Naomi Elena Ramirez: Reframing The “Other Woman” Through Dance

Naomi Elena Ramirez‘s “The Temptress, Seductress, and Other Woman: Fictions of desire and responsibility” is about the uncompromising positions—both literally and figuratively—that patriarchal narratives force women into. At the premiere performance of her piece at Gibney Dance on a split bill curated by Luciana Achugar, the artist fused movement with music, recorded text, and a photographic score to interrogate patriarchal narratives about fatal attraction, illicit lust, and the blaming and shaming of female sexuality. Whether on the floor in a backbreaking parody of poses that court the male gaze, slinking in full animalistic force from spider woman to wild cat, or upright and pulsing her body with abandon to the beat, Ramirez both embraced and challenged societal limitations imposed upon women’s desire.

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“A dangerous body, a mantrap, she is the slut, she is the ho, sexually out of control,” Ramirez slowly intoned on a recording that played as she moved. Her photographic score of patterned poses projected onto the floor of the space coupled with the repetition of her language invoked the universality of the issue at hand. If you identify as a woman, you have likely been judged for your sexuality — and when a partnered man is involved, the ramifications are doubly difficult. Instead of merely making her piece a one note exploration of the Other Woman, however, Ramirez asks us to analyze our own complicity in this narrative before deepening the dialogue to consider how we might formulate our judgements about female sexuality when non-monogamy or queer romance are at play.

For the casual viewer, there are many moments of synaesthesia in Ramirez’s piece to delight in, from the throat singing of Tanya Tagaq that seamlessly accompanies one section of her primal movements to the fractured web that alights on the floor as Ramirez becomes a fully aroused arachnid. However, the ending might be the most thrilling moment, where the artist offers redemption from the sexist narratives that seek to thwart female erotic freedom. At this point, Ramirez is standing tall, oblivious to her detractors as she transforms from Other Woman to everywoman, dancing with abandon, joyful, radiant, and free — if only for a brief moment before the room fades to black.

We spoke with Ramirez about her process and intentions, and how she crafted this multi-disciplinary feminist work:

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From “Vulva” to “Beaver”, some of your recent work tackles perceptions of female sexuality and challenges patriarchal narratives about female embodiment. How does “The Temptress, Seductress, and Other Woman” expand upon your body of work and the ideas you’ve been exploring?

In “Beaver” I discuss the self-expression of female sexuality as a navigation of societal expectations of beauty and sexiness set against slut-shaming and the threat of sexual violence. In “Vulva” I am simply asking “why all the fuss?” through an imagined flashing of my pussy. In this piece I am discussing the demonization of female sexuality within the patriarchal imagination.

Characterizations such as the Femme Fatale, Vamp, Siren, or Gold Digger describe women using their sexuality in a predatory manner. They also describe men as succumbing without the ability to control themselves which leads to their own destruction. These ideas are very problematic because they continue to center male desire. The woman in this scenario has only one desire: the destruction of the man. Where is her own sexual pleasure in this representation?

By displacing male agency, this representation perpetuates ideas that place the burden upon women for male desire and lust. This characterization is directly related to our hetero-patriarchal concept of the Other Woman. She is blamed for her impact on the primary relationship as if the man has no self-control. The concept that men cannot control their lascivious nature only benefits men because they are not held accountable for their actions. Which is clearly seen in the idea of the Other Woman — she is held responsible by some women for a man’s actions. Thus, women who don’t make the men in their lives take responsibility for the agreements they make place the blame directly or indirectly on other women, and are perpetuating female oppression. So, I am discussing how both men and women accept and act upon hetero-patriarchal notions of female desires. Additionally, along the lines of polyamory, the Other Woman is a challenge to the hetero-patriarchal model of monogamy and nuclear family so she is demonized.

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I saw the performance in three general sections. In the beginning, your movements mirror stereotypically sexy poses: the woman in the act of seduction. Then, the music begins and you transition to more animalistic movements, reflecting the dangerous, unhinged nature of the femme fatale and the judgement she is subject to from men and women alike. Finally, you end upright, in what I read as taking back the story, exhibiting a strong yet playful physicality. How did you intend to reframe the narrative arc of the Other Woman through this piece? What do you want the audience to leave with?

Through the embodiment of characterizations of the temptress and seductress the dance displays one-dimensional stereotypical sexy poses and extreme imagining of predatory female sexuality. Then, I embody complexity through contortions and effort of the body and the audio text asks the viewer to consider the gender bias in the concept of the Other Woman. Ending with the embodiment of acceptance, strength, fearlessness, and joy. Having taken the ride with me through the performance, I would like the audience to leave with all of these thoughts and feelings.

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What process do you go through in choreographing a work like this? How do you simultaneously represent and subvert the demonized, sexualized female body through movement? What does the medium of dance offer that other mediums do not when working with the male gaze and interrogating these “fictions of desire and responsibility”?

For this work I spent a lot of time reading about the topic (my bibliography was included in the program), researching images online, and exploring through movement improvisations. With all of my research I created a series of photographic fragments which became the basis for the graphic score which I create as part of my choreographic process. I layout the selected photo fragments into sections and sequences. I take this draft of the graphic score into the dance studio and create the choreography of the live performance. The final graphic score was exhibited after my performance and the projections during performance were from this score.

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What process do you go through in choreographing a work like this? How do you simultaneously represent and subvert the demonized, sexualized female body through movement? What does the medium of dance offer that other mediums do not when working with the male gaze and interrogating these “fictions of desire and responsibility”?

It is the dance as a whole, the choreography, and, in this piece, the audio text and music, that provide the structure that allows me to both represent and subvert ideas about the sexualized female body. I am employ titillation and contortion to both excite and make uncomfortable which for each person will be of a different intensity. It is the liveness, my embodied representation through dance, that is effective in interrogating the patriarchal gaze because I am not passive, I am active. There was a male audience member that during the Q&A after a show who asked me why it wasn’t more intimate. At the time I didn’t quite understand his question, but now I think he was asking why I wasn’t performing just for him or for a small audience. However, I am not actually trying to seduce the viewer. I am discussing ideas through embodied representation, choreography, and performance.

Photo Credits: Scott Shaw