South Asian Dance in Britain: Negotiating Cultural Identity Through Dance

Hdl Handle:
http://hdl.handle.net/10142/41689
Title:
South Asian Dance in Britain: Negotiating Cultural Identity Through Dance
Authors:
Grau, Andree
Abstract:
The original aims of SADiB were: • To carry out an in-depth study on what can loosely be labelled the British South Asian dance phenomenon. Therefore focusing on South Asian dance in a non-South Asian context as an acknowledgement and recognition of the increasingly significant role that the South Asian dance profession plays in British cultural life. • To study this British South Asian dance phenomenon in all its manifestations and implications by looking at: o The impact of globalisation on South Asian Dance in Britain taking into accounts the current debates on definitions and re-definition of South Asian dance aesthetics in Britain and elsewhere. o The power relationships that exist within creative practice looking at them in terms of colonialism/neo-colonialism, race, gender, and class; as well as taking into account issues of institutionalisation, education, training and professionalism. o The issues of creation and re-creation of dance forms and genres generally and of South Asian dance particularly. • To bridge the gap between practitioners (the South Asian dance profession) and the body of academic research in Britain, through the use of research methods which give due emphasis to the doing of dance as well as its conceptualisation and to the teaching process. 1.2 Main outcomes Ten major outcomes will be briefly presented here, as they are considered crucial to the SADiB project. The issues surrounding them will be discussed further throughout the following chapters and especially within section 4. 1.2.1 Multiplicity within South Asian dance Although the dance communities of the United Kingdom have largely adopted the label South Asian dance, there is no doubt that considerable debate surrounds the term and this came again and again throughout SADiB's research. Whilst a generic term is useful, it is also problematic in that it overlooks the multiplicity of genres, which exists under the label, and simplifies the complexity of the situation. Interestingly we also found that in different parts of the country the label does not attract necessarily the same kinds of connotations. The SADiB project started with a very broad brief of looking at the South Asian dance phenomenon. Although this was constantly at the back of our mind and a number of dance genres were investigated ranging from the classical dances, to what has been labelled Asian freestyle dances that take place in clubs, to the contemporary developments by artists such as Shobhana Jeyasingh or Sonia Sabri, there is no doubt that not all received the same degree of attention. Much of the research focused on the classical genres and of these Bharata Natyam was privileged. This reflected the general situation found within South Asian dance in Britain generally. 1.2.2 London as a privileged home for South Asian dance Although South Asian dance happens throughout the country and the SADiB project investigated the phenomenon in a number of locations in England, as well as in Wales and Scotland, though not, for financial reasons, Northern Ireland, even though we are aware that South Asian dance has a presence there (see Appendices 7.1-7.4), there is no doubt that London has a privileged situation. Indeed this was reflected, for example, when the national organisation for South Asian dance, Aditi, originally opened in Bradford in 1989, yet moved back to London in 1996 as it made much more sense to be based in the capital. Most of the investigation carried out by SADiB was within the London area, because it was where the greatest activities took place. It was striking for us to note how far London is ahead of the rest of Britain in terms of South Asian dance developments. This was a conclusion we would have preferred not to reach – and this is not to say that excellence is only represented in London. Indeed, we have found first class work throughout the country. London however is unparalleled for the sheer concentration of dancers and dance events – and this inevitably affects the quality and the inventiveness of work developed. Just as a rough indication, there are about 60 dance schools in the London area alone – compared to another 60 for the whole of the rest of the country. 1.2.3 The emergence of a South Asian dance profession Generally South Asian dancers in the UK had been primarily female and not making a living out of their dance practice. A shift, however, started to take place in the late twentieth century. The genre is still dominated by women but a number of men are making a very strong mark and providing role models for future generations of dancers. Whilst in the past dance was seen as something additional to other professional practices such as medicine, law or accountancy, a new generation of dancers is emerging. These dancers want to devote all their time to dance and earn a living from it and are becoming increasingly successful in their endeavour. It also worth noting, that they are often resentful towards those who do not commit themselves full-time to dance. 