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Tradition, Evolution and Diversity – Share Your Legacy
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Tradition, Evolution and Diversity – Share Your Legacy

In his book, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin illustrates how diversity is the mechanism whereby a species adapts, develops and evolves through a generational response to the context in which it lives. If we look at birds we see how a family of species and subspecies has developed a great diversity in response to the contexts in which they have evolved. The diversity of characteristics which arises with each joining of two strands of DNA gives rise to a great diversity of what it means to be a bird in many different contexts. This gives rise to many new possibilities of what it means to be a bird without losing the essential bird-ness.

As humans, in recent generations we have proved ourselves no longer dependent upon the biological foundation for our diversity, development and survival. We have created great diversity in culture, politics and aesthetics. The development of our diversity has been influenced by the contexts which in isolation have produced both biological races, and the cultural variations that define gender roles and power systems. This is no longer the case. We shape our contexts, and we choose our diversity! Diversity arises from our individual responses to the traditions of which we are a part.

Dance is a generational Community of Practice. We are an oral tradition depending on the interaction of the generations for stability, viability and renewal. The key to growth and development in a community is diversity. In each generation, there will appear diversity which encourages both the development and the strengthening of community in an ever-changing world. And our world is constantly in flux. Whether that be through the dispossession of people through war and political conflict, the changing weather and ecosystem, or the development of industry and media.

In Amsterdam, we are about to hold auditions for a new dance department. It is called Expanded Contemporary Dance. How can we as educators expand the notion of what it means to be a contemporary dancer, to train contemporary dancers, or indeed what it means to be contemporary in dance? People have always danced, and dance has evolved throughout the world in many different ways in response to many different contexts. We in western Europe and America have from a position of power exported our idea of the contemporary and appropriated the dance of the rest of the world in order to adapt it to our idea of contemporary. How can we move forward and escape from this cycle.

The notion of the contemporary develops from tradition, so what it is to be contemporary in dance should be different in western Europe, Japan, West Africa or South America. Does a dancer need to train in the western European styles of dance and aesthetic to be successful? We are moving away from exclusive choreographer-based styles and tradition-bound vocabularies of dance towards democratic systems of contact improvisation and instant composition, and teaching based on principles of movement and somatic awareness which can be applied to many different aesthetics. Dancers are artists entering the creative process on equal foot with other members of the creative team, bringing with them their personal aesthetic and background to shape performances. A performance is dependent upon the dancers to define it, as another group of dancers will define a performance in a different way. Things are changing and evolving in the dance world.

But how has dance developed in other contexts within the global culture. How can we as dance teachers have empathy and respect for the ideas of what it means to be contemporary around the world? How can we expand our notion of contemporary dance and level the playing field. Instead of fitting the rest of the world into our mold we should celebrate diversity and encourage interactions within our world community that will help us to change, evolve and develop through the next generations. We can support a de-colonialization of what it means to be contemporary. We can as teachers respond and adapt to that diversity in a dialogue which respects both our own traditions and those of the people with whom we share the movement research. We can both respect the traditions of the previous generation and support the evolution of the next generation through an awareness and respect of the diversity in the present generation.

Returning to our diverse group of birds; the penguins, hummingbirds, ducks and condors cannot share their experience of what it is to be a bird in all its diversity, but we humans can share what it means to be contemporary in dance, as dancers and teachers.  Let us share our traditions and reach out to others to share the traditions that have shaped their experience of contemporary dance and its diversity. I would like to use this editorial to jumpstart The Legacy Project. This is a platform in which we can share what it means to be a contemporary dancer and dance teacher and learn to appreciate how the very concept of contemporary is dependent upon the context in which we have developed. Let us explore and share our global community and celebrate its diversity. I will create a legacy document in the next half year and I invite you all to do the same and place your contributions in the Legacy Project Folder.

 

The Legacy Project Folder (link)

The Legacy Project - Valencia James with Ian Douglas (link)

The Legacy Project – Eszter Gàl with Peter Pleyer (link)

The Legacy Project – pavleheidler with Eleanor Bauer (link)

The Legacy Project Premiere (link)




–– written by John Taylor
December 2018