The tea dance: a choreographic representation of Tamil tea plantation workers within the modern Sri Lankan folk dance repertoire
University of Peradeniya, LK
This paper reports on an ongoing research project on the popular dance choreography, “The Tea Dance.” In the 1980s and 90s, the tea dance was incorporated in a large number of cultural shows put up in Sri Lanka and abroad. As such, the tea dance often appears in the Sri Lanka National Day celebrations held in foreign countries. The Sinhala dance teachers in the public schools of Sri Lanka introduced the tea dance to their students as a folk dance of the Up-country Tamils of Sri Lanka. However, while exploring the genealogy of Sri Lankan dance critically, I realised that there was no such dance called the “tea dance” among the Tamils. Based on the several interviews I had with artists, the documentary evidence gathered from libraries, the visuals witnessed in video form and my own personal experience as a dancer, this research study examines the so-called tea dance and traces its relatively recent origins.
The history of the choreography of the tea dance within the context of the Sinhala folk dance discourse in Sri Lanka was studied. It was revealed that the tea dance presents a seriously problematic portrayal of the Up-country Tamils of Sri Lanka. It is argued that Sinhala choreographers such as Panibharata, Sri Jayana, and K.S. Fernando created the “tea dance” for the first time to represent Sri Lankan Up-country Tamils on stage in the 1970s, under the choreographic model used to create the Sinhala “folk dances.” In effect, they choreographed their imagination of the lifestyle of the women and men who work on tea plantations, portraying them comically, and ignoring the stark socio-economic realities they are forced to struggle with.
How to Cite:
Mantillake, S., 2022. The tea dance: a choreographic representation of Tamil tea plantation workers within the modern Sri Lankan folk dance repertoire. Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences, 45(1), pp.57–64. DOI: http://doi.org/10.4038/sljss.v45i1.8286
14 Dec 2022.