Video: Watch dance diplomacy in action on YouTube.
About the Author: Maura M. Pally serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Professional and Cultural Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).
By the end of March, three outstanding American modern dance companies will have completed tours through Asia, Africa, and Latin America as part of a new pilot program, DanceMotion USA, developed by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The companies -- Urban Bush Women; ODC/Dance; and Evidence, A Dance Company -- offered performances, workshops, and master classes and have been blogging about their experiences along the way.
Why is the U.S. government sending dancers abroad? The Department of State has long been supportive of the arts as an integral component of U.S. foreign policy. Dance, in particular, transcends language, politics, and religion. These dancers are not only excellent performers and instructors, but they are also true citizen diplomats serving to promote mutual understanding and counter cultural stereotypes.
Through performing arts programs such as DanceMotion USA, which brings U.S. dance companies to schools and community centers as well as performance spaces, the State Department engages new audiences, fosters goodwill, and provides insight into American culture and values. An excellent example of this program's reach is Evidence, A Dance Company's visit to Joza, a South African township, which was covered in the New York Times and by the paper's ArtsBeat blog.
Cultural diplomacy programs also demonstrate our respect for other cultures by showcasing the contributions made by other societies to our own. And, as the touring companies share U.S. culture with their hosts, they also bring back a better understanding of the people and cultures they have met, which can influence their outlook on the world and often their friends', peers', and family's views as well.
While ECA manages and funds other programs that feature dance, including the Performing Arts Initiative and Cultural Envoys, this first year of DanceMotion USA has demonstrated clearly that there is a great deal of enthusiasm and need for a dance-focused touring program. In response, the State Department will continue this initiative, with the goal of eliciting a broad level of interest from artistic institutions across the United States and reaching out to a new group of countries next year.