1.2.4 The importance of social class as a parameter for South Asian dance Whilst a number of studies have shown that the parameters of social classes and castes had been central to the revival of dance in India in the 1930s, SADiB found that these were relevant too within the British context of the late twentieth century, that certain genres considered ‘art’ were associated with the middle and upper classes and received a greater attention and a greater access to resources than others associated with a 'community' practice. SADiB’s research highlighted the divide that exists, as with Western dance forms, between ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ dance – with ‘commercial’ and ‘social’ dance hovering somewhere on the outskirts of both. There are obviously subdivisions within the classical and folk worlds – but people tend to at least know of each other across these subdivisions – while the worlds of Bharata Natyam, a classical form, and Bhangra, originally a folk form, now widely used within community settings, for example, are poles apart. The research has noted, however, that the dance activities within the ‘community’, whilst receiving no public funding and little public recognition, nevertheless have an important impact in the everyday lives of individuals of both South Asian and non South Asian origins and undoubtedly make their life richer and more enjoyable. 1.2.5 Institutionalisation and ideological discourses In Britain, South Asian dance has become institutionalised in a way that parallels what has happened in India in the sense that different types of institutions have been promoting different kinds of ideological discourses and visions of history. On the whole one can see two main trends: one presents the classical dance traditions as part of an unbroken lineage over two thousands years old whilst the other interprets the heritage not as a continuous line, but acknowledges ruptures, parallel histories, and reconstructions. 1.2.6 Institutionalisation within a diasporic context Whilst formal training outside of the traditional guru-sishya-parampara (teacher-student-tradition) set exists in India and is paralleled in Britain by a variety of Institutions that promotes music and dance such as the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan or the Tamil schools, institutionalisation within a broader British context has taken place, especially through the addition by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) of two South Asian classical forms, Bharata Natyam and Kathak to its portfolio of dance syllabi in 1998. Although it is too soon to measure the impact this will have on the dance forms themselves as they are practiced in Britain, there is no doubt that many artists are concerned that the syllabi may end up promoting certain styles within the two genres to the exclusion of others and that this may impoverish the forms. The research also noted a sense of resentment among teachers who choose to work outside of the ISTD system at the idea of being told what to do or how to teach. 1.2.7 Identity of the work - Identity of the artist The research has shown that although many artists are reluctant to see the concept of identity as being central to their practice, this is primarily because they do not want to be marginalised as they see that Western theatre dance, be it ballet or the numerous contemporary genres, are rarely given this 'cultural' treatment, even though it would be useful if they were. This is evident, for example within the South Asian dance syllabi of the ISTD, which incorporate a large component dealing with contextual content of dance whilst the other genres focus solely on the bodily aspect of the techniques. Nevertheless the concept is central for a number of reasons: some artists see themselves as the heirs of traditions that they want to continue with their work. Others see themselves as working within a primarily contemporary Western medium yet acknowledge that their work is informed by a distinctive socio-cultural identity and sensitivity. What the research has shown is that a distinction needs to be made between the identity of the artists and the identity of their oeuvres and of the technique they work in and that all dance genres within the UK would benefit if they were examined in such a way. 1.2.8 Identity and ownership of repertoire Issues of identity are linked to issues of ownership of repertoire, which, in turn, is usually linked to access to resources. As more non-South Asian dancers are becoming practitioners of South Asian dances, their participation within the art form is being challenged by some. On the one hand uninformed audiences often equate authenticity with skin colour rather than with dance expertise. On the other hand, within a field where resources are limited some professionals see the incorporation of white practitioners within a genre traditionally non-white as a continuation of imperialist tendencies. The fact, for example, that the ISTD examination system is set up by non-Asians is a cause for concern for some. This is so despite the fact that they had been instigated by Akademi, South Asian dance in Britain, an organisation which promotes South Asian dance and has a British Asian director; and that the syllabi are taught primarily by British Asian and Indian teachers. They argue that perfectly adequate examination systems, validated by Indian organisations, existed already in the country and they see with suspicion this alliance with an ‘imperial' institution. 