USC Digital Folklore Archives / Kinesthetic
Folk Dance

Electric Slide Dance

My informant is an African-American from Dallas, Texas.

“We dance the Electric Slide when we gather together. Whenever music starts, we do that. But usually it’s happening during the big gathering like party, graduation or wedding. I don’t know why we do that, but ever since I had memory I started doing that with other African-American people, anybody any age.  I like doing that, it’s really fun!”

He also mentioned that this dance is pretty exclusive to African-American, not the African immigrants in US. Since they’re more like a group fused with pieces of African cultures, it seems like they created a new culture after they lived on this land. I find that even though those cultures could be lost, but what built in their genes, in this case the talent of dancing and singing in people originated from Africa, are strong enough to revive a new culture.

 

 

Festival
Folk Dance
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Kolo”-Croatian Circle Dance

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. As a young boy, he grew up in a traditional Croatian family who upheld their culture through dancing Kolo. Kolo is a series of folk dances that vary by region. The word kolo is translated into “circle dance.”

For those you are not familiar with the Croatian culture, explain what kolo is and what it means.

FV: “Kolo means circle dance and it is a series of Croatian folk dances performed across the different regions in Croatia. Kolo is a type of dance performed in a circle formation where the dancers, both male and female, follow specific steps holding hands in one big group circle. There is always music accompanied with this type of dancing.”

What are the different regions within Croatia?

FV: “There are four different regions in Croatia. The first one is called Croatia proper. This region is the central part of the Republic of Croatia and it is where the capital, Zagreb, is located. Zagreb is also the largest city in Croatia. The second region is the region of Slavonia. Slavonia is mostly the eastern inland area of the country. Next is Istria. Istria is a northern peninsula that is the westernmost region of Croatia. It is famous for the city called ‘Pula.’ Lastly is Dalmatia, which is the region I am from. Dalmatia is the majority of the coastline of Croatia and it includes the southern cities of Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik.”

Which of these regions perform kolo?

FV: “All of these regions have their own form of kolo. For example, for my region of Dalmatia, we perform a type of kolo called Linđo. Linđo represents kolo for the southern parts of Croatia like Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. Other regions like Slavonia and Istria, they perform what’s called Šokačko and Balun. Šokačko means ‘the shaker.’ Slavonia has more of a Turkish influence on the dance because it’s inland and because of past history and Istria has more of a Venetian influence because of how close Croatia and Italy are in distance. The city of Split also has been heavily influenced by the Venetian culture because of its location alongside the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Split and the region of Istria sustained the practices and dances from Italy. Turkey never occupied Split or Zadar, so these cities maintained their Italian influenced dances.”

What styles were the kolo costumes influenced by?

FV: “The Croatian national costumes are called ‘Narodna nošnja,’ which means, ‘native or national costume.’ These costumes vary in design, style, material and color based on the location of each region. For example, since Dalmatia and Istria are located on the coast, their costumes consist of Adriatic or Venetian influence. The men’s costumes are usually white or black and have dark trousers that are tighter fitting with a white shirt and a vest. They also wear a red silk belt with a black cap. Women typically wear several layers, which include a white blouse, a skirt with a very colorful apron on top that has red, white and gold stitching and fringe. The women wear colorful scarves with red, white, blue and green, along with beads and coral necklaces, which represents the Adriatic coast.”

In what context would kolo be performed?

FV: “Kolo is danced at every major holiday, festival, party, religious gatherings, weddings, etc.”

When or how did you learn kolo?

FV: “I learned kolo when I was a young boy growing up in my family and by attending special gatherings were it was performed. It is a lot of fun once you learn the steps and the rhythm of the music.”

Does kolo have any significant meaning to you?

FV: “Yes absolutely. Kolo is part of my heritage and culture. It is a large part of our Croatian celebrations and festivities to dance kolo, as it is a form of group dance and performed in a group setting. It is something that we use to express ourselves and the music that goes along with it is very upbeat and fun. Every Croatian knows how to dance kolo. It is something that you learn at a very young age.”

Analysis:

No Croatian festivity or celebration would be complete without kolo. Kolo, or circle dance, is the general term for Croatian folk dance that is performed in the four different regions of Croatia. Each region has their own version of kolo with their own styles of costumes or “nošnja.” Kolo is part of every Croatian social gathering like weddings, parties, and festivals. I personally have a special connection to kolo, as I grew up dancing since I was little with my sister and my friends. I have taught my non-Croatian friends the steps and they find it to be a lot of fun. Our parents and grandparents taught us all at a very young age the steps and songs that corresponded to each dance. Now that I am an adult, I have a greater appreciation that I can carry on my Croatian traditions and rituals to my children. Kolo was an activity that allowed my friends and I to grow closer as it united us together through our cultural ties.

