Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a Ukrainian dance recital put on by the Zorya Ukrainian Dance Association in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The recital depicted history from numerous distinct regions of the Ukraine. The dances, costumes, and music all reflected particular events in Ukrainian culture from various different regions.
Until attending this recital the only exposure I had to Ukrainian dance was at a wedding. The dancing at the wedding was done by a dance trope and was fantastic, however I had no idea of the historical roots and context that the dancing embodied.
The repertoire of the Zorya dance group focuses on the 19th century Ukraine. Bits of history that were readily apparent through the dances included traditional farming techniques, marriage ceremonies, hospitality protocol, and gender roles.
Dance steps and costumes in Ukrainian dance are extremely gender oriented. Certain types of dance are reserved explicitly for males, eg. using swords as props. Other dance steps such as lifts, shawl dances, ribbon and flower props are used only by females. At first I was a bit taken by how strictly gendered everything was, however considering Zorya’s emphasis on the 19th Century Ukraine, the gender roles are reflective of the period.
Watching this dance trope was a great experience and brought aspects of Ukrainian heritage alive in an interesting, engaging, and lively way. If you ever have the chance to see Zorya or another Ukrainian dance group I highly recommend it.
What other types of traditional dance embody cultural history in a similar way?
Many heritage institutions broach topics and themes that have the potential to be emotionally difficult for visitors. The holocaust, wars, slavery, residential schools, and numerous other topics are addressed by heritage organizations across the world. Physical displays, archival records, and digital material all have the potential to be triggering – especially if the topic being addressed is emotionally sensitive or has a personal connection to patrons.
How do heritage organizations broach collections that contain material which may be considered triggering? Careful consideration should be put into displays, contextual information, and the general presentation of material. Ideally organizations will have established policies for handling this type of material and include members from the impacted community in the design process to provide guidance.
In addition to careful display planning many heritage institutions which deal with sensitive material have health support on staff. Health support workers can have a variety of training, but typically they have some experience in social work or mental health counseling. Health support can be invaluable for patrons who are triggered by material in a heritage institution.
Even organizations which cannot afford to hire a health support person full-time should look into providing all their front line staff with basic health awareness training. This training should touch on possible triggers, how to identify people who have been triggered, techniques for approaching and talking to someone who is emotionally triggered, and coping skills for dealing with sensitive information.
Heritage institutions are gateways to the past. It is crucial that staff are aware that this gateway can open up to memories which are not always pleasant. History needs to approached respectfully and patron care is essential to respectful presentation of the past.