Author Archive
general

Pre-Competition Cheer

“Basically, when I was doing cheer, whenever we had a competition we would stand in a circle and put our arms around each other’s shoulders, and then we would rock back and forth and yell “S-T-O-R-M-E-L-I-T-E” because that was our team name. And then we would put our hands in the middle, go up and down five times, and then we’d yell break. If we didn’t do that five times, or if we didn’t spell Storm Elite, we would lose. But if we lost, at least we had done it, so we lost because of something else, not because we didn’t do it.”

Background Information and Context:

The informant’s cheer squad performed this ritual at each competition, right before they stepped on stage. The informant cheered for two years in Wisconsin when she was 15-16 years old. This was a private team that she paid to join, not a school team. They did dance, stunts, and tumbling, but no actual cheering.

Collector’s Notes:

This is definitely not the first time I’ve heard of this pre-competition good luck tradition. It’s a great example of multiplicity and variation. My own high school tennis team did a “Terriers on 3! … 1-2-3! Terriers!” before matches, putting our hands in and breaking just as the informant’s cheer squad did. What I find most interesting about this example is that, although forgoing the cheer would lead to a loss in the eyes of the informant’s squad, doing it and still losing didn’t necessarily take away the validity of the superstition. Pre-competition traditions are often not logical or actually lucky, but, nevertheless, they serve the additional roles of getting the athlete in the right mindset and instilling a sense of team comradery.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Bring Pork on the Pali Highway

“In Hawaii, there’s a big stigma about the Pali Highway. You’re not supposed to carry pork on it from the windward side to the leeward side because it has to do it the belief in the Hawaiian gods The windward side, [my sister] said it was the Kamapua’a, which is the pig god, and then the leeward side is the embodiment of his ex-girlfriend, which is Pele, which is the goddess of fire. If you if you bring poured across the Pali Highway from windward to leeward, you’ll get cursed with bad luck. You’re supposed to bring tea leaves to protect yourself, and that’s why you don’t drive with pork.”

Background Information and Context:

“[I learned about the superstition] through one of my teachers, my Modern History of Hawaii teacher, I believe, because he used to tell different stories and things, so use telling the history of the island and about how we have a really like big mixed culture but also, like, indigenous Hawaiian cultures. So, I would modern Hawaiian culture, at least, is like an amalgamation of a bunch of different things that are mixed into [indigenous Hawaiian culture]. So, different superstitions, too. All of the older aunties and uncles, especially native Hawaiian and aunties and uncles, will be steadfast about superstitions, but I have never met anyone who like really really strict about this one. Still, even if they’re not really really strict about it, like they don’t super believe in it, they won’t do it anyway because it’s just one of those superstition things that you just don’t do.”

Collector’s Notes:

What I find most interesting about this superstition is that, although the informant has never met anyone who truly claimed belief in the superstition, she considers it something you “just don’t do.” This shows the power of cultural expectations and explains why superstitions are so resilient to fading. Moreover, I find the informant’s knowledge of and education about Hawaiian history and culture intriguing because she was neither born in Hawaii nor is she of indigenous Hawaiian descent, showing that the adoption of local traditions does not have to occur from a young age.

Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical

If you hear this song, stop what you’re doing, and warm up

“Jonathan likes to use the same warm-up song over and over again if he can, and he does these exercises that are always the same for warm-ups because they work. Tendus and other things, exercises where you work your hips while pointing your feet (still seated, he locks the fingers of both hands together, holds his arms in front of him, and moves his feet in an approximation of one of the warm-up exercises) and other actions to really build up muscle memory for the articulations that you need to have in order to do good rhythm dancing – cha cha, rumba, etc. So, whenever I hear, ‘She’s up all night ‘til the sun. We’re up all night for good fun,’ (he sings these lyric) or whatever the actual words of the song are. Get Lucky, I think. Daft Punk. Whenever I hear that on the radio, or in the supermarket, or especially next to Jonathan, I’ll immediately stop what I’m doing, stand up, put things down, and get into my warm up posture (he demonstrates the warm-up posture again), and do the stuff, because that’s the song that I warmed up to a lot a couple of years ago. He thinks it’s pretty funny. It’s ruined the song for me. Actually, it’s made the song great for me. It’s a pretty good song, and it suits the warm ups well.”

