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Bridge to Cross Cultures

by Dina Hinkis

Dance, being an art form, expresses culture. The cultural affiliation of the individual is set by his place of birth, his education and the environment from which he absorbed traditions and practices for daily living.

Determining the culture of origin of a person, does not mean that all members of the same culture are identical in their thoughts or actions. During the course of human life, many encounters take place with members of different cultures. Such encounters may generate conflicts, struggle, violence or alienation. But when curiosity develops in a person, with modesty and acceptance, such encounters will take the form of cooperation, learning, personal growth, and the creation of social pluralism. From such a process society can achieve social and economical flourish and diversified expression. In the Israeli society, since its independence until today, there exist many subcultures, characterized by elements that the citizens brought from their countries of origin.

Dance accompanies the cultures since their early beginnings. For each event or social expression there was and still is The Dance. During dancing, arrested forces burst into action, released by the mystical power in the dance, and with the aid of the natural instinct for rhythm and the pattern of the dance, the dance sublimates the anti social feelings of the individual and brings all its participants to become one social unit.

To test the subject of my work I chose to research a high school dance program and to conduct special classes in my studio for the Art of Dancing that operates in Modiin. The special classes where addressed to girls of ages 10-11. For reviewing a school program I contacted Anat Sharon, the headmaster of the Dance Department of the High School for Science and Art in Hadera.

The department was started 5 years ago. Last year was the third graduation. The Department was devised according to the plan for dance departments of the Ministry of Education with an addition of a special emphasis on ethnic dance. The methods of research included: 1 – An interview with the department’s headmaster Anat Sharon. 2 – A questionnaire filled by students of the 11th grade in the department. 3 – A phone conversation with three students that graduated the department last year (June 2000). 4 – I brought guest teachers to my studio to teach my 10-11 year old students, oriental dance (“belly dance”), Israeli dance (“folk dance”), Spanish dance (Flamenco) and then I conducted an open interview with my students.

Dance, as an art form, has a valuable potential for education. But as any instrument the results of using it depends on the teacher. A teacher can direct (knowingly or mistakenly) to a feeling of superiority of a student that dances in one style over a student dancing in a different style. Or he can portray a low self esteem feeling in a student when comparing different students and their movement in executing the same dance. Or by appraising the excellent students and down-grading those who have difficulties.

This approach is common in schools with a directing attitude where the studies are for the sake of producing professional dancers. My personal approach to dance tutoring is that dance to all participants is primarily an educational instrument, through which the student is directed to learn and understand himself.

This acquaintance with the physical and spiritual aspects permits growth and development up to the limit of the personal potential that is hidden in each self. From all students only a small number will have the exceptional talent for artistic dance and they can continue to develop into the professional world.

Thus I don’t see a contradiction between teaching dance for general education and teaching dance for a profession. Thus dance can serve as a bridge between cultures but it is important how it is used. The organizer of such a program must be very sensitive to the feelings of the students, their emotions, avoiding resentment from the subject matter.

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