The word culture is defined as the quality in a society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc. It can also be defined as the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social,ethnic, or age group. The definition of the term cultural, in turn, is that which relates to culture. Anthropology is defined as the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind. The word belief, present in both definitions, enumerates a major theme shared by both terms. Cultural anthropology aims to identify the core beliefs and ways of thinking of a particular culture, and is thus inherently philosophical. Because the term cultural anthropology is so close to my topic of choice, I have elected to utilize it as the final window into my research and the fruits of my observations during the time I’ve spent here in Beijing.
Originally I had chosen to conduct research specifically on modesty and the moral aspects of ballroom dance. The 舞燃情 (Wuranqing) Dance Studio served as my field site, and I attended classes and social dances to gain exposure to the “culture” of the studio as a small piece of Beijing. However, as the weeks passed by I found that the customs of the studio as a whole were more familiar to my own, and that I gained more of a sense of cultural expansion and understanding from the experiences which occurred to me outside of the studio. Through readings and discussion conducted in our cultural class I realized that though the traditional Confucian ideals promoted during the Qing dynasty linger in the hearts and minds of common people today, the westernization and globalization of China has led to conflicting new methods of self reflection and points of view towards the rest of the world. Consequently, what might have before been considered as “immodesty” in relation to dance has become irrelevant in the face of welcoming/absorbing/learning the cultures of the rest of the world. Ballroom dance has become something of a “high culture”. Apart from the book, this phenomena is further evidenced in everyday life, simply from what one can observe on the streets – what are people wearing, and why? The interview I conducted with 蒋风林 (Jiang Fenglin), the front desk receptionist at 舞燃情, provided the final direct evidence needed to drive home the answer to this cultural inquiry.
蒋风林 had never danced before coming to work as the front desk receptionist at 舞燃情. However, she has since regularly taken lessons in between fulfilling the requirements of her job (registering new students, taking attendance, and assisting in the organization of competitions). When I asked her about her opinion on ballroom dance as a whole, she responded that she viewed it as a passionate vocation, good for developing partnership and cooperation, and overall as a high class skill. Further over the course of the interview she revealed to me that in regards to philosophy, she had beem introduced to core Confucian concepts and virtues, such as fidelity, respect for parents, etc., during middle school. When I specifically asked her about modesty, she replied that she believed the virtue was important and necessary, but that it wasn’t applicable in the context of ballroom dance. Furthermore, she attested that ballroom conceives of its own forms of moral correctness and values, for example requiring men to first offer their hands to ask ladies to dance, etc.