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A satellite view of dance in the world.
Tendencies, transformations and technology.
Shanghai International Dance Fair, 25/09/2010-30/09/2010, Shanghai, China
 by Alkis Raftis


   I must admit that the position of President of the International Dance Council CID-UNESCO grants to me the unique privilege of having a global view of dance in the world. I travel to a different country every month to attend meetings of Members, to listen to their comments and to offer suggestions for improvement. Incoming mail to my office amounts to about one hundred messages a day. Our staff includes several experienced specialists who reply; they give me an account of the overall situation in each country, thus I gain an overview of problems, of solutions proposed or applied, of measures taken by governments or federations, as well as of preoccupations by individuals.

   CID-UNESCO is the official umbrella organization for all forms of dance. Its Members in 155 countries are international organizations, national confederations, federations, councils, as well as regional unions of dance teachers, school owners or dancers. In many cities Members have formed Sections of CID-UNESCO who represent our organization, organize events and reply to inquiries in the local language. More and more Sections of CID are founded gradually, our final objective being to transform our structure to a global network of Sections cooperating with each other.

   In China, only 24 Members have joined to this date, which is a tiny number for such a huge country. Among them are the China Dancers Association, the Shanghai International Ballet Competition, the Shanghai City Dance Limited, the Hong Kong Ballroom Dancing Council, the Folkdance Association of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Dance Federation, and the Beijing Dance Academy, to name a few of the institutional Members. We are looking forward to increasing the number of Members in China in order to foster cooperation with their colleagues in other countries. There is a great demand from dance companies, schools and dancers from all over the world to develop contacts with China, to exchange visits and to participate in festivals, meetings or competitions.

    Dance schools, dance companies and even individuals can apply for membership. If someone is nominated by a Member he/she is immediately approved, otherwise he/she applies by sending his/her professional profile for evaluation. It is worth noting that CID-UNESCO itself does not organize any events, it is Sections or Members who organize festivals, competitions, workshops or courses. There are no obligations or rules of conduct, Members are free to take any approach to dance for artistic, educational or research purposes.

   We are careful to give equal importance to all forms of dance, thus one will find among our distinguished Members many professionals active in ballet, folk dance, modern dance, flamenco, tango, belly dance, salsa, Indian dance, ballroom dance, therapeutic dance etc., to name only a few of the countless forms dance takes on local or international level. Also, there is adequate representation of dance teachers, choreographers, performers, organizers, researchers and other practitioners among Members. Even dance photographers, costume makers, lighting designers and other professionals providing services primarily to dancers are accepted to membership.

   Rather than expounding on the numerous aspects and activities of this organization since 1973, I invite you to visit its website at the UNESCO portal where they are described in detail. We are proud to have created a special website in Chinese which you can visit too. Our Executive Secretariat will be happy to reply to individual inquiries whether by letter, fax, email or telephone. You can also visit the UNESCO portal to obtain information on the United Nations organization for culture - it is also in Chinese.

   I will go on now to developing each one of the three parts of my short presentation of the general situation of dance in the world: tendencies, transformations and technology. Since I am not familiar with the situation of dance in China, I do not know whether the situation here is similar to the one encountered in most other countries. Every country has its own particular features, so it is very difficult to speak for all countries at the same time. Let us hope that in the future we will have Chinese specialists participating in international congresses of researchers where they can inform us on the particular aspects of dance in China.

    I will refer to no particular country, while trying to adhere to the satellite view stated in the title of my presentation. In this sense, my views are shaped by the situation in a great number of countries, without placing particular importance on a specific form of dance, or a country, or even a continent.

    Among the various forms of dance, the most numerous by far in any country is folk dance. More people practice folk dance than all other forms of dance put together. We make a distinction between folk dance and traditional dance. Traditional dances are strictly local dances practiced since many generations in family celebrations and communal events, while folk dances are traditional dances reworked to be presented on stage for an audience. Traditional dancing is passed directly from one generation to the next, while folk dancing is taught by dance teachers to a folk dance group.  

    Folk dance and traditional dance are in slow decline: less and less people practice them, probably under the influence of television and the modern way of life. On the other hand, they are used extensively as pastime for children, whether in schools or in folk dance ensembles. Sometimes, particular folk dances having undergone stylization cross the borders of the country and become world fashions. Such examples are tango from Argentina, salsa from Cuba, capoeira from Brazil or belly dance from Egypt. These countries enjoy the benefits of a wide publicity and attract the corresponding tourism. Hundreds of thousands of dancers travel to the country of their preference in order to practice their dance.

    Dance tourism is very developed and growing in leaps and bounds. Teachers organize group travel for holidays including daily classes, evening balls, shopping for costumes and music, visits to places of particular interest to dancers. More and more people in rich countries want to use dance as a means of getting to know the culture of a country, combining physical exercise, meeting new people, having a good time in an active way, rather than being entertained by others. The image of the "passive tourist" visiting sites and taking photographs without any real contact with the locals is replaced by the "active tourist" who uses a particular aspect of the country to penetrate its culture and meet its inhabitants. Dance, cooking, architecture, sport, language, music or handicraft as such aspects of a country that attract this new generation of tourists.