For another version and further information regarding Croatian kolo dance, check out BBC’s article written by Rudolf Abraham:

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20140614-fifty-years-of-folk-dancing

Citation:

Abraham, Rudolf. “Fifty Years of Folk Dancing.” BBC. N.p., 14 June 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.

 

Photo credit: Nenad N. Bach 2009

Photo credit: Nenad N. Bach 2009

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Baseball Rituals: “When in Doubt, Tap the Hip”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB also plays club baseball at USC:

AB: “I play baseball and it is my favorite sport to play. I have been playing since I was 5 or 6 years old and I am still playing on the club team at USC.”

Do you have any particular rituals or customs you perform prior to a game?

AB: “Yes I have two main rituals that I do in baseball. So I play “infield” and when you’re in the infield you are always taking your one-two step to get ready for the ground ball before the pitcher hits so that you are ready to field it, which is pretty common for everybody, but one thing I do just kind of on top of that before every pitch is that I take my glove and I kind of almost tap it on my left hip ever so slightly to just shift the glove in my hand so it feels better in my hand. It’s just something that makes me more comfortable, maybe more confident in feeling grounders and being ready for the potential play coming my way. I also wear the same pair of baseball sliders that I never wash. I’ve had them for years and years and I wear them at all my practices and games. They make me feel more positive about each game or practice because of all of the great wins and experiences I’ve had while wearing them.”

Who did you learn these rituals from?

AB: “My dad actually played baseball for most of his life and when I was little I would watch him play. I would see that he would do the same gesture I do today. I remember asking him one day why he would tap his hip with his glove and he said it would help him to focus and center himself during the games. When I started playing in little league, that’s when I started doing the same gesture my dad did. I guess watching him as a little kid, I picked up on some of the things he did while he played. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

What do these rituals mean to you?

AB: “Well, growing up watching my dad play and learning my ritual from him holds a special place in my heart. I really looked up to him when I was little. I just think it is something special. It brought us closer together.”

Analysis:

Informant AB’s baseball rituals were passed down by someone he looked up to as a young child and is something that he continues to do as an adult. As America’s favorite past time, there are countless folk beliefs in baseball that surround good and bad luck such as rituals being practiced during the seventh inning stretch, to verbal lore being performed during the game. I think it is interesting how as a young child the informant noticed the rituals his father would perform while out on the field and how much of an impact his father had made on him growing up. Their passion for baseball and their father-son dynamic depicts how rituals can be passed down to the next generation through a strong familial bond.

 

Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kicking the lamppost on gameday

DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, and is originally from Denver, CO.

DK had some more USC folklore to share with me:

“Football season is a huge production at USC, and probably the most obvious time when the whole school gets together…on gamedays, everyone usually tailgates on campus, setting up tents and hanging out together hours before the game even starts. Once kickoff is approaching, everyone sort of migrates away from campus to cross Exposition and head to the Coliseum…if you go with everyone else through the south entrance of campus, there are these huge light posts at the exit, and for some reason everyone has to kick the base before they keep heading to the Coliseum. Honestly, I have no idea why people do it, and no one I talk to seems to know either. But there’s always backup once you get there, because everyone’s standing around this lamppost waiting to kick it.”

I asked DK what her best guess was as to the origin of the ritual:

“Maybe we’re kicking at our opponents? I don’t know how threatening that is.”

My analysis:

Sports rituals are very common for college and professional teams, and are probably even more prevalent during home games. The entire process of gathering together on campus to tailgate, then migrating together to head to the game, and stopping to perform this ritual without even knowing the meaning demonstrates the strength of USC pride and how it indoctrinates us best on days like gamedays. When school spirit is running high we’re more willing to participate in the most random of activities, because all of it is bringing us together.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestures
Signs

Deadly Chopsticks

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM gave me some insight on chopstick etiquette that was passed down from her Japanese parents:

“So in Japan, when you’re eating rice with chopsticks, or really anything which chopsticks, you NEVER rest them by sticking them straight up in your food. It looks like the number 4 spelled out, and in Japanese culture 4 is a very unlucky number – it means death. If you go to Japan you’ll never find anything grouped or sold in 4s, it’s just superstition, like how in America people are scared of the number 13. Also, you never point your chopsticks at people, like if you’re talking at the dinner table. It’s rude, and a little threatening.”

My analysis:

Many cultures have different traditions surrounding food and table etiquette, and this folk belief offers insight into utensil practices many American might not be familiar with. While Asian cuisine is not absent here, it’s often transformed over time by the influence of other places, or even other Asian cultures (like common Japanese-Korean fusion). People from all over use chopsticks, but it’s important to be aware of protocol observed by those whose heritage is more authoritative.

