USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Dance
Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Folk medicine
Kinesthetic

Gurdjieff’s Movements

Context:

The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. The following is from a conversation about the meditation retreats hosted by her parents.

Piece:

LF: On the retreats, they go out to an isolated place – like a retreat center. And their daily routine is, they wake up for 6am meditation. So you have to get up and be there before that. After breakfast, there’s practical work. For practical work, they do some sort of physical labor, wherever they are. At the retreat center they’ve stayed at, they’ll re-roof a building, or build a deck, for example. It’s not like charity: the work itself is a meditation; you’re getting in your body, and you’re being really physical.

There’s not a lot of talking. There’s this idea throughout the retreat of staying collected, which is, kind of like, maintaining sensation throughout your body. And it’s kind of like meditating – it’s not super talkative or out of your head. You’re supposed to, like, stay really aware. And my parents actually met at a meditation retreat, and these are traditions that have been passed down from this Turkish dude named Gurdjieff… I don’t know, he just has a lot of these philosophies and shit like that.

But after the practical work, they have these things called the Movements, which are these dances, kind of, but they’re like, derived from the whirling dervishes. It’s from this religion they associate with, Sufism. But it’s more derived from the mystics from, like, the Quran.

Me: So what is the purpose of the Movements?

LF: It’s like a meditation, and they’re really hard to do, so they take a lot of concentration and focus and intention.

Me: Do they know the moves beforehand? Did you grow up knowing them?

LF: No, my mom teaches them. She knows all of them, because she’s been doing this shit for hella long. And I don’t know them – I was always too young to participate in the retreats. But then as I got older, I would play the piano to accompany them.

Me: Do the meditations each serve a particular purpose?

LF: Yeah, they’re kind of like overcoming different physical… It’s all about the struggle. That’s the thing, is they’re enduring the struggle, and the struggle is good. And you breathe through it, and you get through it.

 

Analysis:

Like LF said, it seems that Gurdjieff’s movements and the whirling dervishes, while part of a religious tradition, transcend religion, and are ultimately meditations that allow the participant to reach a transcendent state by persevering through physical and mental struggle while maintaining a meditative mental state. Though the practices are part of the religious tradition of Sufism, the meditations can be used – and are used, evidently, by participants in LF’s parents’ retreats – for anybody wishing to strengthen their mind through meditation.

 

For more information regarding Gurdjieff’s Movements, see George Adam’s (1998) Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and his Teaching, Nova Religio, 2(1), 161-163.

Customs
Folk Dance
Musical

Up You Men

Official pep song of the Aleph Zadek Aleph (male Jewish teen youth group). Commonly started by president/board member/event leader drawing out the first word before everyone jumps in and forms a mosh pit.

Lyrics (More shouted than sung): Up you men and sing to AZA

Time will pass and we’ll be on our way

As the years go by there will be

Happiest of memories (Ra ra ra!)

Stand and then

We’ll sing this song again

All you loyal men

Sing the praises of our order

Sing up you men of AZA

(Once it reaches this part the song usually winds down with everyone matching a “heartbeat” rhythm pattern on their chest.)

 

The song is a shortcut for whatever peer leader is running a given meeting or event to bring up the energy in the group and get them to pay attention in one fell swoop. The lyrics themselves serve to hype up the group and its individual members in a way that’s somewhat jingoist. No official origin is known, but the full lyrics are included in the official AZA handbooks which speaks to its deep history and significance to the folk group. The organization’s origins (also detailed in the handbook) as a very pro-American group which contributed to the nation’s WWII war effort probably explains the jingoist vibe of the piece. Little details such as the second verse present in the handbook being absent in favor of the heartbeat rhythm (explained to me once with “Every Aleph’s heart beats the same way.”) as well as the mosh pit aspect (the handbook doesn’t comment on dances for the song) indicates that the song is still a living, breathing folk tradition that defies standardization and continues to evolve in use.

Folk Dance

“The Whoa”

Background: The following informant is a young adult college student who is well-versed in social media and internet trends. Her perspective represents that of many teens in today’s internet age. She describes a recent dance trend that has begun to take over social media. This is a transcription of our conversation (C is the informant and I am identified as “me”):

Piece:

Me: Okay, so tell me a little about “the whoa.” Like if you had to describe it to someone who had never heard of it before.

