Notes from a Scribe – Dance Discourse Project: Dancing Diaspora

Notes from a Scribe – Dance Discourse Project: Dancing Diaspora

Dance Discourse 7: Discussion of “How does one’s identity give access to or create limitations on the use of traditional forms? What are the burdens…what are the freedoms?”
On October 15, 2009 a group of Bay Area artists, arts administrators and audience members met at

CounterPULSE for the Dance Discourse Project 7: Dancing Diaspora. Co-presented by World Arts West/ San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and Dancers’ Group the event was a part of the Fall 2009 season of Performing Diaspora. Learn more about Performing Diaspora at

At the exciting event participants were broken up into small groups where they discussed a variety of pertinent issues concerning traditional arts, innovation and identity. Below is one person’s account of the discussions led by Mahaya about the above question.

An evening of discussing identity and how it gives or restricts privilege while eating finger food in public is not a discussion that typically sits easy on the table between people from different backgrounds and day-to-day realities.

Yet, at Dance Discourse Project: Dancing Diaspora on the evening of October 15, a candid attitude prevailed.

How to retell the discussion is difficult, since the stories and perspectives were more personal than principled.  Of course, no single point was deemed the conclusion, in fact tracing the web of questions that (re)developed and evolved amongst the talkers renders the truest shape.

The table began with the core question: How does one’s identity give access to or create limitations on the use of traditional forms? What are the burdens…what are the freedoms?

Are people whose ethnic roots are not related to the traditional art form being practices required to educate and immerse themselves more than people whose ethnic roots are related to the form, but who may not have been raised with it?

What happens when you are so removed from your “root culture” that you have to be told who you are and where you are from and what that means?

What when you are someone that does not even know what your root culture is?  What if you do know, but you don’t relate to that culture?

If you create a root, is that truth in access?

What does it mean to do something from the heart, and does that imbue what you do with integrity?

Is it different for a white person vs. a person of color to practice traditional art forms that are not part of their ethnic background?  Are white (American) people the only people capable of cultural co-optation? Why are white people viewed as ethnically neutral?

How does the specific history of the United States shape how the notions of appropriation, absorbing, and hegemony take shape in relative difference to the other countries in the world?

What are the levels of identity that “matter” when talking about border crossing and appropriation – regional, national, class/socio-economic, personal?

How is the nation-state in relationship with tradition, specifically traditional art forms?  Do nations ‘own’ the traditional art forms that originated from people in that region? And thus you must somehow be legally bound to the Nation to have legitimate access to the form?

Why is it different for people of non-European ethnic backgrounds to practice classical European forms – is it co-optation or hegemony?

Is cultural identity a measure of race or of a relationship to some ‘homeland.’

How is simply what you look like linked to one’s privilege to access specific forms?  A stout woman trying to be a ballerina, or one not looking ‘exotic’ enough? Or white enough? Etc.

In this world of information, how does one even begin to measure those things that influence her? Is appropriation an issue of intent?

Is appropriation just doing something that it is not yours, or does it have to involved making money off it?

What validates authentic practice, does the community have to recognize the individual as true to the lineage of a form? If so how does innovation and risk-taking fit in to the evolution of forms?

There are great discrepancies around access, as an individual is it your responsibility to have respect for the forces that have given you access; Is it doing this work that makes you legitimate?

good questions, rarely any good answer, except maybe time.Not

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