Death of a Malay-Muslim Female Dancer

Hasyimah Harith

As a Malay dance practitioner in Singapore for about 10 years, I used to have a preconceived notion that Malay-Muslim female dancers stopped dancing as they had lost interest, moved on with motherhood and gave up. With my pregnant body now, I wonder if this is my fate too? Am I also going to lose myself through motherhood or my aging body? Is virginal young women only represented in Malay dance?
After engaging with Nirmala’s box, I found courage to question patriarchy in Malay dance. This first phase of a field study builds on a series of difficult conversations with inspiring women. I wish to listen to their stories and discover what empowers them to stop dancing.

In Malay dance, the pregnant body is regarded as inappropriate and unattractive for dancing because it does not adhere to definition of beauty of a Malay-Muslim female dancer. This has been a problem for me, as my pregnant body affects my self-worth as a woman.

With my pregnancy, I began to realise that I may not be able to get any dancing roles anymore, as there are close to no roles or representation of mothers in Malay dance.

Thus, in this first phase of ‘Death of a Malay-Muslim Female Dancer’, I want to talk to Malay-Muslim female dancers that decided to stop practising Malay dance. This is my way of reclaiming my rights as a future mother-to-be, as well as acknowledging other female representations and definitions of female beauty that are currently missing in the Malay dance. By doing so, I hope to set my own rules for practising Malay dance.

Based in Singapore, Hasyimah Harith is a Malay-Muslim female artist that has been trained in Malay folk dance for 15 years. She performs, choreographs and teaches traditional Malay dance repertoires, such as Asli, Inang, Joget and Zapin. She is also a visual arts educator and a co-founder of P7:1SMA, a dance company formed in 2016 that uses dance to confront and reimagine the Malay’s relationship to their identity.

Using her body as the starting point, Hasyimah works with the Malay identity, traumas of colonisation and female sexuality, as a way to reclaim the agency over her body. Her working method involves strategies such as vulnerability, pleasure and confession. She believes in the power of the body to confront and overcome the conditioned shame that is often attached to Malay-Muslim female sexuality.

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