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Around the globe, dances that originate in village, temple, and court rituals have been adapted and transformed to carry secular meanings and serve new national purposes. In stage performances, dance competitions, and festivals worldwide, dance has become an emblem of ethnicity and an index of national identity. But what are the “backstage” stories of those dances chosen to bear such meanings, and what have been the consequences for their communities of origin? In Dance and the Nation, Susan A. Reed brings to light the complexities of aesthetic politics in a multi-faceted exploration and analysis of Kandyan dance in Sri Lanka.
As the national dance of Sri Lanka, Kandyan dance is identified with the majority Sinhala ethnic group and heavily supported by the state. Derived from the kohomba kankariya—an elaborate village ritual performed by men of the hereditary drummer caste—the dance was adopted by the state as a symbol of traditional Sinhala culture in the post-independence period. When state officials introduced the dance into the school curriculum, it was opened to individuals of all castes, and high-caste women have emerged as prominent teachers and performers. Reed’s evocative account traces the history and consequences of this transition from ritual to stage, situating the dance in relation to postcolonial nationalism and ethnic politics and emphasizing the voices and perspectives of the hereditary dancers and of women performers.
Although Kandyan dance is related to other south Asian dance forms, it is unique, distinguished by an elegant, energetic style, and lively displays of acrobatics and agility. The companion DVD includes unparalleled footage of this vibrant dance in ritual, stage, and training contexts, and features the most esteemed performers of the Kandyan region.
Special Citation book award, Society for Dance History Scholars
Winner, Outstanding Publication Award, Congress on Research in Dance
About the Author
Susan A. Reed is a cultural anthropologist and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender at Bucknell University.
“Dance and the Nation will stand as a landmark contribution to dance ethnography and be regarded as an important text in South Asian studies as well as dance studies for many years to come.”—Sally Ann Ness, University of California, Riverside
“One would be hard-pressed to find so detailed and well theorized an ethnographic study as this on the contingent conjunction in the political economy of a nation of aesthetic form, ritual content, and political substance that raises so many ethical questions of significant import. It is, indeed, a new chapter in the anthropology of dance.”—E. Valentine Daniel, Columbia University
“Dance and the Nation is not only a significant contribution to Sri Lankan and South Asian studies but also to the literature of contemporary nationalism. The book is about ‘dancing the nation,’ that is, creating a national dance out of a purely local ritual performance. Susan Reed shows with insight and sympathy the consequences of this transformation for gender and caste identities and provides an important critical commentary on the larger processes of exclusion and inclusion in nation making.”—Gananath Obeyesekere, Princeton University