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Animated Edition - Summer 2006
Communities and the self
Sanjeevini Dutta, Artistic Director of Kadam Asian Dance and Music, reflects on the importance of communities within a south Asian dance context
Community is the group or collection beyond the family to which one feels one belongs. The criteria for the group can be language, race, religion, neighbourhood or interest. Such groups provide the individual with a sense of identity, a purpose, a safety net and an anchor.

Talking to young people from my dance class in Bedford, I realised how much their sense of identity is deeply connected with the community in which they belong. The Punjabi girls love bhangra and have asked their dance teacher if they can learn traditional songs sung at the pre marriage sangeet ceremony. Similarly, I often have young Asian mothers born and raised in Britain that bring their child to dance class as a way of 'teaching them' about Indian culture. Sometimes the individual may come from a family that left their motherland five generations ago, as in the case of Trinidadians of Indian origin.

While the overwhelming human need to belong cannot be disputed; it is only when that belonging to one group is antagonistic towards another in its geographic proximity that this can become problematic. The pianist Daniel Barenboim in the 2006 Reith Lecture, broadcast on Radio 4 earlier this year, threw a challenge to the Jewish Israeli community to recognise and engage with the cultural heritage of the Middle East. 'This is not an issue of Israel denying its European roots,' he asserts. 'But instead a question of enriching and enhancing its European heritage by placing it side by side with its Middle Eastern heritage.' (1)

The Jewish community only looking to the West for its cultural traditions oblivious to the great achievements of its Islamic neighbours is as distasteful as certain extremist groups that use the freedoms of Western of society, yet will see only depravities in its civilisation.

As a teacher I feel it is my duty to push the horizons of young people ever outwards. I encourage my students to see themselves as Odissi dancers, not only part of the South Asian dance community in Britain, but also the larger British dance scene. After all, they share a common interest with all those who have a love of dance, regardless of whether its kathak, ballet, hiphop or flamenco. In turn, a healthy society encourages people to carry within themselves multiple identities, to simultaneously belong to many different groups.

Charity begins at home, change with the self. As teachers we need to ensure a process of a healthy curiosity towards other cultures. Inculcating a sense of respect for other forms of dance is a simple step to acknowledging the diverse systems of belief, values and practices from which the dance forms originate. Frankly this cuts both ways. There is racism and racism in reverse. Following the interview with my students for the purposes of this article, I have decided that they will get a workshop on appreciating Western contemporary dance and other forms once a term. To readers of Animated, apologies for preaching to the converted!

Sanjeevini Dutta is Artistic Director of Kadam Asian Dance and Music - see for contacts and more information.

(1) lecture5.shtml

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Animated: Summer 2006