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Editorial Comments


This issue provides the second collection of papers on the theme of movement and dance in colonial contexts (see also JASHM 14[3]). We begin with a paper by Ann David that is grounded in her long-term ethnographic research with immigrant Tamil (Indian and Sri-Lankan) communities in London. "Religious Dogma or Political Agenda? Bharatanatyam and Its Reemergence in British Tamil Temples" documents a number of important changes in relationships between dancing, politics, and religion within this diasporic community. David illustrates how the traditional Indian dance form Bharatanatyam, along with Tamil language learning, has become an important means of cultural revitalization and retention for many daughters of British Tamil families in and around London (see also Lalli 2003; Puri 1980, 1981, 1985, and Williams 2003 for earlier papers in JASHM on Indian dance forms).

            Here we have a case in which a traditional Indian dance form is utilized by former British colonial subjects who have migrated to the center of that former empire, in some cases to escape from political dominance by the postcolonial Indian state over Tamil territory. Britain's increasingly multicultural population is largely a result of this process of 'return,' made up of relatively large diasporic communities from former British colonies such as India, Pakistan, the West Indies, and many nations of Africa. This process is being mirrored in other centers of European empire such as France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Immigrants to these nations are in turn spreading to other European countries such as Germany and Italy, with widespread complex and contested social, political, and religious changes occurring as a result. Much ethnographic work on the ways in which dances, dancing, and other movement practices cross borders and become a part of this process remains to be done in such sites, and David's paper provides us with some productive insights into the complexities involved (see also Gore 2001 and Grau 2002).

            The second paper, by Alma Concepción, takes us to the site of a former European colony in the West Indies--Puerto Rico. In "Dance and Belonging: Transformation of Rituals in Puerto Rican Music and Dance Forms," Concepción carefully examines relationships between dancing and contemporary processes of identity formation in light of colonial impositions and historical change. Claimed as a Spanish colony by Christopher Columbus in the fifteenth century, during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Puerto Rico became an important part of the Spanish empire during struggles over the region between Spain and other European powers. Puerto Rico served as a convenient stepping-stone in the passage from Europe to Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and the northern territories of South America. However, after the Spanish-American War at the end of the nineteenth century, control of the island passed to the United States, and Puerto Rico remains to this day a political anomaly--a 'commonwealth' controlled by the United States, whose inhabitants were granted the rights to American citizenship in 1917. It is interesting to note that the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave the same rights to indigenous peoples of the United States, was not passed until 1924!

            Drawing upon a variety of sources--published scholarship, local interpretations of historical accounts, and her own participant-observation over many years--Concepción shows "how some local, contemporary dance practices have been shaped by global historical forces and, in turn, how they offer us an image of that history." She explores the continuation of African-derived musical and danced ritual forms within contemporary Puerto Rico to show how "they have crossed geographic, cultural, and linguistic borders and remain vibrant, not antithetical to modernity." She tells us that the Caribbean is a region in which "the idea of belonging is often expressed through music and dancing, shaped by a complex cross-cultural mixing of European, African, Asian, and indigenous traditions." The paper thus sheds important light on how it is that, in the Puerto Rican experience, both in the island and in the diaspora, "the dance holds a central position in the construction and practice of complex, mixed histories and identities." Concepción proposes that an understanding of Puerto Rican dances and dancing should be brought to bear in studying the tensions generated by the legacies of imperialism and slavery, as well as in imagining new cultural possibilities.

            The third contribution to this issue is a comparative paper that combines the experiences and insights of a practicing contemporary New Zealand-American contemporary-dance artist, Robert Wood, with those of a cultural anthropologist, Brenda Farnell. The authors compare and contrast a number of embodied cultural meanings attached to the concepts of 'tradition' and 'authenticity' in two quite different colonial contexts: Ramallah on the West Bank of the Palestinian territories and within indigenous North America. "Dancing with Authorization: From the Reservation to Ramallah" uses ethnographic detail from both these sites to make a theoretical case for treating 'authenticity' not as a static, essentializing feature of a dance or danced knowledge but as "an aspect of situated practice, work that members of a society actively perform to constitute performances, objects, or texts as 'authentic' according to shared criteria of validity." With the term thus reworked, Farnell and Wood propose that 'discourses of authenticity,' spoken and moved, constitute a dynamic expressive resource by means of which people systematically link present action with a meaningful past and envision possible futures, endowing a particular cultural form with value and authority.

            These three papers, along with those presented in JASHM 14(3), contribute valuable ethnographic evidence of the diverse ways in which, in response to complex and challenging colonial and postcolonial situations, dances and dancing can become important means of forging new personal and cultural identities, as well as sources of innovative, culturally vibrant forms of artistic, spiritual, political, and historical expression. Clearly, dynamically embodied persons use body movement as a meaning-making resource to help make sense of their diverse histories, present struggles, and imagined futures. While certainly not all changes in dance forms are responses to the kinds of political and economic challenges posed by colonialism and its aftermath, the evidence presented here suggests that, where political and cultural borders are crossed and peoples confront the legacies of colonial pasts and presents, understanding forms of movement and dance is a vital and fruitful avenue of investigation.


The Editors


References Cited:

Gore, Georgiana

2001. Present Texts, Past Voices: The Formation of Contemporary Representations of West African Dances. Yearbook for Traditional Music 33: 29–36.

Grau, Andrée

2002. South Asian Dance in Britain: Negotiating Cultural Identity through Dance (SADiB Report). Roehampton: University of Surrey.

Lalli, Gina

2003. A North Indian Classical Dance Form: Lucknow Kathak. JASHM 12(3): 100–13.

Puri, Rajika

1980. The Family of Rama: Kinship Structures and the Dance. JASHM 1(1): 20–35.

1981. Polysemy and Homonymy and the Mudra "Shikara": Multiple Meaning and the Use of Gesture. JASHM 1(4): 268–87.

1985. Paradigm of India's Classical Tradition: Bharatanatyam as Performed Today. JASHM 3(3): 117–39.

Puri, Rajika and Diana Hart-Johnson

1982. Thinking with Movement: Improvising versus Composing. JASHM 2(2): 71–88.

Williams, Drid

2003. In the Shadow of Hollywood Orientalism: Authentic East-Indian Dancing. JASHM 12(3): 78–99.











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