We finally figured out why the Russian ice dancers thought they could get away with their brownface "Aboriginal Dance" routine: This year, everyone did racial drag. Americans in bindi. Germans in grass skirts. French cowboys, kimonos, "Hava Nagila," oh my!
It all started when "the International Skating Union decreed the original dance would be performed to folk music this season." Consequently, last night's competition saw Russians in loincloths, Germans in grass skirts, and Frenchmen and Scots dressed like cowboys. Though occasionally culturally insensitive, the main offense was to taste.
Whereas Russian duo Domnina and Shabalin drew outcry with their warpaint-slathered didgeridoo routine, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White are receiving multicultural accolades for a Bollywood routine that has Meryl sporting bindi and a modified sari. It's a hit in India, and Indian-Americans are apparently down with it, too. How did their racial drag avoid Domnina and Shabalin's pitfalls?
- Davis and White didn't look like total asses. In fact, they looked pretty good! According to NBC, Davis and White studied dance with an ex-Bollywooder who now runs a dance studio called BollyFit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Costume materials came from "an authentic Indian clothing store." Said Davis, "It was very important for us to do research and do the theme justice."
- India, like America, is in the cultural export business, so imitation comes across as flattery instead of mockery. By contrast, Domnina and Shabalin chose a culture where dance is often tied to sacred rituals, and rarely shared with outsiders.
- No brown face. As Domnina and Shabalin discovered, donning a dark mahogany skin suit to camouflage one's pale white skin is kind of a mood killer.
To appease their critics, Domnina and Shabalin ditched the brown face, but not much else for Sunday night's "folk dance":
On a different note: Did you know the Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash are the foundation of "American cowboy folk dance"? Here's a Scottish duo doing Johnny:
Ice dancing: One anthropological revelation after another. UPDATE: By popular demand, now presenting...
Israel's Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky performing the "Hava Nagila." Click to watch at NBCOlympics.com.
Germany's William and Christinia Beier doing the hula. Click to watch at NBCOlympics.com.
France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat performing John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." Click to watch at NBCOlympics.com.
Japan's Cathy Reed and Chris Reed in kimonos.
Russia's Dmitri Soloviev and Ekaterina Bobrova performing "Yablochko," the Russian sailors' dance, in American uniforms. Click to watch at NBCOlympics.com.