Transculturality of dance heritage

In Chapter 1, I mentioned that I would be using Welsch’s (1999) concept of transculturality and the concept of hybridism to understand a type of heritage that originates from a specific place, but which is also practised internationally.

Internationalisation Concepts

Before I delve more into the internationalization of heritage and how transculturality and hybridism can help explain this phenomenon, I will need to mention other ideas, connected with cultural internationalization.

Part 1 – Concepts Connected with Internationalisation


Part 2 – Concepts Connected with Internationalisation



Table 5 and Table 6 list the main concepts connected with the internationalization of cultures.

For each concept, it gives:

  • a short definition
  • references to some critiques
  • connections with other concepts
  • the position that UNESCO seems to occupy in relation to these ideas.


The first concept listed is globalization, which is linked to highly technological societies, in which time and space are compressed, due to fast and efficient forms of transportation and communication.

As Amselle (2002, p. 220) states, ‘there is not, nor has ever been, such a thing as a closed society’, but recent technological developments have sped up the communication process.

Giddens and Globalization

Giddens, who has written extensively about globalization (1990, 1991, 1998, 2011), highlights (1990, p. 64) ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’.

This leads to a process of de-territorialization and compression of time (de-temporalization), as ‘globalization concerns the intersection of presence and absence, the interlacing of social events and social relations “at distance” with local contextualities’ (Giddens 1991, p. 21).

The main critique of globalization is that it leads to a process of homogenization and a threat to local cultures, following the ‘western model’ (Welsch 1999, p. 204).

This is what Giddens (2011, p. 15) refers to as ‘pessimistic view of globalisation . . . largely an affair of the industrial North, in which the developing societies of the South play little or no active part’.

UNESCO and Globalization

UNESCO, indeed, is diffident towards globalization. In the 2003 ICH Convention, it acknowledges that globalization may increase dialogue between communities, but it warns against the (2003, p. 1). ‘threats of deterioration’ it poses for ICH.

However, UNESCO can also be seen itself as an expression of globalization. As Hernàndez i Martí (2006, p. 97) posits, through mass media:

A local heritage asset reaches a global realm . . . on the other hand, the local community where the promoted asset is located is superimposed by a globalizing community as big as the human community. This global community is institutionally represented by the UNESCO.

Hernàndez i Martí (2006, p. 97)

This last consideration shows how the local and the global are interconnected.

On this connection is based the concept of glocalisation, the response to globalization’s main critique.

Glocalization was first introduced in sociology by Robertson (1996, 2012).

He argued that (1996, p. 35) ‘the local is . . . included within the global’.

In a global world, different localities are interconnected but, Robertson warns (ibid, p. 31), ‘we should be careful not to equate the communicative and interactional connecting of such cultures . . . with the notion of homogenization of all cultures’.

Indeed, as Appadurai (1996, p. 32) comments, ‘as rapidly as forces from various metropolises are brought into new societies they tend to become indigenized’.

Ritzer and Grobalization vs Globalization

Glocalisation has been criticised by Ritzer (2004, p. 167), who instead proposes the concept of ‘grobalization, which is based on the need of . . . nations, corporations, organizations, and the like . . . to . . . grow (hence the term grobalization) throughout the world’.

Hence, local expressions of culture can be used by these organisations to achieve their own means, but they become diluted versions of the original. I quoted Ritzer’s (2004) comments previously, in 2.5, regarding the lack of authenticity of dance in tourist settings.

His point of view is akin to Desmond’s (2003) comments, quoted in 2.4, regarding Carmen Miranda as an icon of simplified Brazilian culture for American audiences.


Although the existence of such phenomena needs to be acknowledged, I would argue that the examples of genuine glocalisation are nevertheless very common.

Ballet, for instance, is an example of globalisation and glocalisation in dance.

Ballet originated in Europe but, according to Daniel (1996), it is now the most popular dance performance worldwide.

Ballet is now practised as far afield from Europe as Hawaii (Van Zile, 1996) and China.

