Sunday, January 24, 2010

In ice dance, it's a fine line between tribute and insult

The second question to ice dancers in the mixed zone last night, a few seconds after "How did that feel?," was "What do you think about the controversy over Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin's Aboriginal dance?"

The Russian world champions, who just won their second European title in Estonia, don dark-toned bodysuits and "authentic" Aboriginal paint markings for the routine.

"This dance suits my soul very well," Domnina said. "The most important thing is that people are not left indifferent by the dance. There are reactions, and that is already a plus. It is impossible to please everyone."

The dance certainly does not please many in Australia's Aboriginal community, and it threatens to become an issue at the Vancouver Olympics next month, especially since members of The Four Host First Nations that are helping Olympic organizers sponsor the 2010 Games have also expressed concern.

"Aboriginal people for very good reason are sensitive about their cultural objects and icons being co-opted by non-Aboriginal people, whether they are from Australia or Russia." Bev Manton, chair of the NSW Land Council, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tanith Belbin, who trains with the Russian world champions every day in Aston, Pa., and shares their coaches, Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, was understandably quick to sidestep the controversy.

"I don't think that we're educated enough in the dances of the Aboriginal people to know," Belbin said.

"I know Oksana and Max as people, and I can assume they would never intend to offend anyone with their programs. They were just trying to achieve something unique and different and I think they certainly achieved that. I hope everyone is feeling okay for the Olympics and it works itself out."

Linichuk, the choreographer for her teams, gave the Americans a far safer choice, a Moldavian folk dance.

Asked if he would feel comfortable wearing Shabalin's aboriginal outfit, which also includes some Eucalyptus leaves, Agosto said, "I can't really comment on what I would, or wouldn't wear. I've had my fair share of odd costumes.

"Figure skating is a sport with lots of unique costumes and I hope nobody in Moldavia is offended by our dance."

Full article.

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