Dance and cetera...

Douglass St.Christian (stchri@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 08:41:05 -0500

apropos of the long, always shifting, and intriguing spins on dance and
drill over the last several days [macluhan once said that when you rub
'information' up against 'information', you never know what is going to
happen and this thready thread is sheer joyful evidence of that]...

i was reflecting last night on the question of dance being expressive
and drill being oppressive and was reminded of historial events in samoa
in the early 1800's...missionaries were distraught by the practice of
celebratory dance by samoans, a practice of dance which tended to end up
in rather more carnal gyrations by the participants in the plantations
surrounding the villages....they did two things...they sought, through
the missionized samoan pastors, to outlaw these dance celebrations, and
to replace them with formal european dance [quadrilles and menuets and
gavottes and chaconnes and so on] they immoralized the fluid and
rather sexual 'poula' or night dances which celebrated important
occasions, and replaced them with formalized, drill-like 'balls'..this
involved, among other things, dance classes after sunday services when
the younger members of the community were 'arthur-murrayed' into two
step order, and the institution of formal male and female uniforms [ to
replace the relatively non-gendered local costumes [ an aside...only the
female 'uniform' has remained, the puli[e]tasi, a long skirt overtopped
with a thigh length blouse]....

for the missionaries, the apparent randomness and flexibility of samoan
dance bespoke carnality and immorality, in contrast to the more rigid
and orderly set of body movements permissible in european formal

body culture, and in particular ordering the expressive movement of
bodies, was, at least in the minds of the missionaries, a path way to
the ordering of the soul....

as nationalism emerged in the middle part of this century in western
samoa, there was a re-vitalized return to 'traditional' dance [ minus
the carnal finale in the banana patches] in which the practice of samoan
dance became an expression of 'national' identity in counter-distinction
to the christianized one [ a gross simplification, but it is 8 o'clock
in the morning]....

what is striking is looking at these revistalized samoan dances and
comparing them to the descriptions of traditional dance in the
missionary accounts....because the modern 'traditional' dance, in
particular of men, is remarkably similar to what mike and others have
been describing in their comments on drill....rigid, team driven,
complex patterns of commands and fixed steps and gestures and so on....

unlike the disney land sensuality of the tourist version of hula in
hawaii, these revitalized samoan dances were and remain, for local
consumption...they speak to local ideas and issues and concerns....

the suggestion of a aaa session, if anyone is going to do it, on dance
and drill is a good one and i might just offer my tiny 8 o'clock in the
morning to the discussion....

douglass st.christian