Through the centuries, dance has been one of the spectacular instruments for rebellion of all sorts, all over the world.
Whether the rebellion took place against colonial power or slavery, within issues of gender, class or race, or even against Globalisation, dancers and people of the world have found rebellious expression in forms of dance.
In the realm of Colonialism, there are innumerable instances of the use of dance as a method of resistance and rebellion. Brazil’s Capoeira is one such dance. During African slavery in Brazil, brought on by Portuguese Colonization, Capoeira became a hope for slaves to rebel in disguise.
It was a self-defence technique, disguised as a dance, set to music and rhythmic moves to avoid detection.
The Rumba dance in Cuba has a similar trajectory. Havana, like Brazil, had a lot of African slaves. And like Brazil, rebellion was difficult and dangerous — punishable by execution.
But here, too, protest in disguised form was often expressed through recreational dance and music. In the case of India, it is arguable that dancers like Balasaraswati, rebelled against colonialism through dance.
In the expression of rebellion is issues of gender too, dance has played a pivotal role. According to Judith Lynne Hanna, modern dance in the west was in part a rebellion against male domination in dance and society. Constrained economically and physically by men, “some innovative women displayed their displeasure with traditional roles by breaking the rules of the rigidly codified ballet.” Isadora Duncan shed her toe shoes and tutu, and opted instead for a Greek-style tunic with slits from below her hips and bare feet. Shedding the codifications of ballet, she chose a form of dance that allowed for free movements of the hips, pelvis and the legs. In response to her rebellion, she was slapped with several law suits for indecent exposure.
In India, Chandralekha rebelled against a male-dominated society by focusing on the ‘primacy’ of the Indian woman.
Elsewhere, Nijinsky — in becoming the principle dancer of Diaghlev’s Ballet Russes — created another controversy through rebellion.
He was seen dancing intimately with two other male dancers, thereby forcing the audience to witness the then unacceptable notion of homosexuality.
Further, Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring captured all of the features of revolt and rebellion: ‘the rejection of traditional forms, the embrace of primitivism, the emphasis on vitality rather than rationalism, and the perception of existence as continuous flux’. Audiences, unable to accept the rebellious nature of his work, erupted into a riot during the first performance of The Rite of Spring.
Dance found rebellious expression in the domain of social class as well. The social class and race of the African-American minorities in America used another dance as a form of underground ‘black resistance’. ‘Hip-hop’ was their dance, their music and their culture. Many African-American minorities were poor, unemployed and residing in housing projects. The atmosphere they lived in was dangerous. Street gangs were prevalent and violent. Afrika Bambaataa sensed that the violence of gang members could be channelized creatively. The hip-hop culture became a way of dealing with the hardships of life as a minority within America. So in a sense, hip-hop music and dance became the revolt against gang violence. It is became a mode of resistance to street gangs. Finally, it attached itself to the black civil rights movement through some of its lyrical content.
Today too, dance as a form of resistance and rebellion exists and can exist in many dominions of our lives. Resistance and rebellion result from political and social discontent, from gross injustices, from dissatisfaction with the current scheme of things – we find ourselves feeling one or all of these things in our lives; and come in various forms – through street protests, rallies, politically and socially driven public opinion, and through art – theatre, music and indeed, dance.