In China, Desmond (2003) reports, ballet underwent choreological and ideological changes to adapt to the Chinese social and cultural environment, thus originating a new hybrid style. According to Shapiro (2008, p. vii):

The human migration across borders, the shrinking of distance and time through technology, and the growing connections between diverse communities are creating a world that is transforming our sensibilities . . . these changes . . . produce new . . . forms of art.

Shapiro (2008)

Tribal bellydance from New Zealand is an example of innovation and differentiation, as dancers fuse Middle Eastern and global influences with local influences.

Kelly (2013, p. 138) reports that ‘New Zealand “Oceanic belly dance” troupe Kiwi Iwi fuse Middle Eastern, North American, Latin, Maori and Rarotongan dance movements to interpret a contemporary Maori haka’.

An example of a genre practiced in its country of origin, but which continues to be innovated, is Irish dance whose practitioners, according to Seaver (2008), continue to draw from their traditions but also innovate and find inspiration in other genres.

The above-mentioned examples (Chinese ballet, New Zealander belly dance, and Irish dance) are manifestations of hybridism.

Hybridism, Dance and Movement Cultures

Naguib (2008, p. 473) sees hybridism ‘as a transformative, innovative process of continuous interaction between two or more cultures’.

In particular, in connection to ICH, hybridism can be explained as ‘the ways in which forms become separated from existing practices and recombine with new forms in new practices’ (Rowe and Schelling, 1991, p. 231).

Hybridism is part of the globalisation discourse. Pieterse (1996, p. 62) argues that globalisation involves cultural mixing and is the emergence of ‘translocal culture made up of diverse elements’, at the expense of introverted cultures, which have been at the forefront up until recently.

Thus, Pieterse argues (ibid, p. 60), ‘hybridization is the making of global culture as a global melange’.

Multiculturalism, Heritage, and Dance

Another concept, which could be considered the opposite of a global melange is multiculturalism.

This is based on the idea, as Song (2017) explains, that the culture and identity of minority groups need to be protected and on the rejection of the ‘melting pot’.

Kymlicka (2012, p. 8), one of the main supporters of multiculturalism, states that this is ‘about developing new models of democratic citizenship, grounded in human rights ideals, to replace earlier uncivil and undemocratic relations of hierarchy and exclusion’.

The main critique of multiculturalism, or multiculturality, is that its vision of cultures as separate entities could ‘lead to ghettoization or cultural fundamentalism’ (Welsch 1999, p. 197)’.

Indeed, multiculturalist ideas applied to cultural heritage pose dilemmas, due to what Appiah (2007, p. 129) refers to as ‘the inevitably mongrel, hybrid nature of living cultures’.

Also, as Howard (2003, p. 182) states, ‘the . . . inevitable increase in the consciousness of local, regional and group difference may not make for peaceful coexistence’ and heritage can become an instrument to highlight divisions.

In this respect, in spite of UNESCO being an international (global and transcultural) institution, it seems to embrace a multiculturalist position, when stating that ‘communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize [ICH] as part of their cultural heritage’ (UNESCO 2003, p. 2).

The underlying idea is the protection of cultural minorities leading to the ‘respect for cultural diversity and human creativity’ (ibid).

However, particularly in a global age, it is often difficult to restrict a certain cultural expression to a specific group.

Also, who the stakeholders of the 2003 ICH Convention are needs clarifying. The Convention defines ‘communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals’ (UNESCO, 2003, p. 2) as stakeholders of intangible heritage. Blake (2000, p. 64), indeed, points out a discrepancy between the idea of ICH belonging to communities and being heritage of the humankind.

Communities, Groups, Individuals, and Heritage

There is no mention that communities, groups, or individuals who share a certain heritage must belong to the same nation.

Indeed, as Howard (2003, p. 182) suggests, heritage does not have to be connected to any geographical entity since ‘communities that lack a territory are not debarred from developing a heritage’.

However, as Cang (2007, p. 50) stresses, ‘since the Convention is an international agreement, there is still a seeming adherence to the idea of national cultures’.

For heritage to be added to UNESCO’s lists, a case must be made by nation-states, which promote certain forms of heritage according to their own interests and understandings.

This perpetuates the idea that, as Naguib posits (2013, p. 2178), ‘heritage continues to be deeply tied to perceptions about nationhood, authenticity and deep, enduring roots that were developed during the 19th century’.