Background Information and Context:

Every coach has a different style of teaching and different preferences for warming up (if they even guide their students through warm ups at all, instead of expecting them to warm up before class). What the informant described is a pre-class ritual of sorts that seems distinctive of Jonathan’s rhythm classes. Jonathan is the rhythm coach of the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team, which means that he instructs cha cha, rumba, east coast swing, mambo, and bolero. His style of teaching and warm-ups are very different from those of the team’s smooth coach, who teaches waltz, tango, foxtrot, and Viennese waltz. He never skips warm ups, even when running late, and plays the full length of the song at least once, if not twice, until he feels that the students have been properly warmed up before reviewing figures from the previous class. The habit of breaking out into the warm-up routine at seemingly improper times is not unique to this informant, as it is a habit shared by multiple active members of the team.

Collector’s Notes:

Traditions and associations are no less powerful because they only affect a small group of people. It doesn’t matter that nobody else knew what was going on when a handful of team members started twisting their hips and pointing their toes in perfect sync in the middle of a restaurant because it was a sign of their connection, formed through shared knowledge and experience. On a small scale, the warm-up exercises also have their own multiplicity and variation based on when one joined the team. The informant described an association with “Get Lucky,” but my friend Sara and I (who joined the team last year) have the same association with “Moves Like Jagger,” while my friend Queenique (who joined this year) associates the warm-ups with “Feel It Still.”

general

“Don’t date your dance partner”

“Something we tell our new people is a warning that you shouldn’t date your dance partner. So, here’s the thing: this used to be followed all the time. When I got here, nobody was dating anybody on our team, and this is out of 50 people on the dance team – I don’t know the real number – and about 20 competitors…wait, I take it back. There was one couple: Nick and Claire. Nick and Claire were dating, but nobody else was dating. Nick and Claire came in as a couple already, and so they became dance partners. They didn’t dance together for everything, though they did dance together for some things. What we don’t like is when people meet through the ballroom dance team, dance with each other for a while, and then say, ‘You know what? I’mma date you.’ This happens in the professional world a lot. Professional dancers, they’re usually 16-17 years old – they’re young – when they meet each other. Well, sometimes they’re 23-24 years old when they meet each other, but usually it’s fairly young, and they dance with each other for a while. Whatever the exact age, they’re young, and they’re all kinds of hormonal, and they’re dancing with a very attractive person, these professionals. ‘I’m hormonal. I’m dancing with a hot person, and this hot person knows how to use their body. Yes, I’m going to try to make something out of this,’ and they do, all the time. They get married sometimes, and then they divorce each other. It almost always happens. I mean, there are a few cases where it doesn’t happen – they’ve learned how to make it work – but it’s usually a disaster in the professional world to date your dance partner, because you break up, and then you can’t dance together anymore, and the you gotta go find a new partner, but you’re older, and everybody’s already taken. Then, your career is done. So, finding somebody you click with is important, and then not trying to have sex with that person is equally important once that first part is done. On our team, we recommend the same thing. If you have a dance partner, that’s great. Work really hard to not date them or try to be more than friends with them, because if you do, when you try, it’s an easy way to lose a dance partner. So, it’s a little odd that we had a lot of people over the last two or three years end up dating the people that they dance with. Sometimes, they started to dance with the people that they’re dating. That happened to me. That happened to…actually, I think that happened to most people. They met first, started dating, and then said, ‘hey, we’re going to dance together.’ Usually, we’re still pretty good about being like, ‘We’re going to dance together. Oooh, I like you. Let’s do this thing.’ It’s easier when you go from dating to dance partners than from dance partners to dating, but it still carries risks, so we advise people to treat your dance relationship like your regular relationship: talk about things and seek help from others when you need it.”

Background Information and Context:

What the informant is describing is based on his years of experience on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. There is no way to say – at least, not without surveying members of multiple dance teams – whether the phenomenon of having a lot of couples on a dance team is exclusive to the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance team or, if it is not exclusive, if the couples on other dance teams act like those on USC’s team. Although, I have heard similar advice of being wary of the person with whom you start a relationship in other teams and in other contexts, such as work. This part of our conversation was more personal in nature than the topics that preceded, and I was mildly surprised that the informant, for the most part, kept his personal opinions out.