1.2.9 Ethno-aesthetic and the assessing and reviewing South Asian dance Whilst artists generally wants their artistic practice to be assessed in their own terms, as the products of original artists showing their individuality, SADiB's research has shown that many artists are unhappy with the way their work is evaluated by funding bodies and reviewed by critics. In their eyes these evaluations and reviews are often ethnocentric in that they use parameters that are often alien to the particular practices being looked at. What the research has shown is that a concept of ethno-aesthetic is relevant for all dance genres; that each aesthetic represents the norms of the dance genre and that these are constantly being negotiated and re-negotiated by individual artists; and that it is important for assessors and critics alike to acquaint themselves better with the aesthetic underlying the genres they are writing about. 1.2.10 Funding Dance in the UK is undoubtedly the Cinderella of the arts in terms of funding and South Asian dance gets less than 2% of the overall dance allocation. Our research has shown that South Asian dancers at one level are not necessarily worse off than 'contemporary' dancers in similar situations, all getting piece meal funding. Both types, for example, have to create and sell their work simultaneously. That is, they find themselves in a situation where they have not yet made the work, yet they have to sell the tour. There is no doubt, however, that many South Asian dancers see themselves, rightly or wrongly, as having to work with discriminatory criteria set up by the funding bodies, in contrast to their colleagues within more mainstream genres who do not have to comply to artistic directives to the same degree. They argue, with some reasons, for example, that hybridity is seen as synonymous to 'challenging' and 'innovatory' and therefore worthy of funding, when this could also be the case within classical idioms, which receive little funding. This is in contrast to the situation of Western theatre dance where classical works, ballet primarily but some contemporary genres too, get the largest share of the allocation.
Issue Date:
2002
URI:
http://hdl.handle.net/10142/41689
Type:
Article
Language:
en
Sponsors:
Leverhulme Research Grant F/569/D
Appears in Collections:
Department of Dance Collection

Full metadata record

DC FieldValue Language
dc.contributor.authorGrau, Andree-
dc.date.accessioned2008-12-02T14:40:43Z-
dc.date.available2008-12-02T14:40:43Z-
dc.date.issued2002-
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10142/41689-
dc.description.abstractThe original aims of SADiB were: • To carry out an in-depth study on what can loosely be labelled the British South Asian dance phenomenon. Therefore focusing on South Asian dance in a non-South Asian context as an acknowledgement and recognition of the increasingly significant role that the South Asian dance profession plays in British cultural life. • To study this British South Asian dance phenomenon in all its manifestations and implications by looking at: o The impact of globalisation on South Asian Dance in Britain taking into accounts the current debates on definitions and re-definition of South Asian dance aesthetics in Britain and elsewhere. o The power relationships that exist within creative practice looking at them in terms of colonialism/neo-colonialism, race, gender, and class; as well as taking into account issues of institutionalisation, education, training and professionalism. o The issues of creation and re-creation of dance forms and genres generally and of South Asian dance particularly. • To bridge the gap between practitioners (the South Asian dance profession) and the body of academic research in Britain, through the use of research methods which give due emphasis to the doing of dance as well as its conceptualisation and to the teaching process. 1.2 Main outcomes Ten major outcomes will be briefly presented here, as they are considered crucial to the SADiB project. The issues surrounding them will be discussed further throughout the following chapters and especially within section 4. 1.2.1 Multiplicity within South Asian dance Although the dance communities of the United Kingdom have largely adopted the label South Asian dance, there is no doubt that considerable debate surrounds the term and this came again and again throughout SADiB's research. Whilst a generic term is useful, it is also problematic in that it overlooks the multiplicity of genres, which exists under the label, and simplifies the complexity of the situation. Interestingly we also found that in different parts of the country the label does not attract necessarily the same kinds of connotations. The SADiB project started with a very broad brief of looking at the South Asian dance phenomenon. Although this was constantly at the back of our mind and a number of dance genres were investigated ranging from the classical dances, to what has been labelled Asian freestyle dances that take place in clubs, to the contemporary developments by artists such as Shobhana Jeyasingh or Sonia Sabri, there is no doubt that not all received the same degree of attention. Much of the research focused on the classical genres and of these Bharata Natyam was privileged. This reflected the general situation found within South Asian dance in Britain generally. 