Between subject and object: Classical Ballet, Foucault and the dancing body

Salgado LLopis, Maria (2010) Between subject and object: Classical Ballet, Foucault and the dancing body. In: 1st Annual International Conference on Fine and Performing Arts; 7-10 Jun 2010, Athens, Greece. (Unpublished)


This paper discusses the depiction of the socially constructed body through the practice of Classical Ballet. Michael Foucault’s (1986, 1988, 1990, and 1991) theories of ‘practices of the self’ and ‘disciplinary techniques’ provide a theoretical framework which allows to examine the dancing body from a dual perspective: subject and object. Firstly the idea of the constructed body from the perspective of the subject will be explored. Secondly by positioning Classical Ballet as ‘disciplinary technique’ (Foucault, 1991) the notion of the objectification of the body will be exposed. “Practices of the self” portrays a different perspective of the subject (Foucault,1990; Seppä, 2003) one that includes “the individual’s possibilities of functioning as an active agent in the constitution of the power relations that form her/his historical being” (Seppä, 2003 p.193). This approach calls for an analysis which considers Classical Ballet dancers as active agents in the creation/construction of their selves developing “positive” power over themselves through a dance practice. Thus envisioning this dance practice as a liberating practice were practitioners find a space to free them from possible social constrains, routines or modes of expression imposed upon them. In “Discipline and punish”, Foucault (1991) argues the methods that allow “the meticulous control of the operations of the body” (1991, p 137), by establishing a regular subjection of its forces and imposing upon them a relation of docility-utility. The idea of detailed control over the operations of the body and a regular subjection of its forces offers parallelisms with the processes of the body seen in the practice of Classical Ballet (Turner, 2005; Wellard et al, 2007). Thus, the second approach positions the body as a construct; as the surface “where regimes of discourse and power inscribe themselves” (Butler 1989 p 601) in a dancing body inscribed by the discourse of Classical Ballet. It is through this axis of the liberation (subjectivization ); and subjection (objectification) that the socially constructed dancing body will be depicted.

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