Dance (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Dance, in its vernacular, theatrical, and sacred forms, has been used by societies throughout history to incite violence and celebrate victory, as well as express resistance to repressive regimes and heal victims of injustice. Traditional war dances and victory dances may be found in many African cultures and among aboriginal peoples; as such, descriptions of dancing appear in human rights reports of the genocide in Rwanda and human rights abuses in Angola. Forms of folk dance are often promoted by states as a means of propaganda to further the cause of ruling powers. Examples include the widespread popularizing of Bavarian and Austrian folk dancing by the Nazis, and the promotion of Serbian folk dancing and turbo folk during Slobodan Milosevic's regime. Forcing people to dance and sing political slogans is not uncommon in such contexts, as is using dance as a means of humiliating those from opposing groupsor example, when men, and especially women, are forced to dance (and possibly strip naked) in front of their captors, as reported in Sierra Leone and Chechnya. The trafficking of women and children also may involve dancing as a means of humiliation, with victims forced to perform as nightclub dancers in addition to working as sex slaves.
As a creative, expressive, communal activity, however, dance is also a central means of resisting crimes against humanity. Historically, slaves from Africa employed dancing as a means of communication when they were denied other basic rights. During the Holocaust groups of German youth danced swing and listened to jazz as a form of resistance to Hitler's regime. The individuality and syncopation characteristic of swing embodied their refusal to follow the lock-step mass psychology of the Nazis. More recent examples reveal the important role of dance in preserving the memory of genocide. Youth from the Northern Marianas Islands still perform a jig as a reminder of a massacre that occurred in the 1860s and as a symbol that their race will never be exterminated. In Chile women who are members of the Asociación de Familiares de los Detenidos y Desaparecidos (Association of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared) have chosen to perform a traditional couples dance as a solo, the Cueca Solo, as a living reminder of their missing partners.
In theatrical venues choreographers have long created works that represent and recreate a sense of the horror, suffering, and courage of the victims of genocide, as well as the brutality of the victimizers. They achieve this by using a variety of techniques, including parody and satire, metaphor and allegory, and perhaps most important, the somatic experience of trauma, from uncontrollable shaking to severe immobility, that can be recreated on stage to powerful effect. Of these pieces, the most celebrated include The Green Table by Kurt Jooss (1932) about the horrors of war; Dreams (1961) by Anna Sokolow about the Nazi concentration camps; Soweto (1977) by Mats Ek about apartheid in South Africa; and Ghost Dances (1983) by Christopher Bruce about the Chilean military coup. Some dance companies, such as Barro Rojo Arte Escénico (BRAE) in Mexico, have made it their mission to concentrate on human rights issues. This company's specific focus has been the horrors perpetuated in Latin America, with pieces like Arturo Garrido's El Camino (The path, 1982), which addressed the people of El Salvador's fight for liberty, and Laura Rocha's Crujía H (Ward H, 1987), which explores the theme of political prisoners.
Of special note are the many stage pieces and dances created for film and video that focus on the Holocaust. Examining these works sheds light on the more literal to abstract ways that the subject of genocide may be approached through the medium of dance. Tamar Rogoff's Ivye Project (1994), for instance, is set in the woods of Belarus at the actual site where 2,500 Jews were massacred in 1942. In this piece the audience is transported back through time to watch various life events, such as the dance of an elderly couple, a father and daughter preparing for bedtime, and an intensely moving scene at a cemetery where the performers appear and disappear behind the gravestones. However, in Danial Shapiro's What Dark/Falling Into Light (1996), emphasis is placed more on universal symbolism: A dancer sits and shakes, a young woman repeatedly hurls herself through the air toward her lover, and a man is supported by a group of prone dancers, as if being comforted by his dead ancestors. Allen Kaeja's trilogy of dance films, Witnessed (1997), Sarah (1999), and Zummel (1999), codirected with Mark Adam, combines these approaches by drawing on familiar Holocaust imagery such as train stations and people running through a forest, as well as metaphorical imagery that is more unique and general in its associations, as when a group of alternately desperate and hopeful dancers performs on a deserted raft in the middle of the ocean.
Finally, dance plays a major therapeutic role in recovery programs for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity. Seen as a central means of bridging the mind/body gap and linking explicit and implicit memories through nonverbal expression, dance/movement therapy (d/mt) is common in trauma centers for refugees and torture survivors in Germany (Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Munich) and the United States (Boulder, Colorado), a community center in Tuzla, Bosnia, and the Trauma Clinic at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in Johannesburg, South Africa. In these settings dance is regarded as a treatment modality especially beneficial to victims of torture because it restores patients' sense of safety in their own bodies and rebuilds their capacity to experience joy and well-being. Related dance groups especially designed for children, include the "War Child's Ethiopian Dance Project," "Alive Kids" located in South Africa, and "Children of Uganda."
SEE ALSO Music, Holocaust Hidden and Protest; Music and Musicians Persecuted during the Holocaust; Music at Theresienstadt; Music Based on the Armenian Genocide; Music of Reconciliation; Music of the Holocaust
DeFrantz, Thomas F., ed. (2002). Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Gray, Amber (2001). "The Body Remembers: Dance/Movement Therapy with an Adult Survivor of Torture." American Journal of Dance Therapy 23(1):293.
Karina, Lillian, and Marion Kant (2002). Hitler's Dancers: German Modern Dance and the Third Reich, tran. Jonathan Steinberg. New York: Berghahn Books.
Shay, Anthony (2002). Choreographic Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation and Power. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.