Apparently, chopsticks stuck straight-up in rice also imitate incense sticks on the altar at a funeral, another symbol of death or bad luck. Oftentimes people avoid mixing their foodways with death imagery, compounded by the prevalence of rice in Japanese meals.

I also think it’s interesting that the subject is Japanese-American, and three generations removed at that. Seeing which customs are continued when a family emigrates shows both their cultural and individual values, or superstitions that for some reason or another “stick” in places where they’re not observed.

Festival
Folk Dance
Legends

Club Leavey

DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from Denver, CO.

Dora works on campus at Leavey Library, and shared one story she’s heard with me:

“I’ve heard this urban legend about a Leavey rave? Sometimes on Facebook or Yik Yak I’ll see something about ‘Club Leavey,’ and I guess they have people get together in a basement study room at like, 2:00 in the morning and have a dance party. If it exists, it’s definitely not organized, probably so it wouldn’t get shut down, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone who’s ever gone…you can bring it up with other students and they’ll all have heard of ‘Club Leavey,’ but no one has ever actually seen it in action…I think. Unless it’s like Fight Club, and they can’t talk about it.”

I asked her if the Leavey staff has ever been made aware or observed this taking place:

“None of the supervisors I’ve brought it up with were aware. Either it really is just a urban legend among students, or the Club Leavey kids are very sneaky.”

My analysis:

Communities like universities all have their own traditions and folklore, and this one is classic USC: a secret dance party in the basement of the least-popular library on campus. In fact, lately I’ve heard of “Club Leavey” more as simply an ironic nickname for the library, trying to downplay the miserable time they’re anticipating there. This is a classic urban legend in that the story is passed around with conviction – everyone is aware and everyone believes in the event – but no one can say they’ve participated or seen it themselves. Colleges around the world have similar stories only their community can relate to, uniting current students and alumni, and often the same stories are transformed and passed down for generations. Maybe the “Club Leavey” legend isn’t as new as we’d think.

Customs
Festival
Gestures
Holidays

The Slovak May Tree

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: On first May, boys went to the wood, cut, made tree nicely decorate and they built in front of house their girlfriend and then they were singing very nice song like we built May or very nice song.  They were walking during the whole village – they were walking through the whole village with the tree – every boy what her girlfriend built this tree in the front of house they his girlfriend – yeah.  And they have like cart like with horses that was pulling this cart.  This tree was on the cart and they pulling this cart across the village and they build in the front of girlfriend house and they were singing.

 

Q: How did they decorate the tree?

 

A.J.: Decorate with nice colorful ribbon.

 

Q: Did you only do it for girls you were dating or was it somebody you like and you want to date?

 

A.J.: Yeah –  exactly – was when somebody like this girl it was building this tree for her.  If she like him they would start dating.  If not, they would just forget about this tree.

 

Q: And this was in the villages – not in big towns?

 

A.J.: No in big town NO – only in village. In big town we have big houses like apartments you cannot build that.  That was not tradition for towns more for villages.

 

Performance Context: The ritual of creating a May Tree would occur on May 1st in the small villages of Slovakia.

 

My Thoughts: The idea of “May Day” or the celebration of the spring season is common in many cultures. In the United States and Great Britain, for example, many people partake in making a maypole, in which ribbons are braided around a tall, wooden pole to create a pattern. Creating the maypole is usually done by children, which may symbolize the freshness and youth of spring.

Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping the Broom

Background: M.M. is a 43-year-old woman who was born and raised in Chicago to an African American family. She works as a pharmaceutical representative, educating and helping physicians and their staff to know more about the proper use, schedule benefits, costs, and uses of medications. M.M. is married, and loves playing with her 2 kids and also enjoys her busy schedule.

 

Main piece:

M.M.: So you have jumping the broom. So this was um a tradition that was practiced during slavery and it was the – it was when marriages were not performed legitimately and it symbolized a union between slaves.  Now the reason why they jumped the broom – the symbolism of the broom was kind of two fold – you talk about the spray – which is all the stuff you sweep up that part – the straw –  which was the spray which was the house and the handle was holding the union together. So it’s really simple.  The thing about it though is that there were many years where jumping the broom was not practiced by African Americans because of the association with slavery and in recent years it has become much more popular and a lot of African Americans are- jumping the broom again – there was a movie called jumping the broom.

 

Q: How did you learn about this tradition?

