When not working on award-winning productions, Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe (原舞者) artistic director Faidaw Fagod teaches at a New Taipei City high school to keep the artistic legacy of Aboriginal culture alive.
The troupe, which Fagod cofounded in 1991, derives its culturally authentic performances from meticulous field research that it conducts with Aboriginal elders from the nation’s many Aboriginal communities, New Taipei City Department of Education Commissioner Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) said.
Nine years after founding the troupe, Fagod began teaching at Jinshan High School in what was then-Taipei County’s Jinshan Township (金沙) and brings the same energy, drive and attention to detail that characterized his stage work to the classroom, Lin said.
Fagod commutes from Pingtung to New Taipei City by bus every Monday, a schedule that he said often leaves him exhausted.
The school’s Aboriginal arts and performances program teaches traditional songs and dances, provides an immersive environment in which students can learn Aboriginal languages and offers a potential career path for aspiring dancers, he said.
Such programs are crucial to the survival of Aboriginal culture at a time when urban-dwelling Aborigines are increasingly losing touch with their heritage, Fagod said.
When most of his students started the class, they had no functional knowledge of the songs, dances or even the languages of their communities, he said.
Fagod said preserving cultural heritage is like tending a garden.
“Just as the autumn flowers fall to nourish the soil for the trees next spring, accumulated experience becomes culture,” he said.
Lessons begin with singing, followed by dance practice, which emphasizes the precise footwork of traditional dancing, he said.
The dances and songs are sacred to Aboriginal traditions and taking them lightly would be blasphemous, he said.
“Singing should be joyful and the footwork needs to convey a leaping movement,” he said.
Fagod said he also encourages his students to keep up with their coursework.
“Aborigines should not consider ourselves disadvantaged. We must take pride in our identity and be strong. This is the main reason I was inspired to work on passing down our culture,” he said.
Fagod said the classroom is a place for developing dance as a language and a form of artistic expression, adding that he is happy to see that many of his students have become dancers and teachers of the traditional arts.
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