Living Traditions — Juan Aldape

by ashleyandersondances

It rained and poured this past weekend. The Living Traditions festival had a three day line up of dance, music, food and crafts. Having grown up in Salt Lake, I  have attended this festival for several years. While I spend the majority of my time at this event listening to the music and eating food, I make time to see one or two dance groups.

Of the weekend’s line up, I was able to see The Utah Dance Hispanic Alliance on Friday evening. UDHA presents the best folk dances from across Latin America. By having a professional company, they aim to “elevate the quality of Hispanic Folk Dances in Utah.” ( The piece that stood out was a dance in a red full-body suede costume and jingle-bells attached to the dancer’s shins, producing the ching-ching sound reminiscent of most folk and  native dances. In 2004 I had the opportunity to join Jessica Salazar, Artistic Director of UDHA, and her company for a day in the studio. My observations for that day were for research that resulted in the paper Reaffirming Corpo-Identity:The Contemporary Moving Self Through a Traditional Perspective. The paper examined the role that folk or historic dances play in establishing our sense of self  as dancers. In reflecting on this experience, I couldn’t help but reevaluate what makes certain dances “traditional”?

The Salt Lake City Arts council presents this festival with the intention to celebrate “authentic and traditional folk and ethnic arts.By preserving the cultural traditions in their community, Living Traditions artists make a great contribution to our sense of place and our shared understanding through cultural expressions.” (

So what are living “traditions”? I question the local pre-conceptions of what traditional dances are. While I respect, value and really enjoy the dances presented during the Living Traditions festival, the program fails to include broader living dance traditions, at least in the local dance community. Do the dances created locally by…say, Charlotte Christensen, Sam Hanson, Adam Sklute, Derryl Yeager and Movement Forum hold a position in our sense of place? Do they exist beyond our “traditions” imagination and are currently only mapped or dismissed as contemporary enjoyment/exploration?

Understanding how local organizations define the terms “traditions,” “authentic” and “ethnic”  is important for dance because such knowledge helps us choose between methods of how dance organizations and companies are chosen for such events. This knowledge, when drawn from a diverse dance collective, informs us of the unlikely universality of dance and the ways in which we choose to express our local histories and traditions differently.

Juan Aldape is a choreographer about town. You can read more about his projects at


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