I’ve recently become aware of Danza Voluminosa, a Cuban government-sponsored fat dance company. The performance clips I’ve seen are really impressive.
Formed a decade ago by Juan Miguel Mas, this company of obese dancers has become a cultural phenomenon in Cuba, breaking stereotypes here of dance, redefining the aesthetics of beauty and, along the way, raising the self-esteem of heavyset people.
All the quotes are from a Havana Journal article by James C. McKinley Jr. in the NY Times. His reactions clearly surprised him.
But something strange happens when the troupe takes the stage. Classical and modern dance often give the impression of human beings flying, freed of the earth. The usual female dancers are like nymphs, the men like Greek statues. They soar, spin, leap and reach for the sky. Because of the size of the dancers in Mr. Mas’s troupe, however, the work of Danza Voluminosa conveys something more earthy and human. Fat people move differently, he said, and the choreography must change. “We are more mountainous,” he said with a smile.
The dancers’ movements are often slower than those of their slender colleagues. These dancers favor limbs swinging in pendulous arcs and wavelike motions that seem to ripple through their bodies. They seem to grip the floor rather than abandon it, keeping a low center of gravity, often crouching or dancing while kneeling or lying on the ground.
And when their dance becomes frenetic, the sheer weight of the dancers thudding across the stage conveys an excitement akin to a stampede, something out of control and wild, yet made of human flesh and blood. It can be a riveting sight.
This interview of Mas gives a good sense of the company and has a lot of dance in it.
Not surprisingly, being part of this has been transformative for the dancers
“I always liked to dance,” the dancer, Mailín Daza, said later. “I wanted to dance in the classical ballet, but my mother told me fat girls could not dance. I always dreamed of being a ballerina. With this group, I feel I am a ballerina.”
But it is also true that they do what they call “anti-obesity” work.
Mr. Mas said it would be a mistake to think that his work was intended to glorify or sanctify obesity, or even to deliver a moralistic message that one should not discriminate against the overweight. Rather, he said, the troupe’s art tries to face the reality of obesity while giving larger people a chance to express themselves through dance, a chance they are denied from childhood in most dance classes.
I would probably have a lot more issues if there was lots of good fat dance in the world, but there isn’t. And when you watch these beautiful bodies perform there’s no question what the true message is.
And on the topic of Fat Dance, Big Moves, a marvelous fat positive dance company, is performing in the Bay area this weekend.
This summer, Big Moves brings you two well-rounded nights of song, dance, drag and delicious surprises. Join the Phat Fly Girls – West Coast and guests, including the triumphant return of our very own Phat Fly Boy, Kirk, as emcee. We’re gonna fill the stage with big voices, big bodies and big attitude sure to leave you begging for more. Guest artists Raks Africa, Vicodonia, Kitty Von Quimm, Rubenesque Burlesque, Bollywood by Mona Sampath Khan Dance Company students and a special little something from Marilyn Wann.
Check it out.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
(Our Biggest and Best Show Yet!)
Friday and Saturday, July 9th and 10th
8pm (doors open at 7:30)
Chabot College Little Theater
25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward, CA
Tickets: $15 advance, $20 at the door
Purchase tickets at Brown Paper Tickets or from your friendly neighborhood Fly Girl.