The global dimension of dance

ICH and Its Transcultural and Global Nature

The first reason for the need to investigate Egyptian Raqs sharqi as a form of ICH is its transcultural and global nature.

The majority of practices listed as ICH are traditions that are practised in limited geographical locations.

Indeed, the process for UNESCO’s inscription (as it will be highlighted further in the literature review) needs to be initiated by nation-states, even if the practices are considered heritage of humanity.

However, there are instances of globally practised traditions that are now listed by UNESCO, such as flamenco and tango.

This raises the question of whether such practices benefit from being listed by UNESCO and what the feasibility is of giving ‘ownership’ of such practices to a specific nation-state.

In an article about tango, Stepputat (2015, p. 337) states that ‘if the element is practised internationally . . . and people of various origins and backgrounds identify with it, in a strict sense, it would not fulfil the ICH requirements’.

She acknowledges the fact, however, that the (ibid.) ‘ICH agenda is changing towards the acceptance of genres with a clearly defined regional history and an international current practice’.

The Global Dimension of Dance and the Transmission of a Practice

The global dimension of Egyptian Raqs sharqi is not the only rationale for the need to investigate such dance genre from the ICH angle.

Another aspect worth investigating is the impact of technology on ICH and its transmission and Egyptian raqs sharqi is an apt case study, as its transmission owes much, as it will be highlighted in this thesis, to technology including cinema, TV, and the Internet.

In particular, sharing videos of cultural practices and ICH online, raises a variety of issues such as those pointed out by Pietrobruno (2013, 2014, 2016).

For instance, videos can be deleted at any time; there can be a conflict between the official narrative of a practice promoted by a nation-state and the one that practitioners identify with; the search engine’s algorithms and the way in which users interact with the site influence the results that can be found and, therefore, the transmission of a practice.

Thus, it is worth exploring the transmission of a practice, such as Egyptian Raqs Sharqi, that relies so much on technology.

Buying Egyptian music in Luxor, Egypt.
In search of Egyptian music in the markets of Cairo, Egypt.

Stigma, Dance and Heritage

Finally, I found it interesting to explore the power relations involved in the transmission of a practice that is controversial as Egyptians have a love-hate relationship with Raqs Sharqi.

Many of them appreciate it as part of their heritage, but this dance also attracts stigma particularly towards those who dance it professionally (Fahmy, 1987; Van Nieuwkerk, 1995; Lorius, 1996; Shay and Sellers-Young, 2003; Dougherty, 2005; Dox, 2006; McDonald, 2010; Talaat and Guibal, 2011; Cooper, 2013; Roushdy, 2013; Fraser, 2014).

Therefore, it is worth exploring what it is that has allowed Egyptian Raqs sharqi to survive and, at times thrive, regardless of the stigma attached to it.

Indeed, unlike tango, which is practised internationally but is claimed as heritage by two nations (Argentina and Uruguay), Egyptian raqs sharqi is not officially claimed by Egypt as its heritage because of the above-mentioned stigma.

Nevertheless, Egyptian raqs sharqi is transculturally significant and important because it is practised and valued worldwide.

Thus, this dance form is worth investigating as a form of ICH because it raises the question of whether only practices that are officially claimed by nation-states have heritage characteristics that make them worth safeguarding, or whether other unclaimed transcultural practices could or should be safeguarded too.

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