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4th October 2015

A changing beat

Selsabil Amine discusses the powerful presence and important role carried out by the university’s Indian Dance Society

While Postmodernism is a heavily debated topic, we can, for the purposes of understanding culture here, call it a critique of present structures. It is a way of thinking, some may say, that tells us what was an absolute truth yesterday is valid debate today. It is a lens that rejects binary systems altogether and adopts a more water-coloured view of society, where people make conscious decisions as to which identities and what aspects about them to embrace or reject.

It is in my interest to explore this notion with the Indian Dance Society, as they seem to be a brilliant example of transitioning cultures. Indeed, they have won Best Arts and Media Society last year and have even been celebrated in Bahrain for spreading Indian Culture in the West. So who are they and why are they important to seeing culture through post-modern spectacles? They are simply a society that offer Indian dance classes with the opportunity to perform.

Most recently, members of the Indian Dance Society have performed in front of University Place, exhibiting moves for a trendy Bollywood mashup. It might seem all fun and games, but they had essentially introduced a cultural art form originating in historical India to the cloudy streets of modern Manchester in a way they designed. Usually, they perform on stage in elaborate dress, but this time it was in jeans and T-shirts.

Displayed for all to see, people could embrace, reject, ponder, Google later or simply snap a few photos to show friends or family. It was an event that demonstrated the multiple ways in which one culture, or a representation of it, can be spread and interwoven with other interests. Take, for instance, the variety of Indian dance available.

There are classes for elegant Bharathanatyam and Khatak, as well as popular cinematic Bollywood dance, and they all mean different things to different people. For some, it is a deep-rooted passion linked with history and heritage, for others, it is a charismatic workout. Nonetheless, the processing and adoption of the culture or cultural aspects is still there.

However, it is important to stress that this is starkly different from cultural appropriation, which is the ignorant adoption of religio-cultural symbols or materials, in a culturally void and hedonistic manner, usually fostered in a consumerist fashion. Rather, in this case, adopting cultural aspects, such as reinterpreted Indian dance, is merely an illustration of mediating identity and influence.

For young post-modern thinkers, cultural identity and everything attached to it is decentralised away from the prescribed image provided by family and wider society. So the situation is such that a person is authentically embracing an entire or an aspect of another authentically cultural thing, while the same thing is happening everywhere else.

Whatever a person may relate these dances to, there is no denying the coupling of the old, new and newer bring a completely new face to Indian dance, through such interpretation. And it is the fact of interpretation that makes the cultural scene so unique and progressive. Newcomers or weekly attendees can reinterpret and reconstruct whatever they wish for whatever ends.

The event showed us that any culture could transition from A to B, in the way anyone wants. This is such a fundamental part of culture in a post-modern setting, because it breaks what we traditionally think of as culture, and allows us to explore what we feel our own individual cultures should be about. Culture is no longer limited to location, customary regulations, or creed; it can be dynamic and available. Culture, here, becomes fluid and settles only when a person is not engaging with it.

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