Thank You, Sister: Watching Suor Cristina Dance

I’ve read that in the early and medieval church, describing a woman as a virgin wasn’t so much about the state of her hymen as her autonomous personhood. Especially in a patriarchy, for a woman to be other-than-a-wife set her outside the patriarchal family structure. It meant she was not under a man’s name, authority, roof: she had a separate independence. She was not defined by her relationship to men. She owned herself.

Watching Suor Cristina dance reminded me of this.

In case you missed it, Suor (Sister) Cristina is an Italian Catholic nun who appeared as a contestant on the Italian version of “The Voice” to the complete astonishment of the judges and the utter delight of the audience.

This happened in March. Since then, Sr Cristina has been coached and progressed through various levels of competition. I recently came across a video from a later episode in which she is singing together with several other women:

Of course, the difference in dress is obvious: Sr Cristina is wearing her habit, and the other women are dressed for a nightclub. But I also see a difference in how they sing and dance: the other women’s dances are sexualized, performed for the male gaze. Sr Cristina’s dance just… isn’t.

Here she is singing, not alone, but as the lead singer with backup singers. Of course, the opening of the piece is playing with the churchiness of having a nun in a habit singing on stage — I can understand why they couldn’t resist — but they eventually ditch the gimmick, and the performance becomes very upbeat & energetic.

Now, I don’t watch a lot of music videos, but Sr Cristina’s dance and body language here looks to me rather like the way I more often see male singers present on stage. Her voice, her face, her dance is not seductive, sexy, submissive, enticing: it is powerful. Here is a woman using her whole voice, her whole breath, her whole body, in a way that takes up space, that is assertive and expressive, that centers her self.

And that’s what reminded me of that old, old understanding of “virgin.”

Thank you, Sister! Buona fortuna in your singing, for the praise and glory of God!

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