Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Domnina and Shabalin Dance Controversy

Is Domnina and Shabalin's Aboriginal Original Dance offensive? The poll has closed and 64% of respondents think that it is while 35% think it is not. No matter how you see it, this will be a headache for Oksana and Maxim and Team Russia in Vancouver.

The debacle over this particular dance began last week as Domnina and Shabalin competed in Tallinn at the European Championships. The duo won the event using what many Indigenous Aboriginal leaders called "a dance offensive to Aboriginal people."

Despite the controversy, the duo plans to move forward with using this dance in Vancouver. Lack of time to change dances certainly was the leading factor in that decision.

While the Australian Olympic Committee will not be forcing the issue with Russian Olympic committee and asking them to make Oksana and Maxim ditch the program...they are asking them to change it a little. Bev Manton, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Chairwoman told Tom Reilly of the Sydney Morning Herald:

We had considered asking the Australian Olympic Committee to intervene on behalf of Aboriginal people … but the fact is, the performance by Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, while offensive to Aboriginal people, is not illegal. It's also not unprecedented. Aboriginal culture is disrespected in Australia every day, in fact in many ways that's become a cultural norm.

What are some of the requests being asked of Domnina and Shabalin? Ditch the dark skin suits, also do away with the leaves and the feathers. They also want Oksana and Maxim to travel to Australia to meet with indigenous Aboriginal people to get a better cultural feel for their dance.

Olympic officials in Vancouver are also keeping a close eye on this story as they are insistent these games be in no way offensive to the traditions of the four First Nations indigenous peoples.

Some advice to Oksana and Max...tread carefully.

Take a look at the Dance in question.


jumping clapping man said...

I frankly don't understand this. I'm not a big fan of Dombalin's, but I don't feel this is offensive. It's worthy of some intelligent debate, but not of being blasted.

A) This dance is exposing aboriginal dance to the masses, in a way that it would not otherwise reach this particular audience. Me thinks that exposure is good. (Think Davis/White's Bollywood program, which has been praised to high heavens!).

B) Domnina & Shabalin are not portraying this program in a mocking fashion or as a joke. Rather, they (to me) seem to be putting it on, and trying to get under the skin of it, just as ice dancers do any style or program...and program character.

C) Wearing "black face" has bee considered inappropriate since Al Jolsen's tried it on, but Al was portraying blacks as a caricature, in a manner detached from any realness:

Look at Meryl Davis...she's wearing an Indian "third eye" on her forehead (and Indian costume). Couldn't that just as easily be considered a mockery?

Aaron said...

The Aboriginal people who are calling this dance into question are saying it doesn't resemble their dance at all, they costuming is completely incorrect, and their culture has been loosely considered.

On the flip side, Meryl and Charlie have been praised with the exact detail they've brought to their dance. They worked extensively with a Bollywood dancer to get the dance perfect.

I don't think Oksana and Maxim have any intentions to be disrespectful but I must say they could have done some better research and now they are paying the price.

Emily said...

I lived in Australia in college and when I first saw this dance my heart dropped. It's so ridiculous. There's no trace of Aboriginal Australia in this dance; I would say it's like a bad parody, but that seems generous.

Aboriginal Australians were not even counted as human beings by the Australian government until the late 1960s. In the first 50-60 years of the 20th centurty it was OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT POLICY to take away the children of Aboriginal families and raise them as "real" Australians in church group homes. The goal was literally to breed them out within a few generations. It's now referred to in Australia as The Lost Generation. This is recent history.

DomShabs did not even consult with an expert before starting this choreography. They did Internet research, which, as a sole resource, isn't even acceptable for a high school research paper. Also, the music is not real Aboriginal music; it's actually Indian.

For me personally the biggest problem with the actual dance (in addition to the skin darkening) is the way they dance like "savages," like animals, without having done the appropriate research. There is still so much racism and hostility in Australia on this; one prejudice has been that Aboriginals are less than human (therefore it's okay to steal their children.) So you can see what much of this choreography is problematic.

Anonymous said...

To the poster to mentioned the Indian "third eye" that Meryl Davis wears in her OD, those small jewels are not physical characteristics worn by Indian and non-Indian women for special celebrations and such. It is considered part of the celebration costume, much like henna tattoos are considered part of the costume.

I'm am not of Indian descent but I have worn both to Indian weddings at the encouragement of my Indian friends.

I seriously doubt my friends would approve if I wore a dark bodysuit to "darken" my skin though at the same event.

Jocelyn Jane said...

I personally enjoy seeing a variety of styles in ice dance competition and appreciate when skaters choose to explore dance styles that are not commonly seen on ice (or in other venues). I do think that Domnina and Shabalin should change these costumes (or at least his, due the darker fabric) but the dance itself is a valid interpretation ON SKATES. While I realize that this is a sensitive subject and understand that the Aboriginal people of Australia have been mis-treated and mis-represented in many ways, the media and Aboriginal people who are taking offense to the movements here might consider that any kind of dance that is interpreted on ice is necessarily going to differ from the original version because the skaters are on blades that are 1/8 of an inch in width. This creates certain constraints and also possibilities. Point is, the movements are approximations. Ice dance is dance plus skating plus athletics. (Similarly, freeskating is often said to be "balletic", but experienced ballerinas see that there are huge differences in the technique and movements.)

Here is my concern: after all this controversy, I wonder if coaches and skaters will now be hesitant to choose dancing styles outside of their own cultures? The message here seems to be: Americans should all do Hoedowns and Russians should all do Russian folk dances, etc. I think it's great to honor your own culture and also interesting and enlightening to celebrate other cultures.

Let's face it, compulsory dances are getting phased out in part because they do not generate ticket sales and because they are considered Bo-ring...(by the way, phasing these out is a mistake! but that is a whole other issue) People just don't want to see the same waltzes and tangos over and over. Ice dance, at least in the U.S., is more popular than it has ever been - it is fun to watch and contains a lot of variety. I fear that the backlash of this brew-ha-ha will be an unfortunate decline in creativity.