The tie between heritage and specific communities or nations raises problems for dance, considering that, as Grau (2008) argues using the examples of ballet and bharatanatyam, most genres have been transnational and multicultural from their inception (long before the 20th century).

She then specifies though, citing Kealiinohomoku (1970), that this does not mean that dances such as ballet are acultural.

This raises the question of how to deal with a type of heritage rooted in a specific culture (or cultures), but also performed globally, by people of various ethnicities and nationalities.

Dance, Cosmopolitanism, and Ethnicity

I agree with Grau (2007, p. 200) that dance practitioners should not be stereotyped or relegated to a ghetto depending on their ethnicity (allowing them to only perform genres that match their ethnicity) and that ‘every individual has the right to claim multiple origins in accordance with his or her individual path’.

Lo Iacono (2019)

I also agree with Grau that multiculturalism, as a ‘juxtaposition of cultures’ (2008, p. 244), risks limiting the possibilities of practitioners from certain cultural backgrounds whose work receives ‘a ‘cultural treatment’, linking it to narrow notions of heritage and tradition, and thereby excluding them from the broader world’ (2008, p. 239).

Lo Iacono (2019)

Grau (2008, p. 247) suggests that cosmopolitanism is a better approach, as it encourages engagement and openness towards different cultures and ‘a search for contrast rather than uniformity, accepting contradiction as well as coherence’.

Indeed, Appiah (2007, p. 135) (embracing a cosmopolitan approach to culture) argues that what is important ‘is the connection not through identity but despite difference’.

Cosmopolitanism, which originated in Ancient Greece from teachings of the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (c. 390 – 323 B.C.) (Long, 2008), continued being used in Roman times and was prominent during the Enlightenment (Fine, 2011).

Literally, cosmopolitan means ‘citizen of the world’.

According to Waldron (1995, p. 95) ‘the cosmopolitan . . . refuses to think of himself [sic] as defined by his location . . . ancestry . . . citizenship or . . . language’.

Beck (2002, p. 17) connects cosmopolitanism with de-territorialisation, globalisation and glocalisation by stating that ‘cosmopolitanization means globalization from within the national societies’ (meaning that people who live in the same country do not necessarily share the same ‘life-world’, but they might share it with someone who lives in a different country) and that ‘ the key questions of a way of life . . . can no longer be located nationally or locally, but only globally or glocally’.

UNESCO, in spite of its links to nation-states, is a cosmopolitan project, as it is based on the idea of cultural heritage of humanity.

A Hegemonic Position

However, its position can be interpreted as hegemonic because, as Hernàndez i Martí argues, (2006, p. 100), ‘the concept of cultural heritage is itself a product of modern Western culture’.

Indeed, one of the critiques to cosmopolitanism is that, as Skrbis et al. contend (2004, p. 130), it is ‘politically naïve’ and it is ‘not yet free of the risk of being seen as colonialism under another banner’.

The reason being, Skrbis et al. (ibid) explain, that cosmopolitanism requires a certain amount of ‘capital’ (social, financial or cultural) to travel, find employment in another country and consume a range of goods (this connects with Urry’s [2007] mobilities and networking capital, which will be discussed further on in this section). This creates an imbalance of power.

The final concept, which I use as a sensitising concept, is Welsch’s (1999) transculturality.

This concept does not necessarily exclude all the others. Admittedly, it is very close to cosmopolitanism, but the main point in transculturality is that cultures constitute a network, rather than being distinct entities. Welsch (1999, p. 204) argues that:

The differences no longer come about through a juxtaposition of clearly delineated cultures (like in a mosaic), but result between transcultural networks, which have some things in common while differing in others.

Welsch (1999)

Indeed, as Giddens (1984, p. XXVII) posits, ‘societies rarely have easily specifiable boundaries’; hence, social systems can cut across societies and become what he calls ‘inter societal systems’.

Welsch (ibid) posits that the traditional idea of cultures as isolated bubbles, has never been realistic in the history of humankind, but even less so in the 21st century.