C: The “whoa” is a dance, I guess

Me: How do you do it?

C: It’s like turning the wheel of a car, you go from nine and three to twelve and six *demonstrates said movements*

Me: When do you do the whoa?

C: You do it to the beat of a song or if you just feel like it

Me: Where did you first hear about it?

C: Twitter

Context: This conversation took place in my dorm room one evening. The informant and I were discussing popular “internet” dance trends from our childhood and ended up discussing this most recent dance trend and where we first learned about it. The informant is active on social media and has knowledge of many trends prevalent on particular apps, such as Twitter or Instagram so I feel that she is a decent authority on the typical young adult social media experience.

Thoughts: Folk dances used to be shared in person through communal engagement. They were a way for people to unite and share their perspectives. Today, dances like “the whoa” are spread through the internet and can be learned by any and everyone. They don’t have a particular significance or meaning but rather develop different uses. “The Whoa” is often done when someone does something well or to signify that a song has a really strong beat. This particular dance was originally popular among the African-American community on Twitter, however it has spread to popular, mainstream culture. I find that it is typically performed to hip hop music, however it has become a trend to do the dance to more unrelated songs or without any music at all. Dance trends change all the time and every year has a particular dance that defines it. The dance of 2019 is definitely “the whoa.”

Folk Dance
Game
Musical

Little Sally Walker

Text

Informant: So, “Little Sally Walker” is a game where there’s a bunch of people and you run in a circle… or, somebody runs out and they run in a circle. They go in a circle and they sing

 

Little Sally Walker

Walking down the street

She said “I didn’t know what to do”

So she stopped in front of me and said

 

(Now they stop in front of a person and the person copies their dance)

 

“hey girl do your thing

do your thing

hey girl do your thing do your thing”

Now stop!

 

And after that they do the same dance move and the person who did the dance move goes on and goes in the same circle and it continues to go along for a while.

 

Context- The informant is my twelve-year old sister. She learned these songs while going to various summer camps over the years and has often taught them to her friends so that they could sing them together for fun.

 

Analysis- This song has two aspects to it: the vocal and the physical. The singing alone would amuse children, but its combination with a dancing game would probably make it a great source of entertainment for younger children. It is also a great way for camp counselors to distract children when they are waiting for activity or event. The game only requires the knowledge of the song and, therefore, could basically be played anywhere. This fact probably helps the counselors when they need more time for preparation for activities, using the song to entertain the children while they wait.

Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

French Wedding- Umbrella Tradition

Piece:

BM: “One of the wedding traditions still in play in the Brittany region and in the Loire region is the tradition of the umbrella.  And it is not because these regions are also famous for frequent rain. Referred to as the ‘dance of the umbrella’ this is a beautiful tradition which takes place during the evening of the wedding banquet.  It is also called the Umbrella of Happiness.  When the newlyweds open the wedding ball, the couple must dance a slow dance under a large white umbrella while the wedding guests throw streamers at them.   The streamers which stay attached to the umbrella represent each year of happiness awaiting the young couple.”

Context:

The informant is a 64 year old woman from France who married an American, although she still often resides in France. She has been to multiple weddings with this tradition being practiced.

Analysis:

This practice is very symbolic. The umbrella being white is an important element that implies a brighter future, versus the more somber quality a typical black umbrella would provide. Dancing under the umbrella perhaps is representative of standing together “rain or shine” in marriage, and the streamers being thrown remind me of rice being thrown as couples exit a chapel. An element of luck is involved with how many streamers attach to the umbrella– in essence, this stands for how there are elements of life the couple cannot control, no matter how dedicated they are to each other.

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Dance
Gestures
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jump Over Fire Into The New Year

Context:  

The informant and I are eating lunch outside of Fertitta Hall around 12:00 pm. She describes to me about how she would bring in the New Year due to her Persian heritage.

Body:

Informant: “So there’s a Persian holiday that you actually celebrate the day before Persian New Year. And Persian New Year, unlike regular New Year that’s around the world on January 1st, we celebrate the day of spring. So every year our new year changes because the first day of spring changes.”

A: “Interesting, so it’s not just like Christmas where every year it’s on December 25?”

