The uses of heritage

The Concept of ‘Uses of Heritage’

As discussed in 2.4 (on the transmission of dance), heritage uses elements from the past for the benefit of people in the present. This is connected to Smith’s (2006) idea of ‘uses of heritage’.

As Smith argues (2012, p. 69), ‘it is not the things or places that are themselves ‘heritage’, it is the uses that these things are put to that make them ‘heritage’’.

Heritage can be used in many ways, both at the levels of the individuals or groups and societies, providing individual or shared senses of identity.

However, as Howard (2003, pp. 5–6) observes, heritage use can cause division, because:

So long as heritage can be used for profit, or to produce group pride or identity, or to subjugate or exclude someone else, then someone is going to use it’.

(Howard, 2003)

In my research, I will try to assess how practitioners use Raqs sharqi, to find out why it is important for them and, therefore, worthy of being safeguarded.

Dance and Uses of Heritage

In the dance literature, I have found mostly examples of dance used by governments, for political and economic aims.

According to Giurchescu (2001), dance establishes contacts between humans or between humans and supernatural beings.

Hence, it can be used to help maintain or change social structures. Giurchescu (2001) states that dance can be used as a propaganda tool or to strengthen relationships and sense of belonging.

Use of space and gender roles can reflect social or hierarchical structures. Because of its power of communication and its multiplicity of dimensions, dance is often used to ‘”package” political-ideological, educational, religious or economic messages’ (Giurchescu, 2001, p. 111).

Reed (1998, p. 511), likewise, reports that, since the 19th century, dance has been a powerful tool of propaganda in shaping the identity of nations.

Dances Used as Cultural Heritage, Political and for Politics

There are several examples, in the literature, of dance forms used under the banner of cultural heritage to portray a certain image of a country and its traditions, both abroad and in the eyes of its own citizens.

Rumba, Cuba

For example, Daniel (1991) reports that rumba is used by the Cuban government to represent the country and its post-revolution values of ‘inclusion and cohesion’ (Daniel 1991, p. 3).

Voudou, Haiti

Voudou dance in Haiti, as Ramsey (2003) illustrates, is another example of popular dance staged for political purposes, to represent Haiti on the international scene.

Voudou dance in Haiti


Wilcox (2011) reports that Chinese traditional dances are used by the Chinese government to create community cohesion abroad (for Chinese diasporas globally) as well as for internal propaganda (as a way for the ethnic majority to patronize minorities). As Reed states (1998, p. 511):

As an embodiment of cultural heritage, the dancer becomes inscribed in nationalist histories and is refigured to conform to those histories, yet ambivalence about the dancers and their practices is often evident because the practices themselves often resist being fully incorporated into nationalist discourses. 

Reed (1998)

Moroccan Shikhat

Moroccan shikhat are examples of dance/heritage ambivalence in society, as described by Kapchan (1994).

The shika (plural shikhat) in Morocco is a female dancer who performs at rites of passage such as marriages or circumcision rituals.

Shikhat are hired to perform, often in groups, and they embody the spirit of celebration.

However, shikhat are also stigmatized because they are women who live alone, work to make a living, behave like men in public (by smoking and mixing socially with men) but most of all because they are paid to dance in public, thus using their bodies for public display in a commercialized manner. 

Kapchan (1994) observes, however, that the shikha’s status is changing.

The most successful ones can make a good living and improve their status in society by saving money and buying properties and their success is aided by the use of media.

When shikhat record their performances on video, Kapchan (1994) relates, and these videos become popular, this affirms their value as artists, thus raising their status in society.

Kapchan (1994) adds that media broadcast shikat from different regions of Morocco with their specific styles, so shikhat now represent ethnic and regional identities, reflecting the richness and variety of Morocco.

They have become an item of folklore whose artistry is highlighted while their social history is suppressed.

Shikhat have gone from being ‘embodiments of shame to embodiments of the one heterogeneous nation’ (Kapchan, 1994, p. 82). 

As Reed (1998) argues, the subversive elements of dance are sometimes tamed to fit in with power ideology. According to Reed (1998, p. 512), ‘political ideologies play a critical role in the selection of national dances . . . regulating purity and authenticity in folkloric dance in a patriarchal and protective mode’.

Similarly, in Egypt, the choreographer Mahmoud Reda created stage representations of Egyptian folkloric dances, which were devoid of the sensual elements that are instead part of traditional Baladi dance (local dance, the social equivalent of Raqs sharqi).

