This year’s homecoming theme, “Arabian Nights,” has stirred up conversation within the student body about how to accurately represent diverse cultural heritages. At the homecoming rally earlier this month, Charter Oak’s Advanced Dance class performed choreography inspired by the theme which created debate.
The dance was performed to “Jai Ho,” a Bollywood song featured in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” and performers wore outfits inspired by belly dancing garments. The mixture of cultures used to represent the “Arabian Nights” theme was charming to some, but perceived as misrepresentation by others.
“They mixed up the Indian culture and Middle Eastern culture. They used ‘Jai Ho,’ a Bollywood song, yet the dancers wore belly dancing garments originated in Egypt. And the rally was supposed to be themed around Arabian Nights,” said senior Alison Ghafari, an Armenian American student and president of Charter Oak’s Middle Eastern Unity Club.
Inquiring further with the school’s Indian demographic revealed another perspective on the performance. Senior Ashvir Toor stated that she believed the misrepresentation stemmed from the theme itself.
“Since the theme of the rally was based on of ‘Aladdin,’ which itself has many misrepresentations, the dance was understandable,” said Ashvir. “However, it was a little frustrating watching a performance that combined the cultures, knowing that most people thought it was representing only one.”
Both Ashvir and Alison emphasized that the problem of inaccurate cultural representation is derived from the image of Middle Eastern and Indian nationalities in mainstream media.
“This was an instance of being misinformed about the difference between ‘Arabian,’ essentially Middle Eastern culture, and Indian culture. This is a common mistake, but it should not be dismissed as often as it is. It should be educated upon,” said Alison.
Cultural appropriation is a difficult topic to discuss in a world where debates concerning “political correctness” are commonplace. However, it is extremely important for institutions with culturally diverse populations to make community, unity and support a priority.
“If this had been a dance for the unity fair then it would need to be extensively researched and culturally accurate, such as Bharata Natyam, a traditional Indian dance, but this was a rally and a homecoming theme that I and dance had nothing to do with,” said Mrs. Kamily Coriaty, Charter Oak’s Advanced Dance instructor. “I happen to be second generation Middle Eastern and I did not find any of our dance offensive in any way.”
Coriaty emphasizes that the dance was done in compliance with the theme that ASB chose, but students believe this is not an excuse for a lack of research. They believe effort is essential when presenting cultures that have historically been displayed as a conglomeration of nationalities for mainstream audiences.
“I understand that the dance was made to be fun and ‘be Indian’ to represent ‘Aladdin,’ however, my suggestion would be to research the movie or the cultures more,” said Ashvir.
“As an Indian with Middle Eastern friends, I just wish that the differences in the cultures were more prominent because both of the cultures are beautiful on their own and don’t deserve to be ignorantly mixed together,” Ashvir says.
Although the lines may be unclear concerning what is and isn’t an instance of cultural appropriation, one thing is clear: the lines of communication must remain open and receptive to multiple viewpoints in order to preserve and foster diversity.