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By David Finkelstein | July 7, 2010

This engrossing documentary by Laura Bouza is a group portrait of eight women, now in their eighties, who were all members of a modern dance troupe called the Confetti Dancers which performed for children in suburban Connecticut in the 1960s. These typical middle class suburban housewives were not revolutionaries, but they subtly changed their view of their own roles as women by identifying themselves as artists.

The soundtrack consists of extensive interviews with the women, while the images combine shots of the women in their homes, both in ordinary actions and in moments of repose, as well as in improvised sequences of dancing. As seniors, these women don’t have an athletic range of movement, but their gentle explorations of arm and leg movements have a great depth of feeling. A lifetime of training in dance has attuned them to an inner voice, so that they know how to find their own feelings and physical sensations and translate these into movements. Because Bouza shows us the dancing and the body language of these women, rather than using traditional “talking heads” interviews, she allows us to observe first hand how the awareness of movement has shaped these women’s lives.

Coming before the crest of the second wave of feminism, one woman explains that she didn’t know that what she was doing was “feminist.” “I only knew that I wanted more out of life than, you know, planning meals and vacuuming.” One woman refers to the fact that she didn’t have the typical dancer’s body by observing with dry, ironic humor “I see myself then as… an idiot, and I see myself now as… a more complicated idiot.” Several of the women comment on how dance has made them see other people in a new way. “I became more observant: I watched what happened to people’s bodies when they were talking.” They also achieved a satisfying sense of real accomplishment. “We reached thousands of children in the 27 years that we were in existence.”

The women were up against the popular perception that dance in general, and Modern Dance specifically, was silly, irrelevant, and a waste of time. They were also up against their parents and husbands, most of whom felt that a women needed to spend her time exclusively caring for her family. “It’s not like today, when the girls say ‘I come first.’ We didn’t come first. Families came first.” One woman recalls how, when she was first married, her husband told her she needed to become more outgoing. “Well I did it, and he didn’t like it,” she says. “The dancing is what did it for me.” The troupe performs locally. A moment of truth comes for them when they begin to receive invitations to go on tour, and perform in neighboring states, which would require them to be away from their homes overnight. This causes a major conflict with many of the husbands, and, after much soul-searching, the group decides to continue to perform only locally.

“Eight Women” shows us ordinary women who, while remaining within the middle class culture in which they found themselves, quietly redefined themselves as artists, and were thus able to develop a clear sense of their inner voices, and a clear eye to observe and respond artistically to the world around them.

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