Cultures have always been hybrid, open to external influences and never homogeneous, due to internal differentiation. Indeed, as Grau (2008, p. 236) comments:

No society has ever been monocultural. Societies are never homogenous; even the simplest one will be made up of different social, gender and age groups that can be seen, if not necessarily as cultures, at least as subcultures.

Grau (2008)

Welsch, Transcultural Permeations and Hybridism

For Welsch (1999, p. 203), cultures are entangled with each other in a web, ‘each arising from transcultural permeations’; they have a high degree of internal differentiation and a high degree of hybridism.

Nothing is completely foreign, nor completely ‘own’. Hence, transculturality is connected to the concept of hybridism, but also to cosmopolitanism, as Welsch (1999, p. 205) states:

Transcultural identities comprehend a cosmopolitan side, but also a side of local affiliation . . . the local side can today still be determined by ethnic belonging or the community in which one grew up. But it doesn’t have to be. People can make their own choice with respect to their affiliations.

Welsch (1999)

Transculturality, with its concept of cultures as interconnecting webs and the balance between convergence and differentiation, is a useful conceptual tool for understanding dance as transcultural heritage.

In the dance literature, there are many examples of transculturality in dance. As Fensham and Kelada (2012a, p. 370) state:

A young man from Calcutta who is the reigning Indian salsa champion, an Hawaiian hip-hop dancer and an Aboriginal Zorba represent . . . transcultural bodies. . . . It is difficult . . . not to see these transcultural bodies as new sites for the investigation of the dynamics of transnational cultural flows.

Keladas (2012)

Thus, dancers embody transculturality.

Dance is not bound by geographical nor ethnic boundaries, as shown by Van Zile’s (1996) example of a Caucasian woman teaching Korean dance in Hawaii.

Although Welsch (1999, p. 204) is careful to differentiate transculturality from globalization, as he sees the latter as ‘a concept of uniformization’, I do not see these two as being incompatible, if the idea of glocalisation is also considered. Globalization, like transculturality, overcomes space delimitations and includes hybridization.

However, I see transculturality as more apt to explain how cultures (and social agents who carry those cultures) behave within a global world of interconnecting cultural networks.

Urry, Mobilities and Intricate Connections

The last idea that I would like to mention here is Urry’s (2007) ‘mobilities’. Urry’ s concepts stem from (2007, p. 5) ‘a mobile world’ in which ‘there are extensive and intricate connections between physical travel and modes of communication’.

This can be considered as a global or transcultural world, in which travel and communication are key. For Urry (2007, p. 47), there are five types of mobilities, which are interdependent (as virtual communication has not completely replaced physical movement, but it complements it).

These are:

  • corporeal travel of people
  • the physical movement of objects
  • imaginative travel through images in media
  • virtual travel, often in real-time, and communicative travel through person to person messages, via a range of media.

Urry identifies a specific type of capital, which he calls (2007, p. 197) ‘network capital . . . the capacity to engender and sustain social relations with those people who are not necessarily proximate and which generates emotional, financial and practical benefit’.

This is dependent on ‘means of networking’, a combination of technological, social and cultural means, which, according to Urry (ibid.), include the following eight elements of network capital:

  1. Documents, visas, money, qualifications allowing people to move safely.
  2. Friends, family members, workmates, acquaintances offering invitations, hospitality, meetings.
  3. Movement capacities. These include physical abilities to move, walk and access transportation systems, ability to read timetables, to access and use computers, phones and other technological equipment.
  4. Location free information and contact points; for example, diaries, answering machines, computers mobile phones, emails.
  5. Communication devices.
  6. Appropriate, safe and secure meeting places, both en route and at the destination.
  7. Access to transport and technology for communication.
  8. Time and other resources to manage 1 to 7.

Section Summary

To summarise, in my research, I will adopt a transculturality approach towards Raqs sharqi as a form of cultural heritage that originated in Egypt, but which is hybrid and now performed worldwide in a global and glocal context.

I will also analyze what type of mobilities Raqs sharqi practitioners adopt and what kind of networking capital is needed. In the next section, I discuss how heritage is connected with (transcultural) identity.

Next Page >> Identity and heritage literature.