The way in which we experience a new culture and country starts from the moment we arrive in that location and some airports use dance heritage as a way of creating a unique cultural experience for those passengers arriving from afar.
Few airports worldwide in fact use dance and others forms of intangible heritage to generate a strong first impression on visitors, yet the few airports I have experienced that do this, really seem to benefit in terms of the feeling of welcome that visitors get, and how these visitors seem to react. From interviews we did in Honolulu Airport, asking 100 visitors outside the arrivals terminal, about their reaction to the hula dance, the experience was considered a very positive one and one which really made the visitors feel very welcome. Yet some use of dance and heritage in order to boost the tourism experience is still relatively rare in airports worldwide and the blame seems to be on the emphasis put onto intangible heritage.
How can airports measure the value they get from creating this customer experience? This is a common question and not an easy one to answer although there are ways to measure LOS (Level of Service). Certain tourist destinations such as Hawaii though, which pride themselves on intangible forms of heritage such as dance with hula dance, have decided that there is value to the economy via tourism, in using dance for welcoming visitors.
As someone who has visited Hawaii twice myself, I have to say that the welcome you receive when arriving in Honolulu and other Hawaiian airports, really sets the tone for the whole holiday experience. You will not always be lucky enough to see dancers but when you do, for me and for others I have talked to, it really adds great value to the arrival.
Hula dance I find especially enchanting because it is such a delicate looking and yet powerful form of dance, and one which is fluid and always seems to be performed with a smile. It is a dance which anyone can perhaps try although a dance form which not anyone can easily master, similarly to most dance forms.
In terms of heritage, I find Hawaii a fascinating country because it seems that so much of what is considered important to the people on these islands, comes as intangible heritage (although I would define it as ‘Living Cultural Heritage‘ ).
So what could we expect from other airports around the world if we use dance and heritage to generate an experience for visitors to our respective country? This interests me a lot in that I am originally from Sicily, Italy, and the traditional dance “Tarantella” is a dance form which is struggling to survive and one which is little known about outside of Italy. Reviving such a form of dance as a way of greeting visitors I know would create an experience for many.
There will be the debate over whether using traditional dance forms for tourism purposes actually changes that form of dance from truly being the tradition it is intended to be. Is “airport art”, as Kaeppler (1973) called the dances performed for tourists in Tahiti and Hawaii ‘authentic’ enough? Or is dance performed in tourist setting not authentic, because it conflates different traditions together to create a package that tourists can easily associate with a country? It is true that, if we adapt traditional dances for a setting that they were not originally created for, they will change. Dance genres that are usually called folkloric are dances that were meant to be participatory dances, rather than theatre dances. This means that they may last a long time and be quite repetitive, because their value does not lie in being watched from the outside, but in the fact that people take part directly to these dances, so it does not matter if they are long and repetitive as the fun consists in taking part. When these dances are adapted for the stage or for tourist settings, they inevitably change as they need to become shorter (due to time constraints) and more varied, so they can be more entertaining to watch. However, I think that the two forms of dance, the original participatory form and the theatre form can coexist.
I agree with Daniel (1996), who draws on Handler and Saxton (1988) concept of experiential authenticity. In other words, the dance needs to be experienced as authentic by the performer and the degree of authenticity is measured by the commitment that the performer shows to the dance, by the energy and intention that s/he inputs in the dance. So, ‘Both the audience and performers can identify performances that are more genuine, or profoundly experienced, than routine re-enactments of dance traditions’ (Daniel, 1996, p. 794). Moreover, even tourism performances can be occasions for the development of creativity in the dance, as they are opportunities for performers to experiment with different settings and for different audiences.
You might find these resources useful if you have read the article above:
Daniel, YP. 1996 Tourism Dance Performances, Authenticity and Creativity. Annals of Tourism Research 23:4 780-797.
Handler, R., and W. Saxton 1988 Dissimulation: Reflexivity, Narration, and the Quest for Authenticity in “Living History”. Cultural Anthropology 3:242-260.
Kaeppler, A. 1973 Polynesian Dance as “Airplane Art”. Dance Research Journal 8:7 l-85.