DIALOGUES: Towards Decolonizing Music and Dance Studies

Dance, Body and Decoloniality

Between Practice and Institutionalization


Sriradha Paul (Choreomundus - International master’s in Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage)


Sriradha Paul




Maria Luiza Silva Patury e Souza
Sriradha Paul
Samson Akanni
Mohammed Faisal (Choreomundus- International master’s in Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage)

The marks of colonialism are still evident in our contemporaneity; however, its manifestations have progressively become more complex. Through the collective endeavour of this ICTM Dialogues session, we aim to reflect on shades of decoloniality in dance, mobilising different contexts and situations from practice-based (tradition to contemporary) and institutional-based (museums and academia) knowledge. We explore how East-West power dynamics play out in ways that permit us to observe shifts from the centre to the periphery, rather than conventional understandings of the oppression of the Global South. Departing from these reflections, the four presentations in this panel will show that decoloniality is a dynamic process that has the potential of initiating dialogues to foster social equality.

This panel was proposed by a diverse and international group of emerging researchers from Nigeria, Brazil, Ghana, and India, to support and contribute to the debate of decolonisation of music and dance studies. All participants are Master’s students in the programme Choreomundus–International Master’s in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage, coordinated by the Université Clermont-Ferrand (UCA).

Sriradha Paul. Deconstruction of Classicism in Odissi dance? A Case Study of a Contemporary Odissi Dance Choreographer

Based on a performance practice perspective, the contradictory history of Odissi (Indian classical dance) as a post-colonial dance is not free from the colonial eye. From an insider-outsider position in the Odissi community, Paul observes possible shifts in Odissi dance from the classical decolonized body to the dynamic body of decoloniality, in the works of a few celebrated Indian choreographers. This work analyses the issue of Pay and Perform, and the interdisciplinary work of dismantling disciplinary boundaries, focussing on intersectional work between genders, class, and Indigenous communities.

Maria Luiza Silva Patury e Souza. Decentralizing Museum Narratives Through Performance: Discussing Examples in the United Kingdom

Several ethnographic and archaeological museums in the United Kingdom have been gradually focusing on the inclusion of dance and other performing arts within their exhibitions. Generally, this trend is part of a discourse by these institutions that seeks more interactivity and a better contextualization of their collections. Traditional dance artists and practitioners who have made presentations in these spaces have reflected on how they have been represented by the institutions, pointing out what they consider to be the colonial character of museum discourse. Focusing on two case studies involving South Asian classical dance, this presentation asks how performances (dance in particular) can critically engage with colonial museum collections, and address issues related to the legacies of a colonial past. Furthermore, this presentation reflects on ways to decentralize the institutional approach of a museum and foster fruitful dialogues between dance practitioners and scholars/curators.

Faisal Mohammed and Samson Akanni. Afro Contemporary Dance Practice: Dialoguing Decolonisation from an Artistic Perspective

Contemporary dance choreographers in Nigeria have recently made extra efforts to propagate the philosophies of their ancestors through novel dance styles. Among these choreographers is Qudus Onikeku, a prominent Nigerian dance professor known for his "atypical" performance and rehearsal methods. His efforts to alter narratives of how we perceive and imagine dance is embodied in the techniques he devised to deconstruct and recreate the dance body of Africans. This presentation brings his training and performance methodologies to the fore. We also consider the frameworks of Onikeku's work to help us understand his deconstructive strategies, decolonial tools, motivations, and visions for African dance practitioners.


Further References

Banerji, Anurima. 2019. Dancing Odissi: Paratopic Performances of Gender and State. London; New York; Calcutta: Seagull Books.
Banks, Ojeya Cruz. 2010. “Critical Postcolonial Dance Pedagogy: The Relevance of West African Dance Education in the United States.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 41 (1): 18–34.
Bishop, Claire. 2014. “The Perils and Possibilities of Dance in the Museums: TATE, MOMA, and Whitney.” Dance Research Journal 46 (3): 62-76.
Marglin, Frederique. 1985. Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri. New York; New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Proctor, Alice. 2020. The Whole Picture: The Colonial Story of the Art in Our Museums...and Why We Need to Talk About It. London: Cassel Publisher.


It was an enriching experience for all the presenters to prepare for this ICTM Dialogues session. To some extent, we consider ourselves to be by-products of a colonial regime; thus, it was challenging to identify ourselves with the idea of decolonizing our practices. Group discussions during our preparation for the session emphasized the difficulties of defining decoloniality and finding our own voices as researchers, academics and practitioners/artists. We explored the boundaries between individual creativity and appropriation, as well as issues related to authenticity and safeguarding. This allowed us to formulate a more complex understanding of decolonial discourse, and to identify different gaps in knowledge and understanding. After the ICTM Dialogues session, attendees asked questions and provided us with opportunities to clarify our arguments. We appreciated the opportunity to share our ideas and experiences with a very diverse group that included esteemed scholars, practitioners, and researchers from different parts of the world. As a group, we believe that this diversity was essential to fostering dialogue about decoloniality and bringing it to a more interesting place. In the context of the session, we were able to reflect on copyright issues related to dance, and the role of educational institutions and museums in dealing with their colonial past; as well as pragmatically discuss with other traditional dancers their experiences of different situations where power relations are key.


Questions to Consider

To what extent can we push the idea of decolonizing our practices (culture, dressing, dance, costume, etc.) in this globalized world, where virtually everything is already intricately mixed into a whole?

How can we copyright our dances, and what possible rules can we create regarding appropriation?

How can educational institutions such as academia and museums (formal and informal knowledge) engage with debates regarding decolonization, and give space to communities that are interested in contributing to these discussions?

What are the benefits of dialogues between institutions such as universities and museums, and (arts) practitioners? How can one deal with power dynamics that are part of these relationships?

How can an African artist traverse the difficulties of presenting a traditional piece to an international audience, without succumbing to colonial ideas?

Who is decolonizing dances such as Odissi, and for whom? Who benefits from the work of this decolonization?

In what ways do African artists decentre ideas of coloniality in their dance art forms?

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