AngelaAngela Schöpke is researching the use of Afghan dance as a tool for conflict resolution and reconciliation in a formal research project sponsored by The George Washington University (GWU). Her project is based on previous research she conducted two years ago in Northern Ireland that documented the effectiveness of an Irish government-sponsored dance program that helped reconcile religious and political factions during the “Irish Troubles.”
A formally trained dancer herself, Ms. Schöpke returned to the United States after completing her research fieldwork in Northern Ireland. She soon became involved in a project with U.S. and Afghan youth using dance as an international community-building tool. Based on her experiences in Northern Ireland, she began to wonder if dance and a similar approach also could help build national, ethnic and tribal unity in Afghanistan. She received a fellowship from GWU as a student of its prestigious Elliott School to support her new research project on this idea.
I began to wonder: If dance had helped in the process of rebuilding Northern Ireland after its many years of conflict, could the same be true for Afghanistan? Could the universal language of dance bring divided communities together in Afghanistan as it had in Northern Ireland, and help bring peace to the country? These are very intriguing and important questions. So I applied for and received a second fellowship from GWU to research the role and value of dance in Afghan communities around the world today. I’ll be traveling to Germany this month as part of this project to learn from the large Afghan-German diaspora and community there. It’s the largest in Europe.
The scene I am referring to shows a group of women singing and dancing quietly inside a house. Someone tells them that the Taliban are coming. At that point, the women immediately stop singing and dancing, throw veils over their heads, and begin weeping as though grieving for a family death. This scene had an especially powerful impact on me. Because I had always had the freedom to dance the dances of my own cultural tradition, I hadn’t fully recognized that not having that freedom was a real possibility that exists in the world. This moment in the film struck me because it questioned my understanding of something that I held as particularly valuable to my life experience and that I had taken for granted.
Pashtun men dance the attan at a picnic in southern Afghanistan
If, for example, information about the historical and cultural roots of dance in Afghanistan were paired with programs which use modern Internet and social media technologies to link Afghan students with educational resources, it could be very powerful. Dance is a universal language and people enjoy doing it or watching it. If employed in a culturally appropriate way, dance can play an important role as an opportunity to explore the commonalities across divided communities within Afghanistan. And as it did in Northern Ireland, maybe it can help. That’s what my research is all about, and as far as I can tell no one has looked at dance in this way for Afghanistan before.