Representation of Cultural Identities in Dance

Representationof Cultural Identities in Dance

Representationof Cultural Identities in Dances

Dancehas always been perceived as one of the most important choreographicworks that represents the cultural identity of any given nation.Based on this perception, various institutions (including the Libraryof Congress) have expressed their commitment in collecting andpreservation of different dance materials that represent the culturalidentity of the people of America throughout the history of theUnited States (Risner, 2014). The American theatric dance has beengaining significance over the years, and this has attracted theattention of individuals and organizations that are studying theethnic and cultural components of dance. In most cases, theAgro-American and ethnic groups construct and reconstruct theirchoreographic work with romantic images of their respective ethnicgroups or societies they represent. This brings in the issues ofrepresentation versus misrepresentation and centeredness versusmarginalization of various aspects of cultural identities, such asethnicity, race, and gender. Dance is a primary subject of therepresentation of cultural identity and history of different socialgroups, especially the racial and gender groups.

Relationshipof dance to represent cultural identities

Danceis a prime subject of cultural analysis irrespective of whether it isperformed as a form of art or social practice. Dance involve movementand movement in turn represent the dancing practices of differentethnic, racial, gender, or other social groups that people identifywith. The possibility of people to identify with certain dancingstyles implies that dance and music are potent symbols that can beused for identification of different social groups, including ethnic,racial, or gender groups According to Grau (2001) dance can beperceived to be an effective way of embodying tradition, culturalheritage, and history at one level and as means of un-picking thecomplexity behind these concepts. Unpicking is done with theobjective of showing that dance cannot be particularly significance,unless an emphasis is placed on tradition and identity in the making.This is based on the notion that tradition and cultural identityoperates through and in the stakes they construct. The most effectiveway of analyzing the relationship between dance and identity is toconsider the aspects of exclusion and inclusion in each danceperformance as done in the present study.

MaryLou`s Mass: Representation of the female gender as a marginalizedidentity

MaryLou Williams is one of the female musicians who succeeded inperforming the jazz, which was previously dominated by men. The MaryLou’s Mass is one of her song that clearly indicated themarginalization of the female gender in the society. The song wascomposed under the title “the Music for Peace”, but it was laterchoreographed as “Mary Lou’s Mass” by the Alvin Ailey Theatre(Unterberger,2014). Mostimportantly, the song was released in 1964 when the second phase offeminism was in the air. William was talented in many ways and shecould play different roles in music (including playing piano,composing music, arranging the dance participants, and actualperformance), which gave her victory in the jazz world that wasdominated by men. Although Williams was a woman, she took theposition of a man while on stage and accepted the public use of theterm men as well as masculine in describing her (Kenneth,2014). Thisimplies that Williams intended to help the audience see her body aspart of cultural identity through a physical presence moving throughand with gendered meanings.

Williamsused the stage performance to create an impression that she was asstrong as a man. In addition, her interest in the jazz music coupledwith her presentation as a man sent a message that women were as goodas men, but they had been marginalized merely on the grounds ofgender differences and not their abilities. In an interview followingher jazz performance, Williams asserted that working with men intheatric performance helped her think like a man does (Kenneth,2014). Although the dance was choreographed at a time when the ideaof feminism was at its peak, Williams did not intend to stereotypethe jazz culture by developing a feminine jazz style, but intended touse it as performance guidance. Being a pioneer woman in jazz music,she had to accept and adhere to the rules of the game that had beenestablished by men for many years. She had to use her “masculinity”to with the attention the audience, get its support, and succeed inher career. This indicates the degree to which the female gender hadbeen marginalized in the music industry to an extent that a woman hadto assume the men’s masculinity to succeed in the music industry.

TheYellow Brick Road and representation of the White Americans in hiphop music

Althoughhip hop was initially influenced by multiple cultures, the dominationof the music genre by the Black Americans has resulted inmarginalization of the other races. The Eminem’s first performanceof the music “Yellow Brick Road” gave an indication that a whiteAmerican could not succeed in hip hop without using the dancing andcostumes associated with the Black America rappers. In his song“Yellow Brick Road” Eminem describes the challenges he facedtrying to get his way into hip hop music in 1990s (Garza, 2012).Eminem had to buy some Flava Flav clock and some African medallionsto assume the identity of a Black American rapper, but ended up beingridiculed by the Black Americans by telling him that he was notsupposed to have those things. This suggests that the back and forthmovement of the hip hop music had completely excluded other racesfrom what would be considered as the real hip hop. Eminem describesthe past experiences I the song while presenting himself as a typicalwhite artist. Eminem’s persistence and courageous presentation ofthe hip hop song in spite of the race-related challenges he faced inthe 1990s proves that hip hop music is now inclusive of other races,cultures, and ethnicities. The use of different body movement, apartfrom those that are associated with the Black Americans, during thestage performance also indicated that hip hop can now be presented inmyriad dancing styles that are commonly used by artists fromdifferent racial backgrounds.


Dance,especially the choreographic works behind the dance, is an effectiveway of representing cultural identities of different social groups.This is because movement, which is the basis component of dance, ispart of identity of all social groups. Dance conveys much about agiven community even if the performance of the social dance was notprevalent in a given culture. The MaryLou`s Mass by Williams Lou and YellowBrick Road performed by Eminem are good illustrations of how danceand choreography can be used to represent cultural identity. Williamswork shows the marginalization of the female gender in the jazz musicwhile Eminem’s work illustrates the representation f all races inthe hip hop music that was previously dominated by the BlackAmericans.


Garza,E. (2012, April 13). Hip hop, identity, and marginalization. Beats,Bars, Breaks n Videos.Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Grau,A. (2001). Dance and cultural identity. Foundationfor Community Dance.Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Kenneth,W. (2014). Jazz women power” “Marginalized” identity as a toolof empowerment. Culturalstudies.Retrieved August 21, 2014, from

Risner,V. (2014). Culturaland ethnic identity.Library of Congress: Library of Congress.

Unterberger,R. (2014). Mary Lou’s Mass. AllMedia Network.Retrieved August 21, 2014, from