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International Dance Day 2023: Celebrating the World of Dance

Last Updated on 2023/08/20

Yang Liping’s Message on International Dance Day

Today, April 29, marks International Dance Day, which was created by the Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute (ITI), UNESCO’s main partner for the performing arts. The date commemorates the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), the creator of modern ballet. Since its inception in 1982, the International Dance Committee and ITI select a distinguished dance personality each year to write a message for the day. We’re excited to share interviews with dancers and choreographers who have used dance and body language to communicate emotions that words sometimes cannot express.

Interviews with celebrated and talented dancers and coreographers

This year’s official message comes from Yang Liping, a renowned dancer and choreographer from China. Yang is part of the Bai ethnic group of Dali, Yunnan province, and is a national prima ballerina as well as the vice president of the China Dancers Association. Despite having no formal training, Yang’s incredible natural talent has led her to become a unique and respected dancer in China. She gained national fame with her original dance piece, Spirit of the Peacock, in 1986, which was praised for its elegance and dreamlike quality. She is the director, choreographer, and principal dancer of the famous dance drama Dynamic Yunnan, Tibetan Mystery, Echoes of Shangri-La, The Peacock, Peacock Winter, and the director of the dance theater Under Siege, Dynamic Huangshan, Dynamic Piangtan, Rite of Spring, Apeng, and Jinhua. Since 2020, she has created and directed three of the “Chinese Zodiac Dance Series Art Films”: Spring Ox, Roaring Tiger and Jade Rabbit, and Chang’e.

What is the purpose of International Dance Day celebrations, and what significance does it hold?

The purpose of International Dance Day is to promote participation and educate people worldwide about various dance forms. It encourages individuals to look beyond contemporary techniques or their personal favorite styles and approach dance with a curious and open mind, discovering different forms that may not be a part of their everyday lives. This day serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about the value and importance of dance as an art form.

International Dance Day emphasizes the universality of dance, highlighting its ability to transcend differences, unite cultures, and bring together diverse ethnic groups under a shared language. It is a celebratory occasion for those who recognize the value and importance of dance as a powerful art form that can inspire and influence governments, politicians, and institutions. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for those who have not yet acknowledged the significance of dance to understand its potential for growth, even from an economic standpoint.

How is International Dance Day celebrated?

ITI annually organizes a flagship event in a selected host city, the gala event program can vary, usually, there are dance performances, with dancers from all over the world, educational workshops, humanitarian projects, and speeches given by ambassadors, dignitaries, personalities of the dance and by the author of the message selected for the current year. In the message, it’s hoped that the author will underline the relevance and power of the dance. Dai Ailian, 1994 and Lin Hwai-min, 2013 respectively wrote the messages as representatives of China and Taiwan. The Gala Celebration in 2017 was held in Shanghai. The event was a three-day celebration with a greater emphasis on education through dance workshops and presentations led by an international cast of dance experts. In addition, a humanitarian aspect was also highlighted, mainly focused on celebrating the achievements of disabled dancers and encouraging disabled children to dance. As 2018 marked ITI’s 70th anniversary, 5 message authors were selected for the event, one for each of the 5 UNESCO regions. The 5 authors were; Georgette Gebara (Lebanon, Arab countries), Salia Sanou (Burkina Faso, Africa), Marianela Boan (Cuba, Americas), Willy Tsao (China, Asia-Pacific), and Ohad Naharin (Israel, Europe). Today, during the celebration that unites all the countries of the world, Yang Liping shares this message:

“Dance is a way to thank the Sun for bringing warmth and light to our lives. … has always been the key that unlocks human being’s communication with nature and all living beings. In my hometown, there is a saying: “If you have legs but cannot dance, you have wasted your life in vain”. Dance is closely connected to nature and life. As far as I’m concerned, dance is one and the same with nature and life—that is the true essence of dance. “

Read the full message
Asian dancer
Source. Author: Leon Liu

Across the globe and in many cities today, shows are organized to invite dancers, choreographers, dance students, and enthusiasts to join and unite on this special occasion. Dance is an artistic performance that connects souls, once completed it remains in the hearts of the dancers and the audience. The dance brings to light the nuances of the soul through the movements of the body. Dance also has a function on will and life expectancy, therefore, since it’s possible to live this experience in the first person, even if we are not professional dancers, today everyone can benefit from the pleasure of dance by choosing their favorite rhythm, but also by exploring and venturing towards new and different dances and forms of dance.

