My Dance Heritage Research

I am currently doing a PhD research in dance as a form of cultural heritage, inspired by the 2003 UNESCO convention on ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. My academic background is in preservation of cultural heritage at undergraduate level and in tourism at masters level. Outside of academia, I have always had a lifelong passion for dance and Egyptian raqs sharqi in particular, which I have been practising for over 10 years. My academic background, together with my interests in life, are what made me want to investigate dance as a form of cultural heritage for my PhD. Raqs sharqi (commonly known as belly dance) is a form of dance that originates from the Middle East and is now practiced worldwide. Hence, the transcultural and cosmopolitan dimensions are very relevant in researching this type of dance from the point of view of cultural heritage.

I am myself a living example of how you can learn dance in a cosmopolitan context. I am an Italian from Sicily, a Mediterranean island that has been conquered over the centuries by many different peoples, including Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Normans, Arabs, Spanish and French. Because of this, Sicily is a place where the culture is permeated by all these different influences not only visible in the architecture of the place, but also in lived traditions such as tastes for food and in its inhabitants’ temperament as well as looks. Having always been fascinated by Arabic music, I then learnt raqs sharqi for the first time while I was living in Seoul, South Korea, from and Iraqi-American teacher.

I then performed for the first time in an Egyptian restaurant in Seoul, with my teacher and an Irish friend, for an audience made up of various nationalities including people from Korea, Australia, Canada, UK and Ireland. Previous to this, I had studied western dance forms such as ballet and jazz and even now I keep training in various dance forms that originate from various cultures. Areas of interest for my research include ethnochoreology, cultural analysis of dance and movement, dance anthropology, qualitative methods (including online ethnography and qualitative interviewing), cultural hybridism, transculturalism, cosmopolitanism, sociological theories of the body and embodiment, cultural heritage (tangible and intangible), identity. I am available to deliver guest lectures on topics relevant to my research. Please feel free to contact me if interested.

About my Research

My PhD research is inspired by the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, which allows activities such as performing arts, to be added to the UNESCO world cultural heritage lists. The case study used for this research is that of Egyptian raqs sharqi (a dance genre commonly known as belly dance). Within this study, raqs sharqi is examined in a way that centralises how such forms of heritage are embodied, carried and transmitted by people via their everyday practices, experiences and traditions. Raqs sharqi originated in Egypt, but it is now practised across the world, hence I also investigate transcultural interactions and hybridism in dance.

This study explores the suitability of raqs sharqi to contribute to UNESCO’s cultural heritage list but in so doing also calls into critical question the suitability of separating cultural heritage into tangible and intangible forms. This study approaches its topic from a qualitative interpretive paradigm position and data are being collected in three phases. The first phase includes analysis of raqs sharqi videos dating back from the late 1800s, which are available online. Textual data from practitioners’ blogs, websites, forum, magazines and social media posts is also being analysed. This phase’s aim is to generate important data on the commonly held views of raqs sharqi history, its specific dance movements and how these change across time, cultures and between individuals.

The second phase builds upon the knowledge gained in the first phase by gathering primary data through an internet ethnography. Practitioners make considerable use of the internet to communicate ideas about their dance, especially via social media sites such as Facebook, and these are being explored to make sense of what is communicated and how it is communicated. The internet ethnography involves observation and interactions with participants in online settings, as well as an online discussion group using Facebook. The third phase of the research involves a series of semi-structured interviews with selected participants, in order to understand more deeply how practising raqs sharqi has affected their lives and to explore how they experience and interpret the dance. Interviews take place in person for those participants who are based in Cardiff. For those who are located further afield, Skype® is used for interviews.

My Research Profile

Teaching Experience

  • Guest lecturer in the School of Dance at Cardiff Metropolitan University, in the module of Analytical and Contextual Studies on the topic of Hybridism and Authenticity in Dance.
  • Delivered lectures in Cardiff Metropolitan University in qualitative research methods, including using online videos to curate and analyse dance as a form of cultural heritage and qualitative interviews using Skype.
  • Hourly paid lecturer in Cardiff Metropolitan University, teaching research methods and sociological research at undergraduate and master level.
  • Lecturer of Italian language and culture at Hanguk University of Foreign Studies, (Seoul, South Korea).
  • Teaching Egyptian style belly dance classes in Cardiff, UK, for many years. I have taught groups of up to 30 people, one to one classes, workshops and hen parties groups.

Qualifications and Awards

Academic Qualifications

  • PhD candidate in Dance and Cultural Heritage at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, Wales, UK.
  • Master in Tourism Management and Economics from Ca’ Foscari University  in Venice (Italy).
  • First class honours degree in Preservation of Cultural Heritage from Universita’ degli Studi della Tuscia (Viterbo, Italy).

Professional Certifications

  • Level 2 – Certificate in Teaching Exercise to Music from Fitness Wales.
  • Level 2- Introductory Certificate in Team Leading from Training Services Wales LTD.

Awards

  • Best Presentation Prize at Cardiff University Breaking Boundaries conference, 23rd April 2015.

Publications & Media Coverage

  • Forthcoming article ‘Beyond Binarism Exploring a Model of Living Cultural Heritage for Dance’ accepted for publication by Dance Research. This article critically examines the UNESCO 2003 definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, by questioning the feasibility of separating tangible from intangible forms of heritage. The argument is underpinned by sociological theories of embodiment. Dance, as a form of cultural heritage, is used in the article to illustrate the alternative model of living heritage that is presented.
  • Article on Skype as a tool for qualitative interviews, submitted and awaiting publication.
  • Mention in a Korea Herald article – Petty, A 2003, ‘From Arabic to Aerobics, Belly Dancing Revived’, The Korea Herald 5 December, p. 12.

Conference Papers

  • Can online videos be powerful tools to curate dance as a form of cultural heritage? The case of Egyptian raqs sharqi. – Presented at PopMoves, University of Roehampton, London, 24th October 2015.
  • Can video sharing sites be valid platforms to archive, share and re-live dance as heritage? The case of Egyptian raqs sharqi. – Digital Echoes, Coventry University, Coventry, 4th March 2016.
  • Is VoIP a Feasible Tool for Dance Research? Use of Skype for Qualitative Interviews on Dance as Transcultural Heritage. – DanceHE Symposium, University of Bedfordshire, Bedford, 7th April 2016.

Useful Resources