Informant: “Right. Exactly. So this year it was March 23rd. So on March 22nd, that Tuesday, we celebrate this holiday – it’s called Chaharshanbe Suri. Pretty much it’s like a fire that burns. But to start the new year, you’re actually supposed to jump over fire.

And you kind of recite this chat, which pretty much means ‘from this last year take away all my yellow’ which is like sickness or negativity or bad health and ‘give me red’ which is like prosperity and love and good health. And the fire is supposed to take away all the badness and then, you know, give all that’s good from what burns and then you start the new year off positively and then you eat a lot of good food. So it’s a weird holiday because normally you shouldn’t make people jump over big fire pits.”

A: “Is it a big one where you could get burned or is it smaller?…”

Informant: “I have seen it where people will jump over full blown fire pits, I’ve seen people do it at the beach. I’m lazy, so I just do my tea light candles and nothing gets burnt. But, yeah I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and it’s just a nice reminder the New Year’s coming. We speak a little bit of Farsi. “

TakeAways:

The holiday of Chaharshanbe Suri seems to be counterintuitive to life since people are jumping over fire – which could lead to death – but it also signifies the burning of bad and bringing in of the good. I thought it was interesting that it didn’t matter how large or small the flame was, but it’s rather the concept of one just jumping over a flame that will bring them prosperity in the New Year.

See more on Chaharshanbe Suri here: https://irandoostan.com/iranian-fire-jumping-festival-chaharshanbe-soori/

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Folk speech
Humor
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hail, Hail — Happy Birthday Rendition

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My family has a very specific Happy Birthday song.”

Collector: “How so?

Informant: “We have, like, twelve songs we sing. Well, that’s an exaggeration. We have like five one we sing after the original Happy Birthday.”

Collector: “Will you sing it haha?”

Informant: “Haha..umm… okay. So it’s normal Happy Birthday, yada yada, then it’s ‘Stand up and tell us your age’, then it’s ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, then you launch into ‘May the dear Lord bless you’. And then it’s everyone’s favorite one, ‘Hail, hail.’”

Collector: “How does that one go?”

Informant: “So there are hand motions too. Every time you sing ‘hail’, you have to throw your hands in the air. And the rest of the time, you’re swinging you arm back and forth.” (Does a motion similar to a yee-haw – bent elbow, fist near the chin, and swing it to and from.)

“Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

What the heck do we care,

What the heck do we care,

Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

What the heck do we care now!”

Context

            The Informant learned the song from her father, who supposedly claims he came up with it. The Informant, however, tells me that she believes it was a school chant the students would cheer at their school’s sports game. Nonetheless, it has been apart of every Happy Birthday song she has every sung at a family gathering. The Informant loves that her family has their own way of singing Happy Birthday. They treat it as a secret of sorts: if you know the song and the motions, you’re part of the inner circle.

Interpretation

            I was thrilled to hear this new rendition of Happy Birthday. While I was aware there were many versions of Happy Birthday, specifically those when you add “cha cha cha” or the one about how old you are, I had never heard this piece before. The added interpretation of the Informant’s belief that it acts as a method of deciphering who is really a part of the group and who is not is an added benefit. This song celebrates the one whose birthday it is while also celebrating the bond and closeness of a people who all know the same secret.

 

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Material
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

La Guelaguetza

Context

The informant is an acquaintance of my father, and in a previous vacation invited us to watch “La Guelaguetza,” a performance of the many different tribes in Oaxaca and their folk dances. I made some time during my Spring Break to ask him about the festival once more.

 

Interviewer: Back in 2014, you invited my family and I to the festival of “La Guelaguetza” in Oaxaca. Would you be able to tell me about it, and why it’s such a significant festival.

 

Informant: Yes, gladly! For starters, I myself am originally from Oaxaca, and came to Mexico City to pursue my career as a lawyer. However, much of my family is actually native mexican, like many in Oaxaca. I make an effort to go back every July to watch the festival. “La Guelaguetza” is a festival where many different cultures come together to perform their folk dances, because Oaxaca has many different native cultures, not just Zapoteca. The festival spans almost a week full of plays and performances, but the most important part of it all is at the end of the event… In an open theatre, the different groups all perform folk dances, to music unique to each culture, donning their traditional clothes. Most