Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community

Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community

Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community

Body, Movement, and Culture: Kinesthetic and Visual Symbolism in a Philippine Community


In Body, Movement, and Culture, Sally Ann Ness provides an original interpretive account of three forms of sinulog dancing practiced in Cebu City in the Philippines: a healing ritual, a dance drama, and a "cultural" exhibition dance. Ness's examination of these dance forms yields rich insights into the cultural predicament of this Philippine city and the way in which kinesthetic and visual symbols interact to create meaning.

Ness scrutinizes the patterns of movement, the use of the body and of objects, and the shaping of space common to all three versions of the sinulog. She then relates these elements to the fundamental ways the culture bearers of Cebu City experience their world. For example, she shows how each of the dance forms functions to reinforce class distinctions and to establish a code of authenticated "cultural" action. At the same time, Ness demonstrates, the dances manifest and actualize widely applied notions about the nature of "devotion," "sincerity," "naturalness," and "beauty."

Throughout the text, Ness provides a close analysis of movement that is all too often missing from anthropological studies of dance. Most significantly, she works to relate the movements used in dance to everyday movement and to interpret the attitudes and values that are embodied in both choreographed and quotidian movement.

Important and illuminating, Body, Movement, and Culture is of particular interest to students and scholars of anthropology, folklore, dance, and Asian studies.


Imagine gentle currents of energy, flowing freely through and beyond your body, forming warm pools of movement in the space just around you. Your hands are brought to life in this softly pulsing current. They wave around in the watery space, leaving invisible traces of their movement hanging in the air. The current spreads down into your legs, which begin to bear your body's weight alternately, subtly shifting your body, from side to side through the liquid space in a slight sway. Your knees become involved, bending alternately as they adjust for the arrival and departure of your body's weight.

Unless its pulses are so gentle that they die away within your body's center, the resilient current will eventually reach through to your feet, which balance, each in turn, your swaying body. You step lightly, as though you walk, or perhaps softly jog, upon a smooth surface of silken pillows filled with sand. Your dance continues for a timeless interval, until the current dies away.

This brief reverie recounts one impression of a practice called "sinulog,"a ritual dance performed throughout the Central Philippines. In Cebu City, the second largest city in the Philippines, and the site where the observation that inspired the above description actually took place, the face of a child beams down upon this performance. It is the child's tender expression that is said to call forth the mild flood of emotion from deep within the dancer's body and animate the dance. This child is known as the Santo Niño de Cebu, an image of Jesus as Boy King. The figure of the Santo Niño is venerated as the Almighty and Most Merciful Defender of the Cebuano people.

The currents of movement inspired by the Santo Niño de Cebu had . . .

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