Transmission of cultural heritage

Transmission of Heritage Introduced

In the heritage literature, the element of transmission has emerged, particularly regarding ICH, which is ‘transmitted generation to generation’ (UNESCO, 2003, p. 2).

As Naguib (2013, p. 5) comments, ‘the notion of safeguarding is central to intangible cultural heritage. It conveys the idea of protecting and preserving, while at the same time transmitting far and wide’.

The paradigms of heritage discussed in 2.2 can be applied to the idea of transmission, as a tradition can be transmitted in a very conservative way (closer to the essentialist paradigm) or in a way that allows for greater innovation (following a dialogical paradigm).

Essentialist vs Dialogical Approaches to Heritage Transmission

In dance, there seems to be a continuum from an ‘essentialist’ way of transmitting a tradition to a ‘dialogical’ one and different genres, or even different practitioners within the same genre, occupy a different position in this continuum.

In the essentialist approach, tradition is closely adhered to, while the dialogical approach is more fluid and it allows re-adaptations.

No genre occupies one extreme position, but different degrees in between.

As Hodgens states (1988, p. 75), dance is ‘firmly embedded in specific conventions and traditions’ but ‘within genres and styles . . . there is considerable freedom and fluidity’.

For example, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in the county of Staffordshire and the Britannia Coco-Nut dance of Bacup, in the Rossendale Valley of Lancashire, studied by Buckland (2001), gravitate towards the essentialist approach, as traditions that are hundreds of years old have been transmitted in the most conservative way possible.

Closer to the opposite end of the spectrum, towards a dialogical paradigm, there are genres, such as post-modern dance, which are very open to experimentation (Daly et al., 1992).

In my research, I will try to assess which position Egyptian raqs sharqi occupies in this spectrum, particularly for culturally aware practitioners.

The dialogical approach to heritage will be relevant throughout this thesis, even when discussing other key themes, such as transmission, authenticity and internationalisation.

Indian dancer

Transmission and Past, Present and Future Connections

Transmission is also connected with time and past-present-future connections, as suggested in the heritage section (2.2).

In the heritage discourse, connecting the past with the present allows people to acquire a sense of identity and continuity.

As Smith states (2006, p. 4), ‘heritage is about . . . using the past, and collective or individual memories, to negotiate new ways of being and expressing identity’.

Howard (2003, p. 21) clarifies this point further and connects the past with the present and the future in heritage, by arguing that ‘history is interested in the past, heritage is interested in how the past might be conserved and interpreted for the benefit of the present and the future’.

In the heritage discourse, past, present and future fuse in what Hernàndez i Martí (2006, p. 102) considers a type of hybridization, as it mixes ‘elements which have been rescued from the past with  elements generated in the present, for its future endurance’.

I would argue, however, that transmission does not always follow a linear and uninterrupted pattern.

At a time in which it is easier to record and share recordings of dance (thanks to electronic technologies and communication), the transmission of heritage has become de-territorialised and de-temporalised.

As Heidegger (1971, p. 163) foresaw before the Internet was invented, ‘all distances in time and space are shrinking. . . . Distant sites of the most ancient cultures are shown on film as if they stood this very moment’.

The concepts of deterritorialisation and detemporalisation are connected with globalisation, which leads to a shrinking of time and space, as Giddens (1991, p. 21) posits, ‘globalisation is best understood as expressing fundamental aspects of time-space distanciation . . . the intersection of presence and absence’.

I will return in more detail to the global dimension of heritage in the section about internationalisation (2.6).

Intangible Cultural Heritage Changes During Transmission

During transmission, ICH can undergo changes. In dance, changes can affect choreological elements, meanings, attitudes, artefacts and the kinds of people and bodies that are interested in or allowed to perform.

However, certain elements remain the same allowing us to identify genres and distinguish them from one another.

As Hodgens states (1988, p. 72), ‘genres are ‘crystallisations’ of specific knowledge, beliefs, ideas, techniques, preferences or values around which particular traditions and conventions for producing and receiving dance have grown’.

In dance, these ‘crystallisations’ are transmitted. One of this thesis aims is to identify what has changed in raqs sharqi, as well as what its genre-specific ‘crystallisations’ are.

Change is not only driven by practitioners’ agency. When dance genres are transmitted between different cultures, different societies, or different segments within the same society, the process may lead to ‘dissonance’ (drawing on Tunbridge and Ashworth’s (1996, p. 8) expression of ‘dissonant heritage’ (1996)).

According to Reed (1998), sometimes, in countries subjected to colonialism, local dances were suppressed, whilst at other times they were transformed under the lens of exoticism, which reinforced (Reed, 1998, p. 509) ‘stereotypes of mystical spirituality and excessive sexuality’.

Desmond (2003) comments that, when a dance genre is transmitted between two cultures, the media flatten the complexities of the culture of origin, as happened with the samba dancer Carmen Miranda.

She was a Hollywood movie star between the 1930s and 1950s, representing a simplified version of Brazilian culture in Americans’ imagination. Edensor (2001, p. 70) argues that tourism performances can perpetuate misconceptions and exoticism in dance through a ‘cultural staging’, which ‘raises controversies about the reproduction of stereotypes associated with primitivism, exoticism and eroticism. Paradoxically though, it may also replenish moribund local traditions’.

Changes also happen when dance is transmitted between different classes within the same or different societies.

For example, according to Savigliano (1995), tango, which originated in Buenos Aires brothels, became less sensual since becoming popular among the Argentinean and Uruguayan middle classes and the Parisian elite.

It then became more sentimental, choreographically more polished, with a slower tempo.

Desmond (2003) argues that, when a dominant group borrows a dance from a subordinate group, that dance changes to suit the tastes of the new group.

However, the values of the dominant group change too, as a result of this new contact.

Cultural Appropriation

Appropriation also happens in reverse, when less powerful groups borrow from more powerful ones.

For Desmond (1993, p. 57), the appropriation process sheds light ‘on the unequal distribution of power and goods that shape social relations’.

However (ibid p. 41), ‘concepts of hybridity or syncretism more adequately describe the complex interactions among ideology, cultural forms, and power differentials that are manifest in such transfers’ (I will return to the concept of hybridity in 2.6).

In this respect, dance/heritage can be subjected to dissonance. According to Tunbridge and Ashworth (1996, p. 8):

The heritage product is a response to the specific needs of actual or potential users . . . thus there is an almost infinite variety of possible heritages, each shaped for the requirements of specific consumer groups . . . reinforcement, coexistence or conflict between the products may be encountered.

Tunbridge and Ashworth (1996)

The relationship between change and authenticity, tradition and innovation will be discussed further in the following section.

Next Page >> Authenticity in ICH (Intangible Heritage).

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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.