Dance as Living Cultural Heritage: A Transcultural Ethnochoreological Analysis of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi
Lo Iacono, Valeria
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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This research is concerned with the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, which allows the inscription of activities such as performing arts, skills and traditions into the UNESCO world cultural heritage lists. One practice potentially worthy of consideration for such recognition is raqs sharqi (‘oriental dance’ in Arabic; a style of bellydance), originating in Egypt in the 1920s and now practised worldwide. Egyptian raqs sharqi, in this thesis, is examined in a way that centralises the question of how such forms of heritage are embodied and transmitted by people (within and across cultures) via their practices, experiences and traditions. The aim is to identify the cultural heritage characteristics of Egyptian raqs sharqi and evaluate if it can be considered heritage and how it locates itself within the field of ICH. In pursuing this aim, this thesis explores the challenges involved in safeguarding Egyptian raqs sharqi as transcultural, living and embodied heritage, whilst critically examining the suitability of separating cultural heritage into tangible and intangible forms. A multidisciplinary, dialogical and holistic framework for dance/heritage is constructed, connecting dance theory, philosophically influenced sociology (particularly the non-dualistic theories of Merleau-Ponty, Bourdieu and Giddens) and cultural heritage studies. An ethnochoreological approach and a qualitative methodology are adopted, analysing formal aspects of dance (including movements and artefacts) and its socio-cultural context, using: analysis of online videos of dance and textual sources; online ethnography and one-to-one interviews. The result is a reconstruction of Egyptian raqs sharqi history and the current discourse around it. What emerges is a holistic, ever-evolving phenomenon that develops through the interaction of transculturality, tangible and intangible elements and dialectic between individual agency and social structures, change and tradition. These elements influence the authenticity discourse, heritage transmission, threats and opportunities for its safeguarding. Subsequently, a dynamic approach, with four interdependent stages (heritage identification, curation, sharing and promotion) is suggested for its safeguarding. As people are central to this type of heritage, the involvement of members of the public is strongly encouraged, at every stage, through public engagement initiatives.
PhD Thesis - School of Sport
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