Figure Skating and the Anthropology of Dance: The Case of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin

  • Andrée Grau Roehampton University
Keywords: aesthetics, Australian Aborigines, ballet, Internet forums, dance, ice skating, taxonomies


In this paper, I address a number of topics relevant to anthropology generally and to the anthropology of dance specifically. I consider issues of classification and taxonomies; of interculturalism and transnationalism; of representation, exoticisation and internalised racism. I examine dance, hierarchies and discrimination, and discuss boundaries between dance and non-dance. For example, dance scholars, with a few exceptions, rarely write about figure skating, although it is cognate to Western theatre dance genres, especially ballet. Figure skating is sport, even in its ice dancing incarnation, whilst dance is art even in its ballet competition incarnations. I use as a case study the Russian skaters Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who choreographed an ‘Australian Aboriginal Dance’ for their original routine for the 2010 European skating championships and Olympics. Thisoffended Aboriginal elders who made a complaint to the Russian ambassador. I examine the controversy around the routine, how it was reported in the press and how the audience responded in Internet forums, focusing especially on the way Australian Aborigines continue to be portrayed as stone age in popular media.