1.2.2 London as a privileged home for South Asian dance Although South Asian dance happens throughout the country and the SADiB project investigated the phenomenon in a number of locations in England, as well as in Wales and Scotland, though not, for financial reasons, Northern Ireland, even though we are aware that South Asian dance has a presence there (see Appendices 7.1-7.4), there is no doubt that London has a privileged situation. Indeed this was reflected, for example, when the national organisation for South Asian dance, Aditi, originally opened in Bradford in 1989, yet moved back to London in 1996 as it made much more sense to be based in the capital. Most of the investigation carried out by SADiB was within the London area, because it was where the greatest activities took place. It was striking for us to note how far London is ahead of the rest of Britain in terms of South Asian dance developments. This was a conclusion we would have preferred not to reach – and this is not to say that excellence is only represented in London. Indeed, we have found first class work throughout the country. London however is unparalleled for the sheer concentration of dancers and dance events – and this inevitably affects the quality and the inventiveness of work developed. Just as a rough indication, there are about 60 dance schools in the London area alone – compared to another 60 for the whole of the rest of the country. 1.2.3 The emergence of a South Asian dance profession Generally South Asian dancers in the UK had been primarily female and not making a living out of their dance practice. A shift, however, started to take place in the late twentieth century. The genre is still dominated by women but a number of men are making a very strong mark and providing role models for future generations of dancers. Whilst in the past dance was seen as something additional to other professional practices such as medicine, law or accountancy, a new generation of dancers is emerging. These dancers want to devote all their time to dance and earn a living from it and are becoming increasingly successful in their endeavour. It also worth noting, that they are often resentful towards those who do not commit themselves full-time to dance. 1.2.4 The importance of social class as a parameter for South Asian dance Whilst a number of studies have shown that the parameters of social classes and castes had been central to the revival of dance in India in the 1930s, SADiB found that these were relevant too within the British context of the late twentieth century, that certain genres considered ‘art’ were associated with the middle and upper classes and received a greater attention and a greater access to resources than others associated with a 'community' practice. SADiB’s research highlighted the divide that exists, as with Western dance forms, between ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ dance – with ‘commercial’ and ‘social’ dance hovering somewhere on the outskirts of both. There are obviously subdivisions within the classical and folk worlds – but people tend to at least know of each other across these subdivisions – while the worlds of Bharata Natyam, a classical form, and Bhangra, originally a folk form, now widely used within community settings, for example, are poles apart. The research has noted, however, that the dance activities within the ‘community’, whilst receiving no public funding and little public recognition, nevertheless have an important impact in the everyday lives of individuals of both South Asian and non South Asian origins and undoubtedly make their life richer and more enjoyable. 1.2.5 Institutionalisation and ideological discourses In Britain, South Asian dance has become institutionalised in a way that parallels what has happened in India in the sense that different types of institutions have been promoting different kinds of ideological discourses and visions of history. On the whole one can see two main trends: one presents the classical dance traditions as part of an unbroken lineage over two thousands years old whilst the other interprets the heritage not as a continuous line, but acknowledges ruptures, parallel histories, and reconstructions. 1.2.6 Institutionalisation within a diasporic context Whilst formal training outside of the traditional guru-sishya-parampara (teacher-student-tradition) set exists in India and is paralleled in Britain by a variety of Institutions that promotes music and dance such as the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan or the Tamil schools, institutionalisation within a broader British context has taken place, especially through the addition by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) of two South Asian classical forms, Bharata Natyam and Kathak to its portfolio of dance syllabi in 1998. Although it is too soon to measure the impact this will have on the dance forms themselves as they are practiced in Britain, there is no doubt that many artists are concerned that the syllabi may end up promoting certain styles within the two genres to the exclusion of others and that this may impoverish the forms. The research also noted a sense of resentment among teachers who choose to work outside of the ISTD system at the idea of being told what to do or how to teach. 