Performers, observers, choreographers and researchers can have a different take on whether categorising dance is beneficial or not. Categorisation leads to a heated debate, one that I often straddle sides on. Societies tend to classify dance in an effort to organize, and perhaps even understand, what exists outside of their own circle of familiarity. From a dancer's or choreographer's perspective, classifications can be limiting, while to a dance historian, they are necessary to navigate the vast sea of dance. 

Merchants of Bollywood
Merchants of Bollywood

Dance is energy and sequences that live and die in a moment. I ask myself how is that something so intangible can belong to an individual or culture. There is nothing to take hold of or physically posses, thus making it difficult to describe what it is we are actually classifying. However, culture, politics, history and language, among numerous other elements, feed dance and find a vessel through the performers. This is indeed why dance is so susceptible to classification.

The mixture and amalgamation of cultures excites me, however this needs to be done with integrity and with respect for the roots of the art form. Some artists, for the sake of entertaining masses, may dilute certain cultural dances to fit the demands of the public. Does this mean that the artist lacks integrity? Not necessarily. However I think that an artist has a responsibility to acknowledge and respect the essence of the form and its history. Perhaps an example would better illustrate my point.

Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros
Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros

With Flamenco, there is an international interest which has led many non-Roma and non-Spanish people to not only learn, but pursue professional careers within the field. This is beautiful as it is a form of flattery and it even shapes to, a degree, how Flamenco evolves. However, it is a sad fact that there are professional Flamenco dancers out there who do not speak nor understand Spanish at all. This is offensive to my sensibilities and absurd. How can one label themselves a professional Flamenco dancer but not speak Spanish- the native language of Flamenco and the art form. This is limiting. If you can not fully communicate and understand letras-Flamenco verses, such a person will always be on the periphery of the art form. It is comparable to a language teacher trying to teach a student without having mastered the language themselves. If that professional Flamenco dancer does not speak Spanish how can they be the vessel of an art form? One might argue that dance is a universal language and what is transmitted from one person to another is energy and an image painted through the usage of their body. Language should not matter as the body is the entry point to something much larger and deeper. However, as a professional, there is a certain responsibility owed to the field, to the audience and more importantly to those who came before us who transmitted and gave us the form. As professional dancers we should deliver something with substance that is based on respect and understanding of its history. 

Many creators and performers choose to mix various influences in their work. Merchants of Bollywood reflects an old-new mixture. Akram Khan's DESH is a great example of this way of working, and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's Nine Songs raises some curious questions. When it comes to Flamenco artists, Rocío Molina maintains a traditional approach, yet fuses it with contemporary and ballet vocabulary and structure.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Concomitantly, some artists show little sign of other influences. Antonio Canales' work remains pure. He is a major artist and has been a key player in shaping Flamenco but has always maintained the essence and its roots. Some of Savion Glover's work, and Talley Beatty and Katherine Dunham might also serve as good examples. Are some dance forms more likely to remain untouched than others? Are these the practices with longer histories of performance, or does it simply rely on the individual performers and creators?

I see this debate as an ongoing conversation rather than a black or white issue. The categorization of an art form has its place and anchors us in a sea of knowledge and keeps us afloat when the fusion-frenzy is takes over. However, as with anything, we must be careful to not swing to far one way or to far the other way. Dance is fluid and is forever changing and evolving. Perhaps out of fear or wanting to protect its cultural integrity, I am hesitant when art forms are mixed for the sake of entertainment. Yes, we have to follow trends and allow cross-pollination to occur but not losing perspective or sight of where the art form came from. I see the benefits to categorising a form but hope it is not a box where we seal the lid. Rather, I believe there is room to place all the boxes side by side, respecting each color, size and its unique shape embracing and allowing things to mix, but also understanding how that box was constructed.