 

M.M.: You know, I always have known about it but I didn’t know the actual symbolism – you know why –  you always know about it – why was it was a broom – and I think it was popularized again at the time where Alex Haley wrote Roots and the movie came out so that everyone knew about jumping the broom but you still didn’t know well what did the broom symbolize – you just knew slaves did it so it’s something you grow up and everyone knows “jumping the broom” but you don’t know why you use a broom – so it’s like passed on passed on passed on. Everyone doesn’t do it because probably their probably generations before me – I know my parents didn’t do it and they didn’t jump the broom and they were married.  I know there were generations that did NOT jump the broom at all and then now, I’d say in the last 15-20 years it’s more popularized again. But it’s not the negative association – its more just like ceremonial and it’s more like something to have at your wedding, which is legal, and then you jump the broom which is just symbolic of the union between you now.

 

Q: And then how do you jump? Do you jump with your husband?

 

M.M.: You you jump together. You hold hands and you jump together.

 

Q: What happens if someone trips?

 

M.M.: They don’t trip.  I don’t know anyone that’s ever tripped. I jumped the broom in the sand – barefoot so.  It’s a small broom.  Some people make their own.  So you can make your own or you can order um – whatever so it’s a small broom.

 

Q: Are there special brooms for jumping the broom?

 

M.M.: Yes, it’s a special broom – it’s a special broom. You don’t go to the store and get a broom at Target or Walmart – no it’s small – it’s small.

 

Q: What did you do with the broom after the wedding?

 

M.M.: It’s in the same box with my wedding dress.  It becomes part of your, your collecting – you know, whatever you’re collecting

 

Performance Context: Jumping the broom would be performed primarily by African Americans at the end of a wedding ceremony.

 

My Thoughts: Jumping the broom symbolizes a liminal state. A wedding is a life transformation from being single to being connected with someone, and is known to be one of the most important events in a lifetime in many cultures. During a wedding, the bride and groom are together in a liminal period of change, not single and not yet married. Jumping the broom symbolizes the passage out of that liminal period and into married life.

Folk Dance

Mayan Rain Dance

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.

Informant: There’s a thing that the mayans do for rain, there still are some mayans, but not many. They still do it, and if you go to see it, and it actually rains it’s kinda scary. They do this dance around the fire asking for rain from the rain god Chaac, and then they play this special instrument that is made out of cascaveles. It looks like a big bean with little seeds inside of it to make noise. It’s kinda like a morocco.

Collector: Have you ever seen the dance?

Informant: Yes I have. It’s really cool. They wear these typical outfits. It has like a feather hat and stuff, and they do these paintings on their face with red coloring. They make their own ink, too. I remember when I visited the pyramids, and my tour guide was like “This is where they make their own ink.” Anyways, so they sing in mayan. I can’t understand then, so I don’t know what they sing exactly. The dance itself is just a mixture of movements, nothing very particular. Oh, and it’s also from the south, I think. Yeah, definitely from the south.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: Well, I like this one because of the one time that I went there and I saw them doing it, and then a few hours later it started raining. It was kinda scary at first, but I thought it was really cool. I think it’s interesting to to see how there’s different stuff and cultures inside of one country. And even though they’re praising someone who’s not my god, because I’m Catholic, it’s still cool to see how it works.

I think that this rain dance is particularly interesting because of how my friend told me that the one time she saw the Mayans doing the rain dance, it actually rained. I also then thought about how, if she believed in her God but saw the miracles of another God, would she change her beliefs? I thought it was really cool how even though she still believed in her own God, she could appreciate the different cultures and beliefs of others.

Folk Dance

Deer Dance

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in Mexico and currently lives in Brazil. She came to visit me.

Informant: So there’s a dance that the indigenous people do around the area where I’m from. It’s called the deer dance. Basically for the deer dance, they just do like this ritual for help for when they go to hunt deer. They dress up with a deer head for their head, and they dress normally in white clothes, and they have this special cascabeles on their ankles. There’s not any special significance to it, I think it’s just for sound. And then they start dancing, and when they dance they start to imitate the deer. And then they sing in their native language which is Yakki.

Collector: Do you know why they do a deer dance? Do they do dances for any other animals?

Informant: No, not really. They only have one for deer because deer is their primary source of meat. It’s a desert, so there aren’t many animals around. There’s only deer in the area, so that’s all that they hunt.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s from the natives of where im from, like the region of Mexico where I’m from. It’s part of my identity, even though I’m not an indian, but it still kinda is my identity. I learned about it when I was on a road trip close to my birth city and my uncle we saw it and pointed it out to me. We drove past a native place and we got to see it. They live right on the outskirts of the city. It kinda makes me feel proud that to be Mexican. It gives me a sense of home, a connection to where I’m from, seeing the natives of my region.

I found this one interesting because of how the natives adjusted their culture to the area around them. This dance has such a specific purpose – to help them hunt deer. Rather than having created a dance for food, or for success in hunting, they did one specifically for deer, because that’s the only animal around that area, and I find that fascinating. I also think it’s really cool how these people and my friend are from the same area, but yet they are still so different and she takes pride in these little differences in her culture.

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