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Dancing from the Heart

Movement, Gender, and Sociality in the Cook Islands

Kalissa Alexeyeff

Publication Year: 2009

Dancing from the Heart is the first study of gender, globalization, and expressive culture in the Cook Islands. It demonstrates how dance in particular plays a key role in articulating the overlapping local, regional, and transnational agendas of Cook Islanders. Kalissa Alexeyeff reconfigures conventional views of globalization’s impact on indigenous communities, moving beyond diagnoses of cultural erosion and contamination to a grounded exploration of creative agency and vital cultural production. Central to the study is a rich and textured ethnographic account of contemporary Cook Islands dance practice. Based on fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and archival research, it offers an engrossing analysis of how Cook Islands social life is generated through expressive practices. Dance is explored in a variety of settings, including beauty pageants, tourist venues, nightclubs and community celebrations at home and within Cook Islands communities abroad. Contemporary Cook Islands dance practices are also shaped by competing ideas about the past. Debates about precolonial traditions, missionization, and colonialism pervade discussions about dance and expressive culture. Alexeyeff shows how the politics of tradition reflect the competing moral, political, personal, and economic practices of postcolonial Cook Islanders. Throughout the work the stories and voices of individuals are brought to the fore. Their views are juxtaposed with scholarship on tradition, modernity, and social dynamics. Engaging and accessible, Dancing from the Heart illuminates specific and intimate aspects of Cook Islands social life while, at the same time, addressing fundamental questions within anthropology and indigenous, performance, and postcolonial studies.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-ix

I have had wonderful support from a range of people while writing this book, which began as a doctoral thesis. First, I would like to acknowledge my supervisory panel, in particular my inspiring supervisor Nicholas Thomas, in the earlier stages of the thesis, and Don Gardner, who kindly took on the job in the final stages. Thanks...

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pp. xii-xvi

Mamia sat at the kitchen table with her ukulele. I sat opposite her with my laptop. It was around ten in the evening on a cool night during the Rarotongan winter. Mamia was trying to compose a song; her eldest sister Rose’s fiftieth birthday was coming...

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On the Beach: An Introduction

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pp. 1-28

This book is about contemporary Cook Islands dancing and, more generally, about expressive culture.1/sub> It explores the variety of ways in which expressive practices generate aspects of Cook Islands social life. Dancing, I suggest, plays a key role in articulating...

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Chapter One ‘Are Karioi , Houses of Entertainment: Dance in History

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pp. 29-56

In 1992 the sixth Festival of Pacific Arts was held on Rarotonga.1 In order to host this event, which included participants from the majority of the Pacific Island states, the Cook Islands government built a large complex, Te Puna Kōrero—also known...

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Chapter Two The Politics of Contemporary Dance

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pp. 57-83

The epigraph text above voices some of the concerns that are present in discussions of contemporary Cook Islands dance: the impact of commercialization on culture; issues of cultural loss and ownership; and the importance of recovering traditional modes of cultural expression. The ways in which traditions and culture are promoted...

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Chapter Three Shy Girls and Show-offs: Dancing Local Values

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pp. 84-106

Both of the epigraphs above refer to a young woman, Mary (a pseudonym), whom many on Rarotonga considered to be a role model for other young women. The first statement was made by a middle-aged male drummer as we were watching a solo by Mary during...

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Chapter Four Paramount Queens: Femininity and Global/Local Dissonance

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pp. 107-124

The 1998 Drag Queen Competition that Marcia referred to during the Miss Cook Islands beauty pageant was held at TJ’s nightclub on a Wednesday night. The venue was full an hour before the show was to begin. The composition of the audience suggested...

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Chapter Five Outing: Dancing after Dark

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pp. 125-146

Morning teatime at the Ministry of Cultural Development provided an opportunity for the staff to snack and chat. The most interesting morning tea was generally on Monday because people caught up on the news and gossip of the weekend, in particular what...

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Chapter Six Over the Reef: Dance in a Time of Transition

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pp. 147-160

Three-quarters of the total Cook Islands population now live abroad, principally in New Zealand and Australia. Although there has been a steady stream of emigration since the 1950s, over half the working population lost their jobs after economic reforms were introduced in 1996...

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pp. 161-164

One day in conversation with Tepoave Raitia, a composer and choreographer who worked at the Ministry of Cultural Development, he told me about the musical he had written and directed called Katikatia: The Legend in Music . It is based on a legend about an old woman...


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pp. 165-168


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pp. 169-182


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pp. 183-184


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 200-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862121
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832445

Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 436093923
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dancing from the Heart

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sex role -- Cook Islands.
  • Cook Islands -- Social life and customs.
  • Dance -- Social aspects -- Cook Islands.
  • Culture and globalization -- Cook Islands.
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