Shay (2006, p. 154) comments, about Mahmoud Reda that ‘he created a new dance tradition, one in which the inherent sexuality in traditional Egyptian dance became de-emphasized . . . for the approval of the new postcolonial elite’.

Dance for Economic Uses and Benefits

Another way in which governments use dance is for economic reasons in tourist settings.

As Hawkes (2001) highlights, culture is the fourth pillar of sustainable development, in addition to the economic, social, and environmental ones.

As discussed in 2.5, there are contrasting views in the literature on whether tourism has a positive or negative impact on authenticity.

Maoz states that (2006, p. 223) ‘tourists, in their search for a pure and authentic past, project their desires onto the less developed, and the Third World becomes the playground of their imagination and a target to conquer and consume’.

According to Edensor (2001, pp. 69–70), local performances for tourists are staged in a way that perpetuates stereotypes, but it can also revitalize moribund traditions.

Mibu no Hana-taue, Japan

Indeed, Hashimoto (2003, p. 227) points out that ‘the Mibu no Hana-taue is a contemporary cultural phenomenon which continues to be produced through tourism’. 

Hendry (2008, p. 275), without denying the impact that tourism can have on resources, emphasizes the possibility of a sustainable form of tourism, as he states that ‘culture may be shared rather than consumed.

Hendry refers to cultural craft centers for tourists run by locals in New Zealand, in which locals take ownership of sharing their local traditions with tourists.

Raqs Sharqi and Tourism

Regarding Raqs sharqi, this research will try to assess if and how tourism plays a part in the transmission and safeguarding of this dance genre, given that international practitioners travel to Egypt to learn Raqs sharqi at the source.

The political and economic uses of dance, often involve the adaptation of folkloric dances for the stage.

These can be considered invented traditions, which Hobsbawm and Ranger (1992, p. 1) define as ‘a set of practices . . . which seek to inculcate certain values and norms . . . which . . . implies continuity . . . with a suitable historic past’

Hendry refers to cultural craft centers for tourists run by locals in New Zealand, in which locals take ownership of sharing their local traditions with tourists.

Reda’s adaptation of Egyptian folkloric dances on stage is based on pre-existing traditions, which are, however, reinvented for the stage, to create a socially acceptable version.

Indeed, the adaptation of folkloric dances for the stage raises issues of authenticity, as these dances need to change once on stage, not only for ideological reasons but also for aesthetic and entertainment purposes.

As Giurchescu (2001, p. 117) posits, ‘in the context of a stage performance, even the closest reproduction of a folklore model still remains an imitation’.

Most of the changes that folklore undergoes when adapted to the stage happen because of the transition from a form of participatory, or social dance, to one that is presentational, for the stage (see footnotes).

Changes That Occur in Dance as it Adapts for Presentation

Based on Çakir’s (1991) article on the protection of traditional dances and Ramsey’s (2003) study on voudou dance’s adaptation for the stage in Haiti, I conclude that the following changes happen in the dance, as it adapts from the participatory to the presentational form: 

  • Different production values are joined together: if a dance is performed for an audience with a different cultural background from the one in which the dance originated, or if the choreographer lived/worked abroad, as his/her experiences in a different context will be reflected in his/her art. 
  • Dance duration shortens, because of staged performance time constraints. 
  • Space patterns change, as the dance needs to become visible to the audience and aesthetically pleasing. In social and ritual contexts, the feelings and the experience of people dancing are more important than visual elements.
  • Virtuosity becomes more important in a staged performance, for entertainment reasons. 
  • Some elements of the dance are used for different purposes from their original intent. In voudou dance, for example, the kase, a break in the drum’s rhythm, in the original form is used to introduce a transition from non-trance into trance but, on stage, it simply marks the transition between two different moments of the performance. 
  • Fewer repetitions: participatory dances can be quite repetitive but too many repetitions can be boring to watch for audiences. 
  • In participatory dance, improvisation is preferable, for dancers to express their feelings spontaneously. Stage performances (especially groups) tend to be choreographed. 
Dance heritage is used in many ways including political and for economic reasons.

Changes also occur in the way individuals relate to the group. According to Giurchescu (2001, p. 114) ‘in contrast to traditional folk dancing, characterized by variation and individualization, staged performances are based on homogeneity and synchronism’.

To conclude this section, it has emerged that the uses that people make of dance/heritage also contribute to its change and transmission.


1 – The attributes of participatory and presentational applied to dance, are used here in the sense described by Nahachewsky (1995).

Next Page >> Literature review summary.