The Dance of Politics

Gender, Performance, and Democratization in Malawi

By Lisa Gilman
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Temple University Press, 2009

ISBN 9781592139866

268 Pages


Election campaigns, political events, and national celebration days in Malawi usually feature groups of women who dance and perform songs of praise for politicians and political parties. These lively performances help to attract and energize throngs of prospective voters. However, as Lisa Gilman explains, “praise performing” is one of the only ways that poor women are allowed to participate in a male-dominated political system.

Although political performances by women are not unique to Malawi, the case is complicated by the fact that until 1994 women in this country were required to perform on behalf of the long-reigning political party—the Malawi Congress Party—and its self-declared “President for Life,” Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. This is the first book to examine the present-day situation, where issues of gender, economics and politics collide in surprising ways. Along with its solid grounding in the relevant literature, The Dance of Politics draws strength from Gilman’s firsthand observations and her interviews with a range of participants in the political process, from dancers to politicians to human rights activists.



1. Introduction: Gender, Power, and Performance
2. Dance and Nationalism in the Independence Movement
3. Dance and Social Control During Banda’s Presidency
4. Dance, the Transition to Multipartyism, and Patronage
5. Power and Performance in Political Rallies
6. Why Do Women Dance?
7. Gendering Democracy
8. Gender at the Intersection of Politics, Democratization, and Tradition
Appendix A: Brief Timeline of Malawi’s Recent Po liti cal History
Appendix B: People Interviewed
Appendix C: Political Functions Attended and Referenced
Appendix D: Associated Multimedia Websites


Lisa Gilman is Associate Professor in the English Department and Folklore Program at the University of Oregon.

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