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The Art of Exile: the Micropolitics, Aesthetics and Staged Authenticities of Tai Dance
April 23 @ 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Dance, song and movement aesthetics are often overlooked in studies of war, religion and diaspora. Yet synchronized rhythmic movement promotes group coherence within all cultures, religions and nations, and holds potential for expressing political resistance. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Northern Thailand amongst Tai migrants from the Shan State in Burma/Myanmar, this talk attends to the micropolitics and staged authenticities of Tai dance (Fon Tai). I delineate the ways in which dance is a staged aesthetic, always mediated by the politics of practice, geopolitical space and the grammars of modernity. In particular, I examine performance art in the daily lives of Tai peoples – as it is in the assemblage of song, dance and discourse, that political organizations and affiliations are made. Notions of traditional, versus modern dance, harken a politics of dance that ‘others’ and excludes dances and dancers deemed as non-modern. Dance is an oft-used source of “folk practice,” summoned in situations when identity becomes important markers of belonging, power or exchange. Materialist and decolonial readings of dance promises to pluralize the aesthetic regime of arts, whereby some dance forms are not privileged over others. Tai dance as it is situated in Upland Southeast Asia, is performed at once as an exoticized touristic encounter in capitalist spaces and also as a way to evoke the Tai nation while in exile. Through the work of dance ethnography, we see that forms of dance that may be deemed ‘traditional’ by some moderns, are in fact being used in new and innovative ways.