Last Updated on January 10, 2023
Dance and Transculturality
From the dance analysis, it has emerged that Raqs sharqi has been a hybrid genre since its inception. Raqs sharqi is a living example of a type of heritage generated by a ‘transcultural network’ (Welsch, 1999) and the dancers are ‘transcultural bodies’ (Fensham and Kelada, 2012a, p. 370) who express the cultural complexity of this dance.
Dancers acquire transculturality on every level of the living cultural heritage model (3.7). They acquire a transcultural ‘body schema’ by learning in a perceptual way.
This new body schema, together with new transcultural experiences, turns into dispositions, which generate new forms of cultural capital.
In turn, this new cultural capital gives the dancers different sets of rules/resources to draw on in interpreting their dance.
This process is one of the dynamic aspects that lead to social change and supports the idea of fluid authenticity.
From the beginning, although the roots of this dance are Egyptian, there has been transcultural contamination from dance genres such as ballet and Latin.
The choreographers and performers also had a transcultural profile, as they came from different countries (for instance those who worked in Badia Masabni’s clubs) and travelled extensively (Badia Masabni and Mahmoud Reda).
Successive generations of dancers travelled, and still travel, worldwide.
These travels allowed dancers not only to import influences from abroad but also to export the dance, especially today as dancers travel from Egypt predominantly to teach, rather than to learn.
Transcultural Dimension of Raqs sharqi
Indeed, the transcultural dimension of Raqs sharqi has always been based on what Urry (2008) calls ‘mobilities’.
The first type of mobility identified by Urry is the corporeal travel of people.
In the history of Raqs sharqi, this has been of various kinds. Apart from the movement of practitioners from Egypt to teach, perform or find inspiration elsewhere, there has been a movement of foreign dancers travelling to Egypt.
From the 1970s, and increasingly since, people interested in Egyptian dance went to Egypt to learn the dance from its source.
The diaspora of Middle Eastern people to the USA in the 1960s was also connected to corporeal travel of people.
Those who moved to the USA opened restaurants where musicians and dancers from different countries worked together.
There, American dancers learnt how to dance by directly observing the first generation of dancers who came from the Middle East.
The middle eastern restaurants in the USA acted as ‘contact zones’, defined by Naguib (2008, p. 473) as ‘interactive transient spaces with flexible boundaries, which provide fertile grounds for various degrees of cultural translations and borrowings’.
Throughout the history of Raqs sharqi, there have been various examples of contact zones in which Raqs sharqi has developed as a form of hybrid dance:
the salas in the 1920s in Cairo; ethnic restaurants in the USA in the 1960s/70s; Arab nightclubs in London in the 1970s; dance festivals in and outside of Egypt from the 1970s onwards.
Raqs Sharqi Audiences and Transculturality
Another element that has contributed to Raqs sharqi transculturality are the audiences, as performers tend to adapt their show to different audiences.
In the 1920s in Cairo, in the salas, the audiences were composed of foreigners and Egyptian upper classes whose taste was transcultural.
In the USA in the 1970s, the flower children movement sought inspiration in different cultures.
Today, Egyptian dancers travel and perform at festivals for international audiences.
The taste of each audience reflects their expectations, based on socio-culturally influenced ‘system of classificatory schemes’ (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 147). As the dance has become hybrid, so has the music that goes with it, from the times of Badia Masabni, when Egyptian and foreign elements were mixed together.
Not only did the music become hybrid, but also western instruments such as the violin, were introduced alongside traditional Egyptian instruments. Based on Giddens’ Structuration Theory (3.6), these transcultural influences create new ‘constitutive rules’, which affect the nature of heritage, but also new ‘allocative resources’ such as the new musical instruments that agents in the field employ to express themselves and innovate.
Mobilities and Affects on Transculturality
Three more types of mobilities, identified by Urry (2008), which have been influential for Raqs sharqi are:
- the physical movement of objects (for example, costumes and props, books, CDs, cassettes, and DVDs sold worldwide)
- the imaginative travel through images in the media (such as dance videos) and the communicative travel through person to person messages via a range of media.
The Internet, particularly, encompasses the imaginative and the communicative travel.
Because of its ubiquitousness, the Internet has rendered Raqs sharqi a global transcultural phenomenon, that cuts across societies becoming one of what Giddens (1984, p. XXVII) would call ‘inter-societal systems’.
The mobilities that lead to heritage transculturality, imply the ownership of a certain amount of capital on the part of those who want to access and transmit that heritage.
Following Bourdieu (1992, p. 99), the types of capital are economic, cultural and social.
These allow practitioners to develop Urry’s (2007, p. 197) ‘network capital’, which is ‘the capacity to engender and sustain social relations with those people who are not necessarily proximate and which generates emotional, financial and practical benefit’.
At the moment, the majority of dancers who have these types of capital are non-Egyptian, which could threaten the authenticity of this heritage, in the absence of adequate cultural awareness.
Some practitioners in this field are, indeed, aware of this. Angela, for example, said that ‘if I’m going to claim that I am . . . practising Raqs sharqi I should be very intentional in that and I should study from, primary sources so to speak as much as possible’ and Lidia stated that: ‘I always search for information, especially on the history of the dance’.
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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.