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Open Access Pushing at the boundaries of the body: Cultural politics and cross-gender dance in East Java

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Pushing at the boundaries of the body: Cultural politics and cross-gender dance in East Java

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Cross-gender dance in East Java has captivated me as a strategy that performers use to negotiate multiple ideas about manhood and womanhood as well as tensions between official ideologies and social realities, expectations about performers’ onstage personas and offstage lives, and competing aesthetic sensibilities. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the regency of Malang and analysis of performers’ verbal discourse, I address issues of the body, perception, agency, and senses of self, foregrounding performers’ insights into their practices’ meanings, the cultural impact they have as artists, and reasons behind multiple perceptions of gender. To examine relationships between larger cultural forces and performers’ views, I use generation as an analytical framework. I consider performers in three generations – the 1940s-1960s, the 1970s-1990s, and the 1990s to the present. That these generations correlate closely to three political periods in Indonesian history – Old Order (1945-1965/6), New Order (1966-1998), and Reformation Era (1998-present) – has led me to make three related arguments. First, the political and cultural climate has affected the discourse through which musicians and dancers expressed their perceptions about the performance of gender. Second, performers have rearticulated larger cultural and political discourses in their own ways, thereby asserting their own senses of gender. Third, performers have affected the political and cultural climate by pushing at the boundaries of maleness and femaleness onstage and in their daily lives, making on- and offstage spaces fluid and complementary sites of cultural and ideological production.

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