A couple of months ago, a classroom in Sheffield (UK) hosted a quirky scene. In the same room there were people writing code with three objectives: to design the plot that would be woven on an electronic loom, to compose music, and to dance flamenco. This last part of the workshop was led by the dancer and researcher at the Dance Research Center (C-DaRE) from Coventry University Rosa K. Cisneros, which combines her passion for dance with the search for new relationships between cultural minorities and digital technologies. In recent years, Cisneros has modeled a motion capture system, danced with avatars, and launched a project to add 5,000 new records from minority cultural communities to the digital library. Europeana.
“My mother is a gypsy, from the south of Spain. And my father from Serbia. They met in the United States and I was born in Chicago.” Rosa K. Cisneros begins to unravel her story by video call from Sheffield (United Kingdom), where she now resides. First thing, the dance. “My mother gave it to me. I studied dance from a very young age, but flamenco gave it to me at home”, explains the bailaora and researcher. In that same home, and later at university, he developed a particular sense of responsibility towards the Roma community. “I saw that dance and education were an opportunity to talk about very difficult, very emotional issues and to reach people who might be a bit on the sidelines.” Over time, technology came along. “It’s incredible what can be done with technology and the importance that the bailaora has in that relationship”, she sums up.
During his studies, Cisneros already had some opportunities to explore this symbiosis by creating video-dances. “That’s where the curiosity began,” he recalls. His intuition was confirmed five years ago, when he participated in the European project WhoLoDancE, which was launched within the framework of the Horizon 2020 program to develop and apply new technologies to dance learning. The bailaora was then covered with sensors to act before a movement capture system designed to digitize her steps with five objectives: analyze and compare different practices, preserve cultural heritage, innovate in teaching methodologies, create a repository of movements that can be integrated into new choreographies and expand access to dance through that database.
In that context, the bailaora understood the potential of mixing profiles, of combining the perspective of artists and technologists: “That’s why I try to do collaborations that aren’t what I expected”. The workshop where the code, the looms, the music and the flamenco dance coincided is an example. “What’s that? We don’t know, but that’s also the beauty. I am very traditional in some things, but in others I like to break barriers and see what comes out”, he explains. The fundamental objective of this initiative was to bring together different cultural communities and open an unexpected window to the world of programming; explore the patterns that mark both the design on the looms and the musical composition and flamenco dance, and how the modifications affect the final result. “It’s funny because we normally talk about dance as something that is seen inside the body, but seeing it written like that is very different.”
The setting was strange, but the concepts were universal. “There were also families who didn’t speak English. And sometimes we think that these are elevated and abstract concepts that cannot be understood, but when we use the body we understand in another way, it is something primary”, Cisneros reasons. And everyone takes their own learning. A fourteen-year-old girl celebrated the opportunity to lean out to that of the code. She had always been interested in it, but thought it was “a boy thing”. A boy who seemed obsessed with demonstrating his bravado and disinterest, could not help but make a suggestion about the melody they were composing. For some members of Sheffield’s gypsy community, with roots in Slovakia or Romania and long weaving traditions, this was their first time at a loom. Others remembered seeing their elders doing something similar. Others proposed TikTok dances. “This is another way to start the conversation, another way to reach young people”, states the bailaora.
The next chapter of the Cisneros exploration is already underway. This is the European project. Weave (CEF EU-WEAVE) that started at the end of last year with the aim of enriching the digital library Europeana with new high-quality records – photos, videos and other digital files – coming from cultural minorities.
Within the next six months Weave should have produced some 5,000 new records, but the path to this digitization effort includes the development of tools such as a 3D modeling system or a video annotation platform, as well as training programs that train representatives of each community to use them. “We want to study how cultural heritage and digital technologies help us open more equal and sincere dialogues. Bringing many people with different profiles does not have to be a clash of identities. We can learn from each other”, adds the researcher.
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