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Palgrave Macmillan

The Dangerous Lives of Public Performers

Dancing, Sex, and Entertainment in the Islamic World

ISBN 9781137433602
Publication Date July 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

From the kordax dancers of ancient Greece, to the pantomimes of ancient Rome, to the slave-girl singers in Caliphal Baghdad, to the dancing boys in present-day Afghanistan, and the belly dancers in Egypt, professional entertainers in the Islamic world endured low social status, were regarded as sexually available, and if male, bore the stigma of effeminacy. Located at the margins of society, yet highly visible because their bodies were on display, public entertainers were often used by the elite classes to police public morality and enforce rigid standards of masculinity through the negative trope of his or her tainted profession. In covering this long historical framework and the wide geographic area - from the ancient Mediterranean world to the modern Islamic Middle East, including India and Pakistan - Shay explores and repairs the careers, artistic performances, and legacies of these individuals, who endured brutish, often short lives that were characterized by public humiliation, and who were forced to produce entertainment and art for, and have sex with, any and all patrons.

Anthony Shay is Associate Professor of Dance and Cultural Studies, Pomona College, USA. His book Choreographic Politics, a history of state folk dance ensembles won the Outstanding Scholarly Dance Publication award in 2002 from the Congress on Research in Dance.

Introduction: Life as a Public Entertainer
1. The Public Entertainer
2. The Contours of Masculinity and Public Entertainers in Ancient Greece
3. The Contours of Masculinity and the Public Entertainer in Rome, Hellenistic Greece, and Byzantium
4. Medieval Islam: The Caliphate in Damascus, Baghdad, Córdoba, Cairo, and Beyond
5. After the Caliphate: Early Modern Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Iran, Mughal India: The Heyday of Islamic Gunpowder Empires
6. The Long Nineteenth Century, the Qajars, the Ottomans, Egypt, and Colonialism
7. The Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries: Modernity and Nationalism


"The Dangerous Lives of Public Performers provides valuable insights into the complex history of what we think of as the Islamic/Middle Eastern world. It shows, for instance, that there was a great deal of continuity between ancient Greece and Rome with the values and practices that developed in this part of the world. Shay presents a fascinating foil to what we know in the field of dance studies about the history of dance in the West from the same Greek and Roman roots through Western Europe to contemporary dance in Europe and North America. He also illuminates intriguing differences with Western ideas regarding masculinity by examining such things as the role of hospitality, expression of emotion, and practice of bisexuality in certain time periods and places." - Naomi Jackson, Associate Professor, Arizona State University, USA
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