Judith Lynne Hanna. Departments of Dance and Anthropology, University of Maryland, College Park.
This literature review of dance and sexual expression considers dance and religion, dance and sexuality as a source of power, manifestations of sexuality in Western theater art and social dance, plus ritual and non-Western social dance. Expressions of gender, sexual orientation, asexuality, ambiguity, and adult entertainment exotic dance are presented. Prominent concerns in the literature are the awareness, closeting, and denial of sexuality in dance; conflation of sexual expression and promiscuity of gender and sexuality, of nudity and sexuality, and of dancer intention and observer interpretation; and inspiration for infusing sexuality into dance. Numerous disciplines (American studies, anthropology, art history, comparative literature, criminology, cultural studies, communication, dance, drama, English, history, history of consciousness, journalism, law, performance studies, philosophy, planning, retail geography, psychology, social work, sociology, and theater arts) have explored dance and sexual expression, drawing upon the following concepts, which are not mutually exclusive: critical cultural theory, feminism, colonialism, Orientalism, postmodernism, post structuralism, queer theory, and semiotics. Methods of inquiry include movement analysis, historical investigation, anthropological fieldwork, auto-ethnography, focus groups, surveys, and self-reflection or autobiographical narrative. This review of dance and sexuality explores the common substantive foci of dance and religion (especially the opposition to dance because of its ‘‘immoral’’ sexuality), dance and sexuality as a source of power, manifestations of sexuality in Western theater art dance and social dance, and ritual and non-Western social dance (Hanna, 1992a). Themes of gender, sexual orientation, asexuality, ambiguity, and adult entertainment exotic dance (stripteases and gentlemen’s clubs) are presented. The review further addresses issues of morality; awareness, closeting, and denial of sexuality; conflation of sexual expression and promiscuity of gender and sexuality, of nudity and sexuality, and of dancer intention and audience interpretation; symbolic ways of embodying sexuality; and inspiration for infusing sexuality into dance. While at times having to sacrifice complexity and nuance in the interest of brevity, the review describes key aspects of theoretical concepts and study methodologies related to dance and sexuality as found in the disciplines of American studies, anthropology, art history, comparative literature, criminology, cultural studies, communication, dance, drama, English, history, history of consciousness, journalism, law, performance studies, philosophy, planning, retail geography, psychology, social work, sociology, and theater arts. These concepts, not mutually exclusive, include colonialism, critical cultural theory, feminism, Orientalism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, queer theory, and semiotics. Moreover, some studies use multiple theories and methods and explore overlapping or intertwined themes and, consequently, could fit into several categories. Although most of the literature on the topic of sexuality and dance devotes only a few paragraphs or pages to it, a limited number of works have made it the key focus.1 Dance and sex both use the same instrument—namely, the human body—and both involve the language of the body’s orientation toward pleasure. Thus, dance and sex may be conceived as inseparable even when sexual expression is unintended. The physicality of dance, imbued with ‘‘magical’’ power to enchant performer and observer, threatens some people (Karayanni, 2004; Shay & Sellers-Young, 2005; Wagner, 1997). The dancing body is symbolic expression that may embody many notions. Among these are romance, desire, and sexual climax. Octavio Paz (1995) viewed dancers as erotic: a ‘‘representation’’ that diverts or denies sex in action. Eroticism ‘‘is sexuality transfigured, a metaphor’’ (Paz, 1995, p. 2). The French avant-garde poet, Philippe Soupault (1928), noted, ‘‘There is no reason to deny the fact that dance, in many cases, exerts a sexual influence, if we dare to express it this way. Said differently, the art of dance is the most erotic of all the arts’’ (pp. 93–94). Dance is purposeful, intentionally rhythmical, culturally patterned, nonverbal body movement communication in time and space, with effort, and each genre having its own criteria for excellence. Dance conveys meaning through the use of space, touch, proximity to another dancer or to an observer, nudity, stillness, and specific body postures and movements.