This is the second of two essays commissioned by CoC from Sangita Shresthova. The first, written in 2002, is followed by a second, written 2006. Together, they mark a development in critical scholarly thinking about the issues of ancient dance.
By Sangita Shresthova
“Soon we will not even know what Nepalese dance really means. We will think it is the dance from the latest Bollywood film,” Bina Joshi, a Nepalese dance teacher lamented.
We live in a world defined by change. Innovations in travel, communication and financial technologies continuously revolutionize how we imagine ourselves in an increasingly mobile, interconnected world. Today, money transferred from Berlin in the afternoon can reach a village in Sri Lanka that same evening. In New York, entertainment media, touring performers, and Internet technologies can instantly connect diasporic populations with, no longer so, distant homelands. While it is important to acknowledge the optimistic opportunities of mobility and social connectivity promised by these developments, we also need to continue to confront an increasingly blatant fact. The uneven forces of globalization are not all positive.
The promise of globalization has also ushered in an age of profound local rupture. As countries, communities, and individuals rush to secure their membership in a modern, globalizing economy, we face an escalating, potentially destructive confrontation between the past and the present; between tradition and modernity. In many places this confrontation, often premised on commercial viability, places indigenous cultural practice as lived heritage under profound threat. Traditional, indigenous dances, as a largely undocumented, embodied cultural practice, are particularly vulnerable.
All around the world practitioners like Bina Joshi in Nepal, cited above, lament the literal “disappearance” of certain dance forms as a living and practiced art, passed on from teacher to student, from guru to disciple as a fluid tradition. While dances and their practitioners have historically responded to changing cultural conditions, the recent unprecedented social upheaval, often exacerbated by ongoing violent conflict, has irrevocably ruptured the practice of many ritual and community based dance traditions. Discussed in the previous document “What is Endangered Dance?”, complex modernization processes currently underway continue to transform many regions around the world, profoundly affecting processes of cultural practice. When dances are not practiced, they cease to exist. When dances cease to exist, vital cultural heritage is lost. Forever.
The urgent situation of many indigenous dances inevitably raises the question: What can be done? Clearly, we cannot easily challenge the implicit and explicit processes currently transforming many parts of the world. We cannot reverse globalization. But we CAN consider how the forces that define our age; the forces of interconnectivity and technology; can become forces for cultural continuity, not discontinuity. Core of Culture (CoC), a humanitarian, transnational, cultural organization that responds to the articulated needs of indigenous dance practitioners, advocates indigenous dances as a lived, sustainable and viable practice in the age of globalization.
On an ideological level, CoC negotiates between tradition and modernity; between the extinction and the continuity of ancient dances. On a practical level, CoC bridges the fissures of access and viability that indigenous dance practitioners face in their struggle for survival. Non-invasive dance research methodology and innovative deployment of media for dance documentation form the backbone of CoC's approach that stresses the continuing relevance of dance in contemporary contexts. The spiritual wisdom of indigenous dances is crucially relevant in our modern, globalized world.
Through its interventions, CoC challenges dominant prescriptive binaries in which expertise flows from the “more developed” West to a “less developed East”. Moving beyond these stereotypical conceptions, CoC asserts “modernity” as not necessarily synonymous with “westernization”. Local, inclusive interpretations of modernity are possible. We need inclusive definitions of modernity that recognize we are all part of the solution. CoC is committed to finding ways for ancient dances co-exist with, rather than be eclipsed by, cultural change.
CoC fights for dance continuity.
A registered Non-Profit, CoC is a flexible, adaptable organization that intervenes on behalf of ancient dances and their practitioners. Today, CoC has become a respected a facilitator, expert, creative force, consultant, partner, advocate and scholar in this field.
CoC is an important and respected participant in the struggle for sustainability of indigenous dances. Premised on its work completed over the past years, CoC has developed a unique set of knowledge repositories. These repositories recognize indigenous dances as irreplaceable cultural capital.
Dance is fragile cultural capital. Recognizing this, CoC's interventions place indigenous dances and their practitioners at the center of all strategies to ensure the long-term viability of dance as a cultural heritage.
To date, CoC has developed several unique dance interventions. These include:
An umbrella organization for committed individuals and communities, CoC manifests a new appreciation in the world for the seriousness and significance of indigenous dance as cultural heritage. Technically, CoC surveys, researches and documents indigenous dances using new tested methods. CoC creates accessible media archives and databases. CoC works to present dances while respecting their spiritual content and ritual context. Yet, CoC is much more than dance documentation. CoC publishes articles and professional writing to challenge and expand existing dance scholarship. CoC has the expertise to constructively evaluate plans for tourism and economic growth as advocates of ancient dance practice. CoC builds partnerships through a new mediated global interconnectivity facilitated by the simultaneously universal and locally specific language of dance.
Recognizing that we are indeed living in a period of unprecedented rapid change and interdependence, CoC deploys culturally sensitive, action- oriented interventions to ensure the survival of ancient dance practices. In short, CoC moves beyond the rupture of contemporary globalization processes and recognizes indigenous dance as an irreplaceable, imperative opportunity; an opportunity for cultural continuity.