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The Nautch women dancers of the 1880s: Corporeality, US Orientalism, and anti-Asian immigration laws

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In this essay I suggest that paying attention to nineteenth century transnational Indian women performers as temporary, cultural laborers in the US reveals the ambiguities of immigration law and citizenship. I take the crucial performances and experiences of the 1881 Indian Nautch Dancers who arrived on New York Stages to perform in Augustin Daly's show “Zanina” to examine discrimination, anti-Asian sentiment, and exclusion laws long before the oft-cited 1923 court case that de-naturalized Indians from US citizenship. I argue that attending to Indian women's performances in the nineteenth century offers gendered insight into exclusion laws and demonstrates their ambiguity in ways that focusing on Asian male laborers (as has been the predominant focus of nineteenth and early twentieth century research on Asian labor) alone occludes.

Keywords: Indian dance; anti-Asian; bayadere; citizenship; contract labor; dance; immigration; labor; law; nachwali; nautch; oriental dancing girl; orientalism; race; racialization; transnational

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Dance, University of California, Riverside, USA

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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