Reflection Paper 1
In the past, there were many roles for traditional court dances. They were shown to display power, to exemplify nobility, to honor their kings and gods, and their court dances symbolized culture and order. As time moved forward, many countries were being captured by other countries and some countries had next-in-line kings. Both the conquering countries and the next-in-line kings sought to either preserve the court dances or change the rules on how they are performed and who performs them. Although changes have taken place in countries that have traditional court dances, there are still many roles traditional court dances serve in modern societies that are no longer governed by monarchs or chiefs. These roles allow the modern societies to preserve tradition, have a cultural identity, and share ideas through influence.
Preserving tradition can be a hard thing to do, especially when a country is captured repeatedly one would say it would be hard to preserve. There is a classical court dance in Cambodia and it was a treasure in this country for more than a thousand years. When Angkor, a city in Cambodia was taken over by the Siamese, Angkor was abandoned, and the Siamese acquired the court dancers. The tradition survived despite the takeover and the court dance was performed in royal funerals and the King’s palace. Until the 20th century, the Cambodian dancers would live in the King’s palace and perform ancient ritual dances that were of myth and folktales. However, in 1975, The Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge was determined to get rid of everything that represented Cambodia’s past. The traditional court dancers in Cambodia were symbolic and because of this they were hunted down, killed, and imprisoned. However, in 1979, the Vietnamese and Cambodians overthrew The Khmer Rouge and their new government decided to restore the dance with some of the dancers that survived the brutality. Today, the Cambodian traditional court dance is being introduced to people outside of Cambodia and I believe that this keeps their tradition alive because it allows them to share their ancient traditions with other people, and those people shall incorporate it in their dances. The power of dance is amazing because it continues to be a surviving element in the cultures of the world.
Identity is very important for a society. Identity gives a reason for being or pride. It says that I matter, that I belong. It is a makeup of an individual that defines one’s self. In the Asante tribe, there is an event called The Big Adae, where highly decorative umbrellas are used to shade the Asante and it displays how they appear in the public eye. In Japan, Bugaku dancers show their identity by the elegant costumes that they wear. Also, in Java, during dances, people wear different types of crowns, ceremonial daggers, and gold leaf umbrellas to show the differences between dynasties that were around in Java. Costumes, props, events, and language can define a person’s identity, but without it, an individual may feel like they don’t have a purpose.
Many traditional court dances were not seen by the public eye. Outsiders could not see these dances, nor commoners of a country that the dance belong to. In the country of Java, commoners we’re never allowed to see or learn their court dances. During the reign of Sultan Buwono, he allowed the court dances to be open to the people. Also, he opened a school outside of the court so that anyone who wanted to study the dance, could learn it. The Sultan’s goal was to invigorate the court arts by opening them up to new influences and bringing the dance in contact with new highly develop court forms. Today, the dance has been taken out of the palace and shortened to appeal to modern societies. Choreographers have taken the court dances of java and have mixed it up with western steps and music. In the past, traditional court dances were hidden from the masses. I am glad that when some rulers got into a position of power like Sultan Buwono, the court dances were released and taught to the public. This is important because when a dance is hidden no one gets to see it and I believe when a dance is seen and taught it influences its audience, spreading like wildfire; just like with Java.
I’ve learned the role of traditional court dances through cultural identity, the preservation of tradition, and its influences. Each role is important because it maintains a societies culture. Although some monarchs and chiefs are no longer present in certain societies, their impact is still present through the court dances, costumes, and music. Traditional court dances and their roles will forever live on in the modern societies that choose to preserve them.
Jonas, Gerald. Dancing: the pleasure, power and art of movement. New York: Abrams, 1992.Chapters 1;3