Modeling and choreography

April 6, 2010

I am hugely entertained by Fashion TV. My daughter and I watch this channel several times a day, diving into the fantasy world of fashion shows. It is not only the clothes that are fascinating but also the appearance of the models. How they move, walk and the overall staging of each show that guarantees my interest.

Fashion shows typify today's world where beauty and body images are glorified. The world of fashion has been vilified, criticized and spit upon for its superficiality, ageism and narcissistic body-fascism. Eating disorders are blamed on today's obsession with size zero and fashion parties are seen as a narcotic and sexual playground.

With all these negative images, I also raise the question of the body for "hire." While in fashion, commerce is so obviously the motive; in dance we embed the dancing body within the trite umbrella of "sacred and secular." When I read these two words today, I feel like puking. Overused, underfelt and thrown around like a discarded fashion of last season.

Looking at the fashion walk, the triangular held arms at the waist, the posing and the overall musculature of the model raises several questions. In dance around the world, performers and students are accumulating a variety of techniques or vocabularies. "Corporeal bodies are then transformed into a body of ideas," says writer Susan Foster. This is in response to a variety of choreographic and aesthetic demands.

Today's dancing body is tailored by commercial realities to the fashion model on the runway. Fashion bodies and dancing bodies share many similarities. "They are both located at the intersection of performance and finance," states Manrutt Wongkaew, a dance scholar.

In traditional dance studies, we have the "perceived" body that develops within the confines of a school, observing teachers and learning, whereas the "ideal" body combines with fantasized visual and other kinetics placed upon it. In fashion, a model has to be tall and thin with features that heighten an unusual look. In dance, conventional beauty was the norm until recently when an athletic body, full of allure and dynamic promise has taken over all other perceptions.

Fashion models have to learn many ways of walking. The grunge walk, the crossover style, a theatrical entrance - all carefully choreographed. Indian and South Asian dancers today are viewed in the same way, the stage morphing into the ramp with bodies dissected and discussed for their commercial and marketing purposes.