Characteristics of Egyptian belly dance called Raqs sharqi.

ICH and UNESCO

In trying to identify the cultural heritage characteristics of Egyptian raqs sharqi and evaluate if it can be considered heritage and how it locates itself within the field of ICH, the first step was to analyse the literature in the heritage and dance fields.

I looked at definitions of heritage, including the one from the 2003 UNESCO Convention on ICH, as well as other definitions given by UNESCO and by experts in the field.

I also explored the literature around ICH (including some forms of performing arts) and the process by which the status of ICH is awarded. Doing so has allowed me to identify the discourse surrounding heritage and the different approaches to its management and protection.

At the same time, I analysed the literature on dance studies, dance anthropology, ethnochoreology and Egyptian raqs sharqi to understand how dance in general (and Egyptian raqs sharqi in particular) has been studied thus far, particularly in relation to culture and society.

As I analysed the literature in the fields of heritage and dance, I realised that they share some issues.

Definitions and Paradigms of Heritage

Hence, I start the chapter by focusing on the heritage literature, examining definitions and paradigms of heritage.

A section on dance studies follows, before a series of topics on issues that dance and heritage studies share.

In these sections, I draw from the literature in both fields, to connect the two.

The issues covered after heritage and dance go under the headings of: transmission, authenticity, internationalisation, identity and uses of dance/heritage.

The analysis of the literature provided me with a series of sensitising concepts, which started to inform my conceptual framework.

I was also able to identify gaps and pose some tentative research questions, regarding the nature of dance/heritage and how to safeguard it.

Dialogical Paradigm of Heritage

Dialogical paradigm of Heritage by Dr Valeria Lo Iacono (2019). Fig 2 – Issues emerging from the literature.
Dialectics

Figure 2 summarises concepts emerging from the literature review.

This is an overview and I will provide references (to the literature that informed the model) and more details, in the course of this chapter.

Safeguardng ICH

These concepts can be identified as issues that have an impact on the safeguarding of ICH.

I follow a dialogical paradigm of heritage (Bodo, 2012), which sees heritage as dynamic, reconstructed and renegotiated by individuals.

This informs my position regarding all the concepts explored in the literature review.

People, in the ICH discourse, are central, so they are at the centre of the diagram.

Around the centre, there are eight sections, of which six correspond to the sections of this chapter, minus heritage, which is not included in the diagram as it is the underlying theme. Hybridism and risks are not separate sections, but they are concepts that appear across the sections. I will explain the figure, starting from risk and moving clockwise.

The Risks

The risks, in the safeguarding of ICH, are:

  • distortion and simplification of heritage for economic gains.
  • freezing of heritage in the pursuit of authenticity.
  • differences and divisions potentially fostered by heritage and dissonance, meaning that the same heritage can be changed and interpreted differently by different groups to suit different needs.

Adopting a dialogical paradigm can help acknowledge these risks as part of a dynamic heritage discourse.

The internationalism of heritage means that heritage is not contained within geographical boundaries.

Various concepts will be explored but, overall, a transcultural perspective will see cultures as interconnecting networks, rather than isolated bubbles, accepting both the global and the local in a mobile world.

The uses of heritage refer to uses that people (institutions, individuals, groups) make of heritage.

These uses generate change and there is sometimes a dialectic between authorised uses promoted by institutions to fit a certain agenda and uses that can be made of heritage to challenge the status quo. Identity is also dynamic and generated by the interaction between flow and stability. Dance emerges as an embodied site to express identity.

Transmission involves a continuum between an essentialist (static, strictly following traditions) and dialogical (open to change) position.

Past, present and future are connected through transmission, but there is an emphasis on the present, as this is the time when people use heritage.

Authenticity involves a series of elements, such as traditions, material elements and feelings. Traditions, in dance, can be seen as crystallisations of genres or, from a performance perspective, as restored behaviours.

Hybridism (mixing of elements that were previously separate to generate something new) is a recurrent theme in the literature reviewed.

Hybridism

Hybridism takes place in various ways.

  • Firstly, in time, as heritage uses elements from the past in the present, so past elements are mixed with contemporary values.
  • Secondly, by mixing different cultural elements together either from different societies or, within the same society, from different classes.

The last section of the circle highlights that dance is a complex phenomenon, for which an interdisciplinary and holistic approach is needed.

Also, dance encompasses socio-cultural aspects and embodied people/agents.

Next Page >> I look next at the historical definitions by UNESCO on cultural heritage.

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.