1.2.7 Identity of the work - Identity of the artist The research has shown that although many artists are reluctant to see the concept of identity as being central to their practice, this is primarily because they do not want to be marginalised as they see that Western theatre dance, be it ballet or the numerous contemporary genres, are rarely given this 'cultural' treatment, even though it would be useful if they were. This is evident, for example within the South Asian dance syllabi of the ISTD, which incorporate a large component dealing with contextual content of dance whilst the other genres focus solely on the bodily aspect of the techniques. Nevertheless the concept is central for a number of reasons: some artists see themselves as the heirs of traditions that they want to continue with their work. Others see themselves as working within a primarily contemporary Western medium yet acknowledge that their work is informed by a distinctive socio-cultural identity and sensitivity. What the research has shown is that a distinction needs to be made between the identity of the artists and the identity of their oeuvres and of the technique they work in and that all dance genres within the UK would benefit if they were examined in such a way. 1.2.8 Identity and ownership of repertoire Issues of identity are linked to issues of ownership of repertoire, which, in turn, is usually linked to access to resources. As more non-South Asian dancers are becoming practitioners of South Asian dances, their participation within the art form is being challenged by some. On the one hand uninformed audiences often equate authenticity with skin colour rather than with dance expertise. On the other hand, within a field where resources are limited some professionals see the incorporation of white practitioners within a genre traditionally non-white as a continuation of imperialist tendencies. The fact, for example, that the ISTD examination system is set up by non-Asians is a cause for concern for some. This is so despite the fact that they had been instigated by Akademi, South Asian dance in Britain, an organisation which promotes South Asian dance and has a British Asian director; and that the syllabi are taught primarily by British Asian and Indian teachers. They argue that perfectly adequate examination systems, validated by Indian organisations, existed already in the country and they see with suspicion this alliance with an ‘imperial' institution. 1.2.9 Ethno-aesthetic and the assessing and reviewing South Asian dance Whilst artists generally wants their artistic practice to be assessed in their own terms, as the products of original artists showing their individuality, SADiB's research has shown that many artists are unhappy with the way their work is evaluated by funding bodies and reviewed by critics. In their eyes these evaluations and reviews are often ethnocentric in that they use parameters that are often alien to the particular practices being looked at. What the research has shown is that a concept of ethno-aesthetic is relevant for all dance genres; that each aesthetic represents the norms of the dance genre and that these are constantly being negotiated and re-negotiated by individual artists; and that it is important for assessors and critics alike to acquaint themselves better with the aesthetic underlying the genres they are writing about. 1.2.10 Funding Dance in the UK is undoubtedly the Cinderella of the arts in terms of funding and South Asian dance gets less than 2% of the overall dance allocation. Our research has shown that South Asian dancers at one level are not necessarily worse off than 'contemporary' dancers in similar situations, all getting piece meal funding. Both types, for example, have to create and sell their work simultaneously. That is, they find themselves in a situation where they have not yet made the work, yet they have to sell the tour. There is no doubt, however, that many South Asian dancers see themselves, rightly or wrongly, as having to work with discriminatory criteria set up by the funding bodies, in contrast to their colleagues within more mainstream genres who do not have to comply to artistic directives to the same degree. They argue, with some reasons, for example, that hybridity is seen as synonymous to 'challenging' and 'innovatory' and therefore worthy of funding, when this could also be the case within classical idioms, which receive little funding. This is in contrast to the situation of Western theatre dance where classical works, ballet primarily but some contemporary genres too, get the largest share of the allocation.en
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dc.description.sponsorshipLeverhulme Research Grant F/569/Den
dc.language.isoenen
dc.subjectdanceen
dc.subjectsouth asianen
dc.subjectbritainen
dc.subjectcultural identityen
dc.titleSouth Asian Dance in Britain: Negotiating Cultural Identity Through Danceen
dc.typeArticleen
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