Identity and dance heritage

Heritage Identity and Continuity

The theme of identity is recurrent in cultural heritage discourse. It is mentioned in the 2003 UNESCO definition, which states that ICH provides people with ‘a sense of identity and continuity’ (UNESCO, 2003, p. 2).

A sense of identity is connected with what Giddens (1984) calls ‘ontological security’, a feeling of comfort that comes from the daily repetition of familiar actions.

Identity is connected with internationalization, discussed in the previous section. A dialogical paradigm of heritage, lived within a transcultural world, leads to a fluid and dynamic concept of identity.

Liquid Modernity and Heritage

As Bauman (2006) argues, we live at a time of ‘liquid modernity’, where identities, as well as (2006, p. 182) ‘reference frames, orientation points, classifications and evaluations’ flow.

Liquid modernity is useful for understanding dance and heritage.

However, I do not share Bauman’s (2006, pp. 82–83) feeling of despair when he argues that ‘the search for identity is the ongoing struggle to arrest or slow down the flow’.

As discussed in 2.5, the idea of fluidity and change in life is not new, as Heraclitus, in the late 6th century BC, was already comparing the human condition to a flowing river.

Hence, change and flow are inevitable conditions of existence (although, admittedly, Bauman’s angst was caused by the pace and depth of change that these flows bring about for individuals in liquid modernity).

Cultural Memory

Heritage, through its combination of flow and stability (as explained in 2.5), can provide people with an anchor to shape their identities.

As Isar et al. (2011, p. 9) posit, ‘today, having a heritage is indispensable to having an identity and cultural memory’. However, heritage and identity, as explained in 2.6, need not be always linked to a static location, or the culture in which we were born.

Welsch (1999, p. 6), for instance, posits that ‘work on one’s identity is becoming more and more work on the integration of components of differing cultural origin’.

Moreover, as Grau argues (2007, p. 191):

individuals can belong to a virtually unlimited number of categories, which will contribute to the make up of their identities [which] overlap, and . . . are . . . dynamic and ever-changing’.

(Grau, 2007)

An example of transcultural identity is the transcultural dance scene in Hawaii where, according to Van Zile (1996, p. 43):

Dance is a powerful visual and kinetic image that can serve as a symbol of ethnic identity-but the identity might simply reflect the origin of the dance rather than the ethnicity of those who do it.

In a transcultural world, choice is important. As Hendry states (2008, p. 271):

Ideas about oneself and one’s social allegiances that usually reflect birth and upbringing, but may also include an element of choice, especially in response to the global dissemination of good and cultural ideas, and the increased movement of people within this globalized world.

Hendry (2008)

As a form of cultural heritage, dance, as Wilcox (2011, p. 239) states, constitutes an ‘embodied site of identity formation’.

Furthermore, Giurchescu (2001, p. 114) comments that, ‘dance may function as identity symbol’ in a way that is ‘polysemic’ on the two levels of ‘personal identity’ and ‘group identity’, which is ‘the way an individual identifies with others, according to a set of common traits, interests and experiences’.

In this research, I will attempt to discover how Raqs sharqi affects its practitioners’ identities, if it does and if identity matters for them.

The section that follows will focus on uses of dance/heritage by individuals, communities and governments.

Next Page >> The uses of dance heritage.