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Why Study Egyptian Belly Dance
At university, I studied history and the history of visual art, music and cinema and restoration of artifacts, but there were no modules on dance, even though dance is part of cultural heritage (as well as other forms of physical cultures, such as sports (Hill, Moore and Wood, 2012), physical games and martial arts).
This absence instilled in me the desire to investigate dance from such a point of view.
UNESCO and Intangible Cultural Heritage
The 2003 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (henceforth shortened as ICH), which allows activities such as performing arts to be added to the UNESCO world cultural heritage lists, has further encouraged my desire to investigate dance as a form of cultural heritage.
Why this interest in dance? Because I have had a lifelong passion for dance and Egyptian Raqs Sharqi in particular, which I have been practicing since 2003.
Egyptian Raqs sharqi is not in the UNESCO ICH lists, but, because of its strong cultural connotations, it is potentially worthy of consideration for inscription.
This genre is still practiced in Egypt, its country of origin, but, over time, it has spread around the world.
It is a genre that fascinates me as a sociocultural practice, because of its hybrid and transcultural nature (on which I expand in the thesis), which extends not only to the dance but also to the music and the artifacts associated with it.
My Dance Experience
My experience is an example of learning dance in a transcultural context. I am from Sicily (in Italy), a Mediterranean island, conquered over the centuries by many peoples, including Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Normans, Arabs, Spanish and French.
Because of this, I grew up in a place where both tangible and intangible elements of its culture (such as architecture, culinary traditions, inhabitants’ looks and dispositions) are permeated by all these different influences.
Having been fascinated by Arabic music ever since I can remember, I then learnt raqs sharqi for the first time in 2003, while I was living in Seoul, South Korea, from an Iraqi-American teacher.
A year later, I performed for the first time in an Egyptian restaurant in Seoul, with my teacher and an Irish friend, for an audience made up of various nationalities including people from Korea, Australia, Canada, UK and Ireland.
Previously, in my childhood and teenage years, I had studied Western dance forms such as ballet and jazz.
After I left Korea, I kept learning and performing raqs sharqi, particularly the Egyptian style as this was the style that my teachers in the UK practiced (and started teaching it from 2009) and training also in other genres such as contemporary dance, ballet, jazz.
This background has led me towards the study of Egyptian raqs sharqi through the lens of cultural heritage, informed by a transcultural and international perspective.
This was a brief biographical section to explain my interest in this topic on a personal level. Chapter 1 will provide a conceptual introduction to this thesis. Before beginning, I will delineate my aims and objectives. The aim of this thesis is:
The objectives, in order to achieve the above aim, are:
- To identify what ICH is, how it is managed, how the ICH recognition is achieved and who benefits from it. I will do this through a review of literature in the field of ICH.
- To position Egyptian raqs sharqi (as a form of transcultural dance) within culture and society. I will achieve this objective by reviewing literature from the areas of dance studies and sociology.
- To gain a deeper understanding of Egyptian raqs sharqi by analysing videos of this dance form. This will enable me to trace a history of Egyptian raqs sharqi, identify its movements and evaluate what consolidated tradition exists, which can be considered a cultural asset.
To acquire an insight into how Egyptian raqs sharqi, as an expression of culture, is understood today by an international community of practitioners other than myself.
In order to do this, I will interview experienced practitioners from across the world and I will analyse texts (including books, documentaries on DVD, blogs, websites and online discussions from forums and social media).
1 – Raqs means ‘dance’ and sharqi ‘of the east’. According to the American dancer Morocco (Varga Dinicu, 2013, p. 14), Egyptians started calling their dance oriental, in the early 20th century, to distinguish it from European and American dances.
2 – In the introduction, I will explain in more detail what genres bellydance includes. These are many and diverse, including Turkish (oryantal dans), Lebanese, American tribal.
3 – I graduated at Università degli Studi della Tuscia in Viterbo, Italy, in Preservation of Cultural Heritage. Topics of study included art history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century and my dissertation was on industrial archaeology (a historical study of a complex of sulphur refineries in Catania, Sicily, called Le Ciminiere, which were restored and transformed into a cultural and exhibition centre).
4 – Master in Tourism Management and Economics at Università Ca’ Foscari, in Venice, Italy.
- Hill, J., Moore, K. and Wood, J. (eds) (2012) Sport, History, and Heritage: Studies in Public Representation. Woodbridge, UK ; Rochester, NY: Boydell Press.