Transitionalism Dancing Exploring Personal, Cultural, and Community Identity in Afro-Cuban Folkloric Deity Dances

Thornton, Elbereth
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2015]
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The Afro-Cuban folkloric deity dances in Cuba, like so many indigenous art forms and cultural practices, have encountered change with their introduction into other countries and the expansion of globalization. How has globalization impacted the dances as they have migrated from Cuba to the United States? Has the dance technique changed? How have Cuban dance teachers changed their teaching approach and has this affected perceptions of personal identity? These questions, explored in this research, draw from my participant observations of classes and performances, literature reviews, and interviews. The methods focus on the impacts and effects of Afro-Cuban folkloric deity dances on identity due to location, and public transmittance1 in community dance class settings in the United States, specifically in dance communities in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and the Bay Area, California. Issues of personal and cultural identity2, the identity of the dances, authenticity, tradition, and appropriation are addressed from the Cuban and non-Cuban perspective of dance teachers, their students, drummers and spectators. These are the voices of the ever-expanding global community of Afro-Cuban dance and culture. The deity dances discussed in this thesis originate among the Yoruba people in West Africa. The Yoruba people and culture has shown a preservation through flexibility and resilience in the face of colonial forces which began during the enslavement of the Yoruba people during the 1400’s, and continued during the attempted elimination by Catholicism in Cuba of the Yoruba culture, including the music, dances and spiritual beliefs that became Afro-Cubanism. As a non-Cuban student, dancer, performer and teacher of Afro-Cuban deity dances, this research connects with my own concerns about the transmittance, usage, and respect of these deity dances as they travel and transform with the migration and globalization of those dancing them. A varied group of people throughout the United States West Coast was surveyed through formal interviews. The interviews included people involved in teaching or taking classes in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, the teachers and students at Center Space Studio and Bahia Brazil Arts Center in Portland, Oregon, the director of the Academy of Cuban Folklore & Dance in Seattle, Washington, teachers and students at the Dace Mission, The Beat, ODC, and Malonga in the Bay Area; and spectators and performers at a dance performance in Portland, Oregon where informally surveyed. By exploring communities where these dances are being taught, a picture of who makes up Afro-Cuban dance classes can begin to reveal the current state of much larger issues. The understanding of culture, authenticity and tradition as well as the feelings, and impact on personal and cultural identities of participants are simple subjects that reveal how communities in the United States make sense of issues of cultural integration, immigration, racism and other forms of discrimination. Afro-Cuban folkloric dances emanate from a rich and private religious background. These interviews help reveal how the change from a religious setting in Cuba to the United States, where many participants are non-religiously affiliated, has impacted these dances and the types of communities in which they reside, as well as how this change is being accepted or not by the Cuban community. This research communicates some of the current positions within these communities and connects people through the voices of the community. This in turn helps promote dialogues on cultural diversity and self-reflection on cultural identity within the United States.
M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
Dance, Afro-Cuban, Folklore, Identity
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Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Theatre & Dance
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