Fighting with the Sky

What do Russian Ice Dancers and Australian Aboriginals Have in Common?

Posted on: February 25, 2010

The answer: nothing.

On Sunday night I was anxiously awaiting the original dance of the Russian ice dancing pair Domnina and Shabalin.  I had heard about their aboriginal routine before then and wanted to see how they were going to “tone it down” and how it was going to be received at the Olympics.  I did not see their original performance, but I can tell you that their performance at the Olympics was full of cultural appropriation and offensive and lacked class.

These are what their original costumes looked like: At the Olympics, they lost the war paint on their face and the severely darker than their skin tone body suits.  The designs on their body suits were still there just not as pronounced.  But don’t worry, the loin cloths and fake foliage were still there.

The actual dance was a weird combination between skating moves and stereotypical “aboriginal dancing.”  I have not seen real aboriginal dances as they are spiritual events that (at least my impression of them, I’m not that knowledgeable) are private and closed to outsiders.  Their moves seemed to me to be what Westerners thinks aboriginal dancing is as opposed to what it really is.  And did anyone else see him pull her by her hair not once but twice throughout the performance?  Not cool.

You can watch a video of their performance here.

On top of being offensive and cultural appropriation, the dance itself was uncomfortable to watch and did not work with the music at all.

Also apparently, as the commentators pointed out numerous times, Domnina and Shabalin have met with the First Nations of Canada since they have been in Vancouver after the outcry of their first performance of this original dance.  I don’t really understand the connection.  The First Nations are indigenous peoples of Canada.  Their dance is using aboriginal imagery…from Australia.  I don’t really think that the First Nations can offer that much insight into a different culture on the other side of the world.

It was kind of amusing to listen to the commentators try to be nice when talking about the controversy surrounding this performance.  But you could really tell that they thought that the performance with ridiculous and offensive.

So, why did the Russians think that this was an ok thing to do?  I’m still not really sure, but the theme of the original dances was supposed to be folk/country dances.  There was everything from cowboys, to “Hava Nagila,” to the can-can to Bindi.  It was quite an interesting mix.

Why was the Russians’ dance much more offensive than the other “racial drag.”  The Gawker uses the example of the Americans who did an Indian dance to compare with the aboriginal dance of the Russians.  The Gawker’s reasons that the aboriginal dance was more offensive than the Americans’ Indian dance (performed by Davis and White) made a lot of sense:

* Davis and White didn’t look like total asses. In fact, they looked pretty good! According to NBC, Davis and White studied dance with an ex-Bollywooder who now runs a dance studio called BollyFit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Costume materials came from “an authentic Indian clothing store.” Said Davis, “It was very important for us to do research and do the theme justice.”

* India, like America, is in the cultural export business, so imitation comes across as flattery instead of mockery. By contrast, Domnina and Shabalin chose a culture where dance is often tied to sacred rituals, and rarely shared with outsiders.

* No brown face. As Domnina and Shabalin discovered, donning a dark mahogany skin suit to camouflage one’s pale white skin is kind of a mood killer.

I can’t believe that the judges scored the Russians’ original dance so high.  But I guess the new judging system is meant to be impartial (even though it isn’t) so they are judging based on technical performance and choice of music and costumes are not taken into account as much.  But the dance just didn’t work for me, especially compared to the dances of the Americans Davis and White and Canadians.  And the Russians’ went on the win bronze.

2 Responses to "What do Russian Ice Dancers and Australian Aboriginals Have in Common?"

I didn’t see this performance (not into ice skating) but…holy crap! Taat’s just vile and unfortunately, all too typical.

Thank you for bringing it to my attention.


Great post, I just wanted to comment on why it was important they met with the Canadian First Nations.

“I don’t really think that the First Nations can offer that much insight into a different culture on the other side of the world.”

– The aboriginals of Australia and the First Nations of Canada are united as allies when these issues arise. If one culture is allowed to be insulted/degraded than so is the other. Both are the native peoples of their land and both experience colonialization to an extreme and those experiences can unite them. While their cultures may be quite different, I think they can both speak to the issue of native cultural appropriation. Regardless of which culture, the appropriate of native symbols and stories displayed as being an okay practice will ultimately affect the other groups.

Additionally, a lot of people are stupid and may not actually recognize that First Nations of Canada and the Aboriginals of Australia are two distinct groups. Many of my collegeus at school actually, thought the dance was about the Canadian natives (and these are educated, Canadian students). So the FNoC had to respond to this just out of pure social stupidity on the public’s part.

The FNoC had to respond because the dance was an insult to native spirituality and they were required to speak for the group. These Olympic games have had a very strong FN presence to them (which has numerous flaws, but still, its progress) and there has been great strides to make their voices heard. If they had ignored this instance and said “Oh, thats Australia, not us” that would be creating a form of hierarchy within native communities.

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