Collector’s Notes:

What was interesting about this topic is that I hadn’t originally intended to ask about it but noted to the informant that I found it odd that both of us are dating our dance partners. I’d heard the general opinion that dating your dance partner leads to unnecessary complications in both the romantic and dance relationship, but still, nobody dissuaded me when my boyfriend first asked me out, months after we’d started talking about becoming competition partners. On our team, there didn’t seem to be any negative examples of such a relationship to make me worry beyond the passing thought. I think it’s interesting that dancing, especially ballroom dancing, is heavily romanticized, and performers are criticized if their dance lacks passion, romance, tenderness, etc., but actual romance, specifically a new romance, is met with wariness. Moreover, it is interesting that popular media so often portrays romance/attraction and drama/angst as inextricable from each other. The connotations of dancing and romance seem at odds with each other.

Customs
general
Material

Appropriate Apparel for Ballroom Dance Competitions

“When we go to competitions, everybody dresses different ways. There’s this expectation that all the girls are going to be in dresses, and boys are going to be in suit jackets and/or, like, pants and other things (He gestures toward his torso, then his legs, as he names the items of clothing). This is a trend that we’re not happy about because people should be able to wear what they want when doing things, but ballroom is such a stereotyped endeavor that you tend to conform to these norms, and it is expected that you conform to particular gender norms. One of the gender norms that we have to go for is that the men all have their hair slicked back (He makes a hand motion above his head, miming slicking back his hair). There is, like, one hairstyle for men. If you have very nice hair that you already know how to style, like a part, and it’s a little bit high on top anyway, then you can leave it exactly how it is. Otherwise, you gel your hair directly backwards. I have seen some people recently try to do a part, but I’m not wild about that. It should be as directly back as you go, and this is stuff that I got from the University of Minnesota ballroom dance team as well. Everybody’s got the same hair. Some teams take this a step further, and all the men are wearing the exact same outfit. The BYU team, the Bringham team, all of their leads look exactly the same. They are cookie cutter copies of each other. They are all wearing the same black tie, black best, white shirt, black pants, black shoes, same haircut, same everything. They’re very uniform, and it’s terrifying because when they dance the same, it looks very scary. While the boys are expected to be cookie-cutter versions of themselves, the girls, from my perspective, are expected to wear different things to be flashy and show off. The standard is for the boys to look as boring as possible and the girls to look as exciting as possible: a dress that flows (he stretched out the work, gets louder, and starts making big gestures with his hands), and does a thing (he flutters his hand, mimicking the way skirts twirl when dancers turn), that is colored. It’s nice when boys’ outfits can match their ladies’ dresses, but it is usually done by maybe a matching a shirt. It’s becoming more common these days, often by matching a tie or sometimes socks, but never the pants. Never does the whole outfit really compliment her. It goes with the idea in the ballroom world that it’s more about showing off your partner as a lead than about doing the things yourself. That isn’t always true when you become a professional dancer, but mostly it’s about ‘Look at my partner! Isn’t she great? Isn’t she sexy?’”

Background Information and Context:

The traditional dress and gender roles that the informant shares here are based on his attendance at collegiate dancesport competitions as well as some observations of professional dancesport, which collegiate dancesport mimics in many ways. What he described is how almost all members of the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team dress at competitions. The informant has been a competitive ballroom dancer in the collegiate circuit for about six years and has taken on a sort of mentor role on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team, frequently giving new members advice on what judges expect of them at competitions. He began talking about the gendered differences in dancesport apparel when prompted to talk about competition costumes, which look unlike what most people would see in regular fashion.

Collector’s Notes:

Gender norms exist in every culture and aspect of society, but the strange world of dancesport (competitive ballroom dancing) often seems backwards, and not just because the dances in which we compete are very old. Even though it is appropriate for women to wear pants in everyday settings in America, even in more formal situations like business meetings or award shows, the sight of a woman in pants on a competitive dancefloor would be strange, even unwanted. The gendered nature of dancesport seems to be ingrained in the concept of a male lead and a female follow, mirroring (somewhat declining) societal expectations of male authority and female subservience. I found it interesting that this inequality is approached a slightly different way by informant, who seems to regret the absence of clothing choices for males and the nature of attention-grabbing turns and tricks, which mostly place the female at the center of attention. Still, the nature of this attention is questionable, as one could argue that it is not beneficial that the roles require the “sexy” partner to be shown off by her male partner.