What are the historical origins of dance?

Dance is a performing art form consisting of sequences of movements, either improvised or previously choreographed and practiced. This discipline, rooted in movement, holds both aesthetic and symbolic value. Dance can be distinguished and classified based on its choreography, repertoire of movements, historical period, and place of origin.

Archaeological evidence of dance includes 9,000-year-old paintings from India and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures, dating back to around 3300 BC. It is believed that dance was a primary form of communication even before the development of oral traditions, serving as the main method for transmitting stories across generations. Dance also played a crucial role in connecting the body and spirituality, often featuring in ecstatic trance states and healing rituals. This is supported by the continuous study and observation of many contemporary “primitive” cultures, from the Brazilian rainforest to the Kalahari Desert.

Historical references to dance can be found in the ancient works of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, and Lucian, which mention the Greek dance (horos). The Bible and the Talmud also document various events related to dance, with the term appearing in over 30 different sections. Neolithic Chinese ceramics depict groups of people dancing hand-in-hand, and the term for “dance” in Chinese has been found inscribed on oracle bones. In ancient China, primitive dance was associated with witchcraft and shamanic rituals. Dance is further described in the Lüshi Chunqiu.

During the first millennium BC, numerous texts were written in India to document aspects of daily life. Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra (literally “the text of dramaturgy”) is one of the earliest works focused primarily on theater, where dance plays a significant role in Indian culture. Dance, including contemporary dance, maintains a strong connection to culture and rituals of the past and tradition, particularly in theatrical performances. Both historically and in modern times, participatory dance has held significant meaning in social, ceremonial, and competitive contexts, among others.

What are the benefits of dance?

Dance offers numerous benefits for both spectators and practitioners, regardless of whether they are professionals or amateurs. As a form of movement, dance has undeniable therapeutic functions and is used to help individuals achieve emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration. Dance therapy can improve both physical and mental health, reduce stress, prevent diseases, and manage mood.

Dancing provides various advantages, such as increased strength, physical endurance, muscle toning, improved posture, coordination, mobility, flexibility, and balance, as well as reduced muscle tension. Dance can be enjoyed by individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds, whether practiced alone, with a partner, in families, or groups. It promotes self-confidence, self-awareness, and strengthens self-esteem, while enhancing one’s perception of space. Dance also improves coordination, rhythm, and understanding of gravity, while fostering cultural and social connections. It creates a safe space for expressing emotions and has been shown to boost cognitive development in some studies.

Dance therapy, based on the interconnectedness of movement and emotion, is a versatile form of therapy used to address physical, psychological, cognitive, and social issues. It allows individuals to express and communicate both conscious and unconscious feelings through a unique “movement vocabulary,” focusing on physical expression rather than words. Dance therapy can enhance communication skills and foster dynamic relationships. A study published in The Arts in Psychotherapy (2007) found that dance therapy had a positive effect on participants experiencing symptoms of depression. Research has also demonstrated reduced movement levels in people with depression. Furthermore, dance encourages social interaction and communication, helping prevent chronic pain, childhood obesity, arthritis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and dementia, while decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress. A 2004 study in the American Journal of Dance Therapy involving 54 students participating in a violence prevention program reported decreased aggression and increased prosocial behaviors among participants.

Sources

Topics: International Dance Day 2023, ITI dance celebration, UNESCO performing arts, Yang Liping message, history of dance, dance traditions, global dance festivities
Featured image: yangliping.com

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