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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dancing for the Ancestors

by Setsuna




When you dance the dance of a culture you don't belong to, do so as if both yours and their ancestors are in the room, because they are. Show the level of honesty, respect, and care that would make your ancestors proud and make their ancestors appreciative.

That won't solve everything in the work of a culturally responsible dance practice, but it is a damned good start. Regardless of where you're from, every culture has some values and beliefs about the way you act when you step into someone else's home.

Taking part in an art form of a culture you don't belong to is metaphorically stepping into someone else's home. You may not know all of their norms, especially when you first do it, but you do have some knowledge from your own culture in how to act as a guest. Use that knowledge to act in a way that your ancestors would recognize the values and lessons they held as the best of themselves.

And when I say to think of yours and their ancestors, I'm not talking about the worst of y'alls ancestors! I'm not saying to imagine the most embarrassing, inappropriate, bigoted or even the most morally uptight judgmental ancestors. I mean the ancestors that embodied the values and graces that you know make up the things you respect and appreciate.

Like I said, that may not solve everything in the work of a culturally responsible arts practice because you may find that despite your honest consideration and representation of your values as a guest, you still ended up doing some ignorant offensive stuff.

We've all walked into someone else's home and done something wrong. The difference is if you at least start by acting as if you have the best sense your ancestors could offer about being a guest, you highly decrease the amount/severity of disrespect you cause. And luckily, hosts do often notice and care when they can tell that you respect them and their home.

Dance like your ancestors and their ancestors are in the room. Or as my culture concisely puts it, act like you got good home training.



About the Author

Setsuna is a dancer, teacher, researcher, and organizer. She started studying Middle Eastern dance in 2000. Currently, Setsuna is a PhD candidate in dance studies where she writes about dance, arts communities, and particularly the ways dance intersects with cities, culture, policy, and life.

Aside from her current postgrad work, Setsuna is a career arts professional. She works in the two disciplines of dance and visual arts. She writes, researches, and organizes in both fields, and her own artistic practice is as a dancer in these areas:

  • Current:
    • Middle Eastern
    • Brazilian samba and Afro Brazilian
    • Rhythm & Blues (Hip Hop)
  • Currently a Student In:
    • Flamenco
  • In the Past:
    • Chinese
    • Bollywood
    • Central Asian

Her work in the two fields of dance and visual arts occasionally overlaps and is always motivated by social equity. As an art historian with main focuses in ancient Islamic and Asian art, Setsuna likes to use her history background to expand her work as a dancer.




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