“If we try to address women’s basic animal nature, we run the risk of sounding as if we are casting women as only animal-like, or as more animal like than men… as a feminist I believe that frank exploration of the potential animal and mystical elements of female sexuality does not in any way undermine women’s rational, intellectual and professional capabilities.” (Wolf, 2012) In fact, in her book, Vagina, Wolf elaborates on the ways in which being sexually traumatised or threatened can undermine those highly valued elements of women’s lives and in which being sexually satisfied can nourish their creativity and productivity. Her research further proves the interrelated nature of body-mind or ‘soma’ and specifically how women’s sexuality can affect their mental wellbeing. “If femininity resided anywhere, I would say it resided there, in that electric inner network extending from pelvis to brain” (Wolf, 2012).
For many years, sexuality (and the curvaceous female body) was banished from western theatre dance in the name of elevating it to a ‘high art’ and in order to distance ballet from its early culture which was rife with prostitution and exploitation. Of course now, arguably, sexuality has returned to the stage along with society’s more liberal views of it. However, I would argue that what we most often see is a sanitised and commercialised form of sexuality, especially where women are concerned. Even some works which profess to be feminist, often in displaying a story of female oppression, fetishise the body and glamourise the oppression itself. Genuine sexuality is messy, it’s personal, it’s about pleasure. If we make room for a woman’s subjective pleasure, in the act of performance or the act of love, it cannot be stolen or objectified.
Wolf writes of a “growing conviction that women experience the vagina as integral to core self, and that it can also serve as the trigger or entry point to an awakening of sensibility that can, at fortunate moments, fuse the creative and the sexual.” With this in mind, I have been deliberately including my sexual organs in my sensory experience of dancing. As I scan my body for sensation or movement that is calling to be actioned (as all improvisation calls for), I do not exclude any sensation from my awareness, I listen to everything and allow myself to feel whatever it is that I feel. If a dance were occurring in a contact situation, or in relation to another, this would require consent and consideration, but in solo practice and within the confines of my own thoughts, who’s to say what is appropriate but me? Furthermore, commitment to pleasure might be a commitment to ease or to satisfaction that is sensory but nonsexual. I ask myself if, in the act of dancing, even in performance, can I respond to my own needs and desires and place them above the question of what the audience is receiving? And there again, dance imitates life- a woman placing her own needs above others’ is a political act.
Image by Grace Gelder