Monday, October 12, 2009

Tango Granted "Intangible Cultural Heritage" Status By UNESCO

The Tango of Argentina and Uruguay has been granted 'intangible cultural heritage' status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) at a meeting in Abu Dhabi on September 30 2009. Both these Latin American countries which had laid claim to be the birthplace of the Tango, had earlier set aside their differences and jointly submitted an application for the dance and music to be considered a world cultural treasure. The Argentinean and Uruguayan tradition of the Tango, now familiar around the world was developed by the urban lower classes in Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the Rio De La Plata Basin during the early 19th century. The Tango was among the 76 elements inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity this year.

Malaysia's cultural heritage did not made it to the list this year. However in 2005, the Mak Yong theatre from Malaysia was granted 'intangible cultural heritage' status by UNESCO. Mak Yong is a traditional Malay art form incorporating elements of dance, acting, opera, vocals, instrumental music and elaborate costumes. All the characters in a Mak Yong are played by women and it is performed mainly for entertainment or for ritual purposes related to healing practices. Mak Yong, which requires years of training, has traditionally been performed in the northern states of Kelantan and Trengganu in Peninsular Malaysia and in the province of Patani in Southern Thailand. Sadly, interest in the Mak Yong is waning and if there are no serious efforts to promote or revive this art form, the Mak Yong may go the way of the dodo soon.

While many folk or traditional dances from various countries have been included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, this is the first time a popular social dance that is, the Tango has been included in the list. Is there a likelihood for the other popular social dances like the Ballroom, Latin American, Salsa, Hip Hop, Line Dance, Belly Dance, etc to follow suit? In order to be considered for inclusion in the list, the dance should have a fairly long and interesting history and 'cultural value'. Most of the popular social dances have a history of less than one hundred years, with the exception of the Waltz and Belly Dance. I believe these are the two dances that could be accorded world cultural heritage status if there are concerted efforts by the countries concerned to have them inscribed in the World Cultural Heritage List.

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