daily life of East Javanese children as a representation of mythological haunting, is a strategy for retracing phantoms, the material ghosts, a peculiar mix between imagination and reality as deployed by Gilberto Perez in his book The Material Ghost.13
I obsessively repeated the praxis of embodiment of this predicament in searching for knowledge. It occupied much of my inquiry and growth as I attempted, slowly but surely, to map a landscape of political alliances, measuring fear—my own and that of others—against resilience, submitting to the drift of anxiety and surrendering to displacement, not only in the imagination of freedom in exile but in the stark physicality of “no home: now globalized.”
To help understand and express my predicaments, I follow what Cherrie Moraga calls “giving up the Ghost,” where I constantly argue and propose to myself that diaspora is not a new home—as if home was a spatial geopolitic that always embraces you (Moraga 1986). Hakim Abderrezak suggests in his writing of the clandestine in Burning the Sea that papers, documents, and identity cards are in some cases purposely burned to erase the legality of memory and to facilitate movement and migration. The result is the post-modern reconfiguration of identity, denying authenticity of origin, yet it is that particular new space of hope, the one that brings those who move to a space of invisibility in labor politics, as diasporic spaces are marked through different lenses of economics and the politics of identity. In my own case I am astounded by how the dancing bodies that travel recreate historiography, erasing and reproducing new narratives within the postmodern space, traditional in their roots but without traces of violence, like sparks in the wind.
The essentialism of the dancing body and the crossing of borders later in my life, in both the Dancing Goddess court style and the village style, came to seem a surrealist praxis, its discourse playing hide and seek with the bureaucratic as a form of surveillance and pain: the embodiment of discipline as the language of citizenship and the reading of the moving body through dance technique aligned with the law of state aesthetics. The formation of new alliances and belongings via passports tasted of the immigration—or self-exile—of educated bodies, yet most often it left unquestioned the long continuity of display of the cultural Other and the cosmopolitanization of difference.
Therefore, I propose that the Dancing Goddess is a narrative with which to remember, and a historiography of violence that necessarily follows the production of replicas that aim to make the forgotten erased. I argue that this recapturing of dance technique should not collapse in its own self-glorifying aesthetic. Although perhaps disrupted by a catalyst of ethics, but still very, very close to its point of departure—that which it seeks to displace—it aims to acknowledge those who have been vanished so that our seemingly playful dancing and marking should build an ethical aesthetic consciousness (video 1). The revelation of history and violence is neither revenge nor simple reversal. Instead, it is an exploration of the politics of memory and of the production and dissemination of knowledge and artistic expression.