Asian & Asian American Studies

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Dancing the Feminine

Gender & Identity Performances by Indonesian Migrant Women

In the Series
Asian & Asian American Studies

Monika Swasti Winarnita is a Postdoctoral Fellow of Anthropology at the University of Victoria, BC Canada with affiliation to La Trobe University Australia. Her published work covers Indonesian, Malay and Australian studies, migration, transnational families, diaspora politics, identity, gender, sexuality and cultural performance.

Awarded the 2017 Monograph of Distinction
at the University of Victoria, British Columbia

Migration makes a profound impression on identity (gender and sexuality, culture, class, status), its expressions, and performance. Research in this field has demonstrated that migrant communities often cast women as bearers of cultural reproduction. This is especially the case when women choose to become representatives of their community through cultural dance performances. Such performances are also a means to express the migrant life of movement and a way to maintain their sense of well-being. Dancing the Feminine is a compelling vision of expressions of gender and identity at the heart of the Asian women’s experience. For the Indonesian female migrants, performing ‘femininity’ is frequently negotiated in a cross-cultural context. The performances that author Monika Winarnita analyses are dramas of human interaction brought up through fissures and resolutions between the performers and their various audiences. The book provides analysis of these cultural performances as rituals of belonging, which demonstrate that in the diaspora meanings of the ritual are always open to being contested.

A particular appeal of this book is the way in which cultural dance performance offers profound insight into migrants’ life experience as well as into how human beings tell their stories and interact with one another. Based on her experience of performing dance with Indonesian migrant women in Australia, the author provides a unique and novel set of research data that contributes to a diverse body of scholarly work in migration, performance, gender, sexuality and cultural studies, anthropology, and Asian studies.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-693-6
Hardback Price: £50.00 / $69.95
Release Date: 2013
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-818-3
Paperback Price: £29.95 / $39.95
Release Date: 2014
Page Extent / Format: 192 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Introducing Indonesian Migrant Women Performance
Intersection of Literature: Marriage Migration and Migrants’ Cultural Performance
Perth, Western Australia: Fieldwork Location among the Migrant Community
Research on Indonesian–Australians and their Intercultural Relationships
Catcalling Older Dancers who are Performing a Feminine Dance
Ethnomusicology of Indonesians in Australia and Indonesian Women Performers
Chapter Outline

Chapter One: Politics and Poetics of Authenticity in Cultural Representation
Meeting the Housewives’ Dance Group at the Indonesian Community Event
Literature on Authenticity in the Cultural Performance of Dance
Unity in Diversity: An Inauthentic ‘Created' Indonesian National Dance
Gaining Status through Photos with the Premier of Western Australia

Chapter Two: From Embarrassing to Empowering Performance, Femininity Negotiated in a Duel for Recognition
The Indonesian Bazaar
Losing Face (Malu) with an ‘Amateur’ Performance
The State as Status
Markers of Status through Valued Criteria of Performance

Chapter Three: Ageing Dancers, Diminished Sexuality and Masculine Performance
Exploring Transnational Sexualities
Devaluing Feminine Performances as Transnational Politics of Culture
Masculine Roles: Shaking Up Transnational Gender and Sexuality Ideals
Negotiating Transnational Sexuality and Rejecting the Negative Bar Girl Image

Chapter Four: Performing Chinese–Indonesian Belonging in the Diaspora, Transnationally and Translocally
Performing Belonging as a Chinese–Indonesian
Diasporic Belonging
Transnational Belonging
Translocal Belonging
Gendered Forms of Belonging
Why Belong to a Nation as a Persecuted Minority?

Chapter Five: Ritual or Modern Spectacle? How to Represent Exotic Bali to Potential Tourists
Ramayana as National Ritual Celebrating Indonesian Independence Day
Ramayana as Ritual Out of Place in Australian Multicultural Festival
The Three Dancers' Individual Narratives in Creating the Modern Ramayana

Conclusion: Moving Together, Audience Participation and Reception at the End of the Show
Revelations in the Disjunctures as told through Ethnographic Stories
Discourses of Femininity, Relation to ‘Authenticity’ and Audience Expectations
Locating the Findings in the Broader Literature

Background of Featured Dancers
Performance Dates and Venues
Islamic terms
Hindu terms
Musical ensembles
Other Songs
Community groups/associations
Abbreviations and acronyms


Monika Winarnita’s work provides an intellectually rigorous, insightful, original and engaging examination of the pursuit of ‘traditional, authentic’ Indonesian dance performances by Indonesian immigrant women in Perth, Western Australia. The author is to be congratulated for extracting layers of nuance from a topic that for many may not even have drawn a second look. She reminds us all that all human interactions are fraught with deep, shifting meanings.
Professor Henry Spiller (ethnomusicology) and Chair, Department of Music, UC Davis

This book is a very enjoyable read and makes a very good contribution to knowledge in the field of anthropology of migration in which it sits. The book invigorates key debates in the anthropology of migration – with important insights drawn from Indonesian studies, anthropology and studies of performance.
Deirdre McKay, Social Geography and Environmental Politics, Keele University

Winarnita uses the case study of an amateur Indonesian dance troupe, all women married to men in Perth, Australia to analyze the complex ways these women have grappled with redefining the feminine and reclaiming status in the diasporic context. She covers politics and poetics of authenticity in cultural representation; from embarrassing to empowering performance, femininity negotiated in a duel for recognition; aging dancers, diminished sexuality, and masculine performance; performing Chinese-Indonesian belonging in the diaspora, transnationally and translocally; and ritual or modern spectacle: how to represent exotic Bali to potential tourists.

Series Editor’s Preface
by Mina Roces

The Sussex Library of Asian Studies Series publishes original scholarly work in various disciplines (including interdisciplinary and transnational approaches) under the rubric of Asian studies – particularly Economics, Education, Religion, History, Politics, Gender, Comparative Studies with the West, and Regional Studies in Asia. The Series is keen to publish in emerging topics that demand attention in the Asian context – from the politics of dress to the heteronormative in India and Indonesia for example. Seminal works and approaches will find a home here. The Series also welcomes single-country studies or anthologies that explore one important theme across a number of Asian contexts. We expect the Series to contribute to the scholarly debates on topical issues, highlighting the importance of the region.
... In Dancing the Feminine: Performances by Indonesian Migrant Women, Monika Swasti Winarita uses the case study of an amateur Indonesian dance troupe all composed of Indonesian marriage migrants (all married to Austalian men) in Perth, Australia to analzye the complex ways these women have grappled with redefining the feminine and reclaiming status in the diasporic context. Winarita cleverly analyses how the dance troupe of mostly housewives grappled with criticisms of authenticity, shame, and gender constructs in the journey towards performing Indonesian-fusion folk dances in the Australian contemporary context. The dance troupe is extremely savvy in re-choreographing dance moves and styles in response to the critique of the Indonesian Consulate and Australian audiences. As the dances are constantly revised, the book tackles important concepts from the authenticity of regional and ethnic dances, the political way marginal groups such as the Balinese and the Indonesian-Chinese are included, and the way femininity is imagined, reaffirmed and reproduced in a transnational context. For example, the author illustrates how older women dancers have been relegated to performing male roles in order to be accepted and appreciated as performers, and the ways in which the migrant women are still subject to the official gender ideals of the homeland through the influence of the Indonesian Consulate. The result is a fascinating analysis of how a group of Indonesian women have sought to empower themselves through cultural performance.

Reviewed by Mirjam Lücking in International Quarterly for Asian Studies, April 2018

Reviewed by Dr Alessandra Lopez y Royo in Anthropological Forum, 3 July 2018, Vol. 28(3).

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