May 18, 2004

samba stripped down

We went to a party Saturday night. An adult’s birthday, for a change, though a few kids (including our own) floated through and went off to watch Shrek in 3D glasses. We had fun talking to people we knew and even a few we didn’t. The food was great. Then came the entertainment. The birthday boy (man) had apparently wanted strippers, but that was nixed on account of younglings. So they settled on Samba dancers. Sounded interesting, I thought.

Well. Interesting. I suppose – no, I know – there’s some training involved, some skill, that this is a creative endeavor. But. Well. The main difference I saw between the two dancers and equivalent strippers was that these women started out mostly naked and stayed that way, doing an awful lot of jiggling along the way. Especially their buttocks. Shiny sparkly costumes – what there was of them – and great big headdresses and bright, fast music and everyone, it seemed, had a good time and some even danced, and a big part of me says I shouldn’t complain, that by doing so, I come off as a prude and easily shocked. I’m not. Easily shocked, that is. But if I’d been warned of a stripper, I’d have gotten up and left, joined the kids in front of the television. This sounded like something more comfortable and so I stayed. That was a mistake, I think. Because all I could think was, “What does it feel like, to be jiggling your body, nearly naked, in front of all these laughing men? What does it feel like to be making money at something that purports to be dancing but presents as a sexual tease? What does that feel like, to have your body on display, to be the entrée at a party?”

It’s not prudery, this discomfort. It’s something else. I have trouble accepting the common use of a woman’s body this way. As if it were a party favor. After the gluttony of the cake comes the impersonal lust object. What is that? Why is that? How is that okay? But it is, and it was, and nobody objected or even looked uncomfortable. And maybe when I was twenty, I would have gotten into a heated argument with someone there about the objectification of women and maybe that would have been the right thing to do here, but these are my friends and my hosts and at one point Damian came out and sat in my lap (ignoring the dancing women, just interested in the masks and maracas we held) and it seemed the wiser and more mature move to stay silent. I’m not about to change anyone’s mind there. They thought it was fun. I didn’t.

I think human sexuality is a good thing. A blessing, if you will. I think there are ways and times that flaunting your body is even more of a blessing, that it’s right to enjoy your sexuality and take pleasure in watching someone’s reaction as you move and your skirt swirls around your hips. But this is something different. These women are paid to shake their buttocks so fast they look battery-operated, to titillate and mostly to be undressed in a patio filled with partygoers. The entertainment.

As I look at samba dancers via Google’s image search, it seems this is normal, the scanty costumes – like a belly dancer’s, I suppose, though more so – and of course the shake-your-booty element is part of the dance. So it is the dance itself that I find offensive or the fact of it at this party, where it was so sexualized and in an objectifying way? And did the dancers mind or were they proud that they have this ability and that they draw this attention? Is it a cultural conceit, my middle class American upbringing, that makes me see it through a certain filter and call it demeaning? Or is it really and truly so, and part of a larger cultural rubric that allows for rape and ugliness perpetrated on women because they’ve made into objects in magazines and movies and at parties too? I find I have no answers. And that may be the main difference between my twenty year old hotheaded argumentative self and who I am now. I don’t know as much as I thought I did. Things are not black and white, cut and dried, even those that seem to be.

Posted by Tamar at May 18, 2004 10:10 PM

Maybe it's the "for pay" element that changes things?
I've seen Samba dancers and belly dancers, with my children, and I thought they were beautiful. But, I've only seen them in the context of summer festivals, and they weren't being paid to dance. They were dancing for us because they were our friends, and the music was good, and they had a skill they wanted to share. People watched and admired and cheered, but they weren't ogling or cat-calling or being... lustful, I guess is the word. Anyone can perform, and other folks recite poetry or play instruments or sing, whatever their skill happens to be.
My daughter thought she was watching a fairy dance.
Of course, given the presence of children, there are probably dance moves they didn't perform.
So, I think it must be context more than anything. I saw Britney Spears on TV awhile back and thought what I was watching was FAR more ponographic than the nearly naked girl who danced at the festival last summer (she'd made up this fantasy dancing girl costume that basically consisted of a single strand of beads and not much else, lol!).

Posted by: darby at May 21, 2004 05:03 AM