Customs

Bonding over complaints about governing body

“One of the things I learned from the previous club president was all about the body of students and staff that runs all the recreational sports teams on the USC campus called the RCC, and what I learned was that they are terrible and that they don’t do anything right, and that all of our problems can be traced back to them. What I then discovered on my own was that is not quite true, and so what I’ve passed down to other people is that the RCC does a lot of good things for us. However, one of the things is that they don’t quite know how to open doors for us properly. For as long as anybody’s been around they have not come on time to open doors. So, what we have to do is, every time we go to practice, somebody has to go at least 15 minutes early to make a phone call to the people in the Lyon Center and have them come over and open the door for us, and every time they’re surprised. There’s rarely an occasion where they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. We already knew about that.’ This happens because the staff changes so regularly over there, it seems, but if nobody was sent at 5:45, then nobody would be sent until 6:15 or whenever we called them. We learned to get out our phones and make that call, which meant a conversation every week about how terrible the RCC was and how all of our problems were their fault. It was a team bonding thing weirdly in the end, commiserating over doors. It’s a little odd.”

Background Information and Context:

The interaction between team members about the RCC’s inadequacies happens prior to almost every practice, which occurs three times a week. Usually, it will take place in the halls outside the Physical Education building, outside the South Gym or the basement exercise room that the team reserves for practice. The informant decided to start with this anecdote when he was told that he could freely speak about his experience on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team and interesting things that an outsider wouldn’t know about it. The informant has been on the team for multiple years and served as team president for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

Collector’s Notes:

I have stood outside the doors of the PED basement and south gym more times than I can count, engaging in exactly what the informant described, but until we had this conversation, it never crossed my mind that this was a sort of bonding tradition. It makes sense when compared to the way citizens complain about their government. Even though the government is responsible for a lot of good things, we choose to focus on the negatives, and the act of complaining about the same experiences connects us as citizens, uniting us against those who are perceived to be separate from us because they have more power/money/influence/authority and tell us what to do.

Folk Dance
Kinesthetic

Risque Hokey Pokey

“There’s this song called the hokey pokey, and you kind of do it with your friends in a circle, usually at a party. You basically go along in the lyrics and they go (she pauses for a few seconds to recall the lyrics), ‘You put your right hand in. You put your right put your right hand in, and you shake it all about,’ and you keep doing that with each arm, leg, and after that you can start, like, doing different things, like you could do your butt, or you could do your nose (she pauses to think of other examples). There is a specific order you’re supposed to go in, and you’re supposed to go right hand, left hand, right foot left foot, head, butt, and then whole self, but usually if you’re with friends you’ll start shouting out really stupid things, like your elbow, etcetera, and there are risqué versions where people shout out stupid stuff.

Background Information and Context:

“[You play while] gathering with friends, and it’s a really big cultural thing. It’s like one of those [games] that everyone knows. Everyone did the hokey pokey, and it’s really easy to join in because you learn it when you are really young. The first time I did the hokey pokey was in elementary school, like first or second grade, but last year I was walking with my friend, and I said, ‘put your left hand in and shake it,’ but then she started doing it, and then I joined in and another friend joined in. We were just standing outside New North doing the hokey pokey, but we did the risqué version because, you know, college students are stupid.”

Collector’s Notes:

I was surprised to hear about the hokey pokey not once, but twice while collecting items for the folklore archive. I hadn’t heard of anyone doing the dance since I was in elementary school and did the dance, myself. I was even more surprised to hear of a risqué version of the dance given the childish connotations I had with it. Thinking about it now, this parody is not too different from those one will find of childhood shows on YouTube, adapting original material for a more sexual connotation. The purpose is usually humor, and the act of doing a risqué version of any childhood activity could be considered a coming of age of sorts. It is significant that, here, at college, one can engage in content that was once taboo, and there is no parental or teacher supervision that can stop that.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Lucky Bracelet

“I had this bracelet that I got from a gas station, and it had a little four-leaf clover, and for some reason – well, I was really young when I did archery, like 10 – I was like, ‘This is good luck, and if I ever don’t compete in it, then I’ll lose,’ and, for some reason, every time before I’d shoot I’d rub it once and them pull my bow back. [The superstition] was so strong. I was like, ‘this is my good luck charm,’ but [the competitions] were small. Well, it was a state competition, but there weren’t that many archers at the time, and so I kept winning – I guess I was good at it but whatever – and I was so convinced. One day I lost it, and I was like, ‘oh my god,’ I was so stressed, and that was that.”

