Re-tracing our steps to see where it is that we are heading, I remind the reader that we have been on a quest to explore digitally, using Hindi language, what is Latvian dance. We have been discussing various sources that came up, most of them folk dance examples, and trying to understand whether they genuinely make up the entity we are referring to as Latvian dances.
I was absolutely shocked to see a certain category of posts popping up time and again : websites related to prostitution. It is curious how the search ‘latvian+dance’ on google led me to innumerable website speaking about Latvian dancing girls, Latvian dancing clubs with escorts, and Latvian dancing entertainment. As I looked further into it, I realised I was going down a rabbit hole of tourism websites dedicated to prostitution. From instructions on how to plan a trip around these activities to suggestions about what to look for to detailed descriptions of how the economy actually functions – I had seen it all.
This is definitely, without a doubt, a digression from the quest for Latvian dance but it would be unjust not to look at the twisted ways in which digital research about dance operates. Many researchers have argued that it is due to nationalistic ambitions (as we discussed in the last posts) that the government turns a blind eye towards the prevalent sex trade dominated by female workers. As Diana Stukuls (1999) points out, the problem lies in putting “the nation question” before “the women question”. It is estimated that among females between the age of 14 and 59, around 5 percent are engaged in the sex business in some way. Out of all the women and girls in this business, between 10 and 19 percent are below the age of consent. Moreover, advertisements for such activities are abundant in Latvian-speaking as well as Russian-speaking outlets.
What is highlighted by many historians and political scientists is the ways in which post-communist countries have employed curious methods to adapt to a market economy. The case of sex trade is a prime example – as a business, it is profitable, attracts tourists, and sustains a huge portion of the economy. In this scenario, the state finds it acceptable to ignore the gross violation of the rights of women and children who are exploited to keep this going. I am not arguing for or against the legality of prostitution. There is evidence that legality can provide more sexual freedom for the workers but there is also the counter-argument that it could provide a shield for illegal activities such as child prostitution. What I go back to again is only the fact that perhaps the quest for a national identity for a post-communist market economy is greater than the promise of gender equality and sexual freedom. Especially when it comes to women.
Statistics regarding the ethnic identities of these women reveal that almost 90 percent of prostitutes are either Russian or Russian-speaking and only 10 percent are Latvian-speaking. Perhaps it provides an even greater reason to leave a group out of the collective national identity – a simple way of allowing them to be the ‘other’. However, I will not delve into this here.
Coming back to the original curiosity about Latvian dance in light of these findings about nationalism, prostitution, and the woman’s body, it is worth to wonder whether the dance world experiences the ripples of this socio-political reality. Sex and sexualised bodies can and will be profitable in a market economy. Have the bodies of Latvian dancers faced the brutality of this claim, if at all? In a profession where they too are deeply connected to the functions and perceptions about their bodies, I wonder whether these are poignant issues. I am not left with answers but only more questions – how do female dancers in Latvia navigate their own paths of identities? Are they women first and Latvian second, or the other way round?
Image from the performance at the Latvian National Ballet “Scheherazade And Her Tales” (choreography by Leo Mujic), photo: A.Tone
Perhaps, the world of dance stays isolated and protected from this haunting predicament for the female body and my questions here would be proven to be asked in vain. Nonetheless, the posts about ‘Latvian dancing girls’ when I google ‘latvian+dance’ force me to go ahead and ask these questions anyway.
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