Dance and Difference: Performing/Representing/Rewriting the Body

  • Helen Thomas


Feminist scholarship, as indicated in Chapter 4, has had a major impact in dance studies since the late 1980s, as have recent debates on the body in social and cultural theory. The influence of feminist discourses is perhaps most evident in the study of western theatrical dance forms. This is hardly surprising, given that the body is generally the primary means of expression and representation in western dance and the majority of performers are women. Moreover, the majority of dance scholars are women. As indicated in previous chapters, this traffic has been largely one-way from feminism to dance studies (see Thomas, 1993a; Foster, 1997; Desmond, 1998). Relations between gender and dance have also surfaced in studies of social dance. The first half of this chapter centres on a discussion of gender, race, sexuality and dance in four ethnographic studies of social dance. This provides a more empirical focus and extends the examination of gender in the direction of race and sexuality. Attention is then directed towards a consideration of the ways in which representations of women and sexuality in dance have been analysed in recent studies in dance history. Finally, I consider the often unquestioned linking of dance with liberation or resistance and, by extension, the feminine, in certain dance studies approaches and contemporary cultural criticism.


Female Body Cultural Theory Body Politics Ballet Dancer Natural Body 
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© Helen Thomas 2003

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  • Helen Thomas

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