Background Information and Context:

“I guess I picked it up because the four-leaf clover is supposed to be lucky, but it being in the bracelet in my favorite color and being the only one at the store, it felt like fate (she said the word in a mocking tone).” As the informant said above, she bought the bracelet at a gas station while on a road trip, and the ritual of rubbing it was done while competing in archery, just before shooting. I had asked her to share another pre-competition ritual to follow up one about cheerleading that she’d shared in a prior interview.

Collector’s Note:

Athletes and competitors having tokens of good luck is certainly nothing out of the ordinary, but I found it interesting that the informant kept pointing out how illogical the idea was (e.g. by using a mocking tone or adding “for some reason”). Tokens of good luck are so interesting because the power they hold lies largely in the owner’s beliefs and personal associations with the object, and suggesting that the object is mundane can be a huge insult. It is also interesting to note how symbols travel. Although the symbolism of the four-leaf clover comes from folk tradition to which the informant does not have a personal or inherited connection, it has become something of common knowledge.

Game

The Stick Game

“It’s called the stick game, and you have to play it with people who have never played it before. You can be the only one who’s played it. It’s best if it’s the people you know. Ok, so, you basically take six sticks and place them in an order to signify a number. You place them on the table in front of them and ask them to guess the number. So, if you place them in the shape of a 3, they’ll guess 3. Then you go ‘that’s wrong because the whole time you’re tapping anywhere between 1 to 5 fingers on your leg. And you keep going through that process, telling them, ‘you’re focusing on the wrong thing’ because the trick is to get them to focus on your leg. If they continue not to get them, you throw the sticks on the table to try to signify that the sticks really don’t matter, but most people will keep focusing on the sticks and try to figure out what you’re doing. And then, as people start to get it one by one, you tell them to stop until everyone has figured it out or given up. And if they give up, you don’t tell what the trick is.”

Background Information and Context:

The informant learned the stick game over the summer from her boss during a slow period of work, but she has “no clue” where her boss got it. She was prompted to share this game after I shared a game from my childhood. She was prompted to share this ritual after I shared that a few items in my collection were about Dancesport rituals and traditions.

Collector’s Notes:

What I found most interesting about this game is that it is not necessarily about winning/losing or competing against rival players. It functions in a way that is similar to a practical joke in that it separates participants into groups, those who are in the know and those of whom the game is at the expense. Figuring out the trick initiates one into the group of those who have proven their worth by demonstrating the ability to think outside the box, while giving up keeps one  stuck outside.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Gnocchi on the 29th of Each Month

“As kids, my mom would make gnocchi once a month. It was always on the 29th of the month. They were always homemade and extremely labor intensive, so it would take her all day to make them. She had this custom that everyone would sit down that the table, and she would put a dollar under each plate. It was supposed to bring good luck with money, and it could only be done on the 29th of the month, but I have no idea why.”

Background Information and Context:

Unable to explain why the tradition exists, she called her mom to ask. While the phone was ringing, she theorized that it could be a family tradition from their Italian roots. The informant came to America when she was young, but generations of her originally Italian family lived in Argentina. When her mother picked up, she received the simple explanation that it was just something that her mom did, her grandmother did, and in Argentina they still do it. A cursory Google search revealed that the tradition of making Gnocchi on the 29th occurred because people were paid on the 1st of each month and potatoes and flour were all they had to cook with by the end of the month.

Collector’s Notes:

Some of our most valued traditions are ones whose origins are unknown to us. Especially when the tradition is introduced as a child, it can become ingrained into our lives for the simple fact that it is fun and brings fond memories. Food is especially good at doing this. As shown by the informant’s mother’s simple explanation, it is not necessary to have or to be able to share a full explanation of a tradition in order to engage in it and share it with others. This tradition is interesting because it shows the multiculturalism of Argentina by incorporating a traditionally Italian food into a monthly Argentine ritual.

For another example of Argentine gnocchi, see “The Story Behind Gnocchi Day in Argentina” on Food Republic.

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