Friday, March 5, 2010

[3a] Cécile Stehrenberger :: Folklore, Nation & Gender in a Colonial Encounter: Los Coros y Danzas de la Sección Femenina de la Falange in Equatorial

To be presented in: Workshop 3 // Gender and Nation (read preliminary debate here)

April 27th, 1954, 4pm, Santa Isabel, Equatorial Guinea: A ship called Domine arrives in the port of the capital of Spain’s only Subsaharan colony. On board: 15 dancers and 5 musicians of the Coros y Danzas de la Sección Femenina de la Falange from Murcia and Cádiz. During three weeks the members of the Folklore groups of the female section of the fascist party perform, in front of the colonial population, their Fandanguillos, visit hospitals and dine at the government palace. In villages “más alejados de la civilización que te puedas imaginar”(1), they become themselves the audience of a Folklore-show, as “muchachas indígenas” perform “Balele”-dances for them. In 1957, another Folklore-group from Cádiz tours in Equatorial Guinea, following a program similar to the one in 1954 – including the watching of “Balele”-shows.

In 1938, the Sección Femenina set up a culture department that dedicated itself to the “conservation” of “the authentic Spanish Folklore”. In all provinces Coros y Danzas groups were formed, which in “labor de campo” “rescued” “nearly forgotten” dances and “revitalized” them by performing in front of gradually growing audiences. Since 1942, several Coros y Danzas groups were performing outside of Spain as well. Various tours carried them to most European countries, to Latin America, to the USA, and to Morocco. Until the 1960’s, no male dancers were included in the groups travelling abroad.

Within and beyond the peninsula, the Coros y Danzas groups served a political mission in line with the Francoist nation building. In Western Europe and in the United States, the groups tried to represent their country as a friendly state. At the same time, the dancers were expected to contribute to the governing of the population: First, their performances were politics of emotion that attempted to evoke in their audience a ‘sense of belonging to Spain.’ Second, the dancers were role models – as a group for the productive unified nation their Spanish audience was meant to build, and as individuals for the ideal submissive subject. Third, the Coros y Danzas’ “labor de campo” and their attending Balele-shows in Equatorial Guinea were efforts to ‘get to know’ “el pueblo” and “los pueblos”. A power/knowledge-complex was set into motion that was believed to facilitate the governing of the population.

The dancers were staged as female bodies with characteristics that made them suitable for the Francoist nation building. Their unambiguous femininity, “alegría” and purity rendered them ideal role-models, their sexyness sustained their representation of a seductive state. However, the dancers showed also features that jeopardized their political mission by endangering their representation of a friendly state and their functioning as role models. The documents report aggressive and disobedient dancers, and in Andalusian dances like the Farruca, female dancers ‘crossdanced’ as male dancers. Many of those dances were and are associated with gitanos, who were constructed as a ‘non-white’ “race”. Part of their dances’ ‘blackness’ was transferred to the dancers. A newspaper-article on a Coros y Danzas show held in Equatorial Guinea gives an account of the sense of racial identity the dancers caused in its author: „Me sentí flamenco... más bien gitano, de color aceituna. Y sin darme cuenta jaleaba por lo “bajini“ el cimbreo de las bailarinas y el “jipío“ de la cantaora.“(2) Feeling not quite white, was not what “white men“ should do in a colonial system established on the idea of racial difference. What caused these ‚dangerous’ manifestations of the dancers’ bodies?

The dancers were not only modeled through intentionally applied technologies of power. They were also (de)-formed by the encounters they made on their journies. The “jefe de viaje” reports on the 1954 trip to Equatorial Guinea: „Actuamos el primer día en Bata para indígenas y españoles []. Los negros quedaban delante, junto a ellas. Con un calor espantoso y una masa de gente tan enorme que daba verdadera angustia bailar.”(3) The “angustia” the dancers felt caused their limbs to move less perfectly than they should have. Other ‘irregularities’ appeared in the picture of the dancers: The climate made them take off their stockings, and the specific power relations of the colonial setting allowed them to get rid of even more restrictions: They participated in ‘after-show parties’, wore pants and had temporary “novios”. Furthermore, the fatal manifestations of the dancers were caused by a ‘slipping’ of the technologies, with which their bodies were built: An excessive public visibility created national stars who became overconfident. Dance’s inherent différance (4) and its capability of transporting people into a state of liminality (5) made up spaces for chaos and a “phallic pointe.“(6) Such spaces were also opened by the contradictive demands directed towards the dancers of simultaneously serving imperialist interests while representing a harmless state. The ambivalence of the dancers’ mission and the particularities of the tools applied in achieving it, made the appearance of unplanned manifestations unavoidable. Their exact form, however depended on casual factors, like the ones implied in the different encounters the dancers made.

My work is equally shaped by the questions I had when I first started my project and the

encounters I make; encounters with the sources – texts, pictures and the former dancers I talked to –, and encounters with other academics. The outcomes of those encounters are influenced by my epistemological standpoint, and they often interfere with my original plans by inducing me to ask new questions. I try to make this process, its messiness, visible. This leads to a certain messiness in my writing, which catches on alien rhythms, slips and has to be tamed in order to make the rhizome (7) that my work is fit into the well cut tree an academic text is supposed to be.


1 AGA(03)051.023 LEG 60 TOP 23/27.704-28.302 GR7 No. 1.

2 Centauro, “Embajada andaluza.” Ebano. 22.07.1957.

3 AGA(03)051.023 LEG 60 TOP 23/27.704-28.302 GR7 No. 1.

4 Müller, Birgit (2002): Dekonstruktion, Körper, Bewegung. Tanz Theorie Text. Ed. Gabriele Klein. Münster: Lit. 351-365. 352.

5 Fischer-Lichte, Erika (2007). On the Threshold. Aesthetic in Performance. Knowledge in Motion. Perspectives of Artistic and Scientific

Research in Dance. Eds. Sabine Gehm, Pirkko Husemann, Katharina von Wilcke. Bielefeld: Transcript. 165-172. 231.

6 Foster Leigh, Susan (1995). Corporealities: Dancing Knowledge, Culture and Power. London and New York: Routledge. 1f.

7 Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari (2004). A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. London and New York: Continuum.

1 comment:

  1. Have you looked at Mary Louise Pratt's Imperial Eyes? It might be a good resource for theory. Her ideas of transculturation and contact zones might be helpful.