    Festivals, workshops and competitions are another aspect of dance tourism. In many countries, the number of dance ensembles travelling abroad to perform in festivals amounts to thousands, that translates to hundreds of thousands of dancers each year. Adding to this the individuals travelling to take part in workshops or competitions, there are millions of persons using dance as a reason to travel to another country.

    Within each country the numbers are even greater. Dance has always been a opportunity to travel, since the ancient times when peasants from all around the province walked or rode for hours to take part in a village's celebration. There is much more dance that does not involve travelling, like going to a dance evening in town, or to a weekly class, or to watch a performance. As a rough rule of thumb, in CID-UNESCO we estimate that at least one dancer in every thousand is a professional; which means that dance is a sizable sector of the economy. Dance is of course an art, but we hear increasingly the term dance industry to denote the contribution of dance in the national economy. In fact, the amount of money spent on dance is considerable and rapidly increasing.

    More and more people are turning towards imported forms of dance. Ballet was historically the first dance form to become international, starting to be exported in the 19th century. It is considered the most elaborately advanced form, and ballet training is regarded as the best preparation for most other forms of dance. In the beginning of the 20th century various popular dances became standardized to form ballroom dancing, widely practiced now in more than 100 countries. Ballroom dancing is so successful that more than twenty international organizations compete to represent it, each one claiming to be its authentic governing body. Tango is now expanding rapidly, to such an extend that Argentina reaps huge economic benefits from exporting music, musicians, dance teachers, costumes and accessories, as well as attracting a large number of tourists dedicated to tango.

    The most spectacular success story is offered by belly dance, or Oriental dance, or more correctly Middle Eastern dance. Born in the Eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, elaborated in the United States, it became within the last twenty years the most successful dance fashion. Many millions of women practice it, schools are sprouting everywhere, more and more night clubs offer it as floor show, thereby creating an ever increasing demand for professional dancers. We estimate that in almost all countries the number of belly dancers doubles every year.

    Another tendency is for schools and festivals to diversify, that is to offer various forms of dance rather than one. Boundaries between forms of dance become blurred as choreographers imitate music composers who fuse different musical idioms. Dancers that reject all rules and roots, claiming total freedom to create and to borrow, call their dance simply modern dance.

    We have spoken above of dance forms being transformed: folk dances from Europe were choreographed to become character dances in ballet, Latin American dances were stylized to be included in the ballroom dance repertory, while ballet dancers tried dancing barefoot without tutus thus evolving towards modern and contemporary dance. These are examples of one form of dance being is transformed to another form. Transformation also is evident and continuous within each form of dance as choreographers strive to present new creations. Even conservative forms like ballet or Indian dance or court dances are subject to internal change in response to the increasing curiosity of the audience and to constant pressure from producers.

    Technology is certainly an accelerating factor of change. Television is propagating new fashions and familiarizing audiences with exotic dances. On the other hand, most choreographies created for TV shows are of low quality; dance amateurs have to search the rare filmed performances from theatres or operas. Video is now an indispensable tool allowing dancers to learn their part easily, choreographers to constitute an array of resources, and spectators to assemble a limitless library at virtually no cost. Video serves also for the selection of companies for festivals, as well as for the selection of dancers for competitions. Video has penetrated the dance industry to such an extent that some have expressed the fear that recorded performances will replace live ones.

    Finally, the internet has brought enormous change within the last ten years. Companies, schools, choreographers and dancers have now their own webside each, containing information, pictures and sometimes video clips. This gives them visibility they could never dream of having before. CID-UNESCO has proudly created the biggest directory in all the arts: 200,000 dance professionals from 200 countries are listed openly there. Anyone can contact anyone, all the dancers of the world are part of a single network. Additionally, there are countless portals catering to specific forms of dance or specific regions; all are free from excesses, free from violence, free from politics, free from perversion. Fortunately, the area of dance constitutes a haven of beauty, of health, of pleasure.

    Among the six arts of the Antiquity, dance has always been limited by the necessity of physical presence of the dancing body - now this handicap is eliminated since a dance scene can be recorded, stocked and distributed world wide. We can say that for the last ten years dance is the art that enjoys the highest rate of growth: every year there are more dance schools, companies, festivals and other events in every country. The main advantage of dance being the absence of language to convey an immediate visual message, more than theater, litterature or poetry, this art can now travel freely across borders to thrill the audiences of the world.


                                                                             Alkis Raftis

























 这些成功故事中,最引人入胜的是肚皮舞的故事,或者说是东方舞蹈,更确切的应该是中东舞蹈。肚皮舞发源于地中海东岸,并在美国得到发展. 最近二十年来,它更是成为了最受欢迎的时尚舞蹈。有几百万的妇女练习这种舞蹈,肚皮舞培训教室也遍地开花。与此同时,也有越来越多的夜总会将其作为歌舞表演。所有这些都造成了对专业肚皮舞舞者需求数量的上升。据我们估计,几乎所有的国家肚皮舞的舞者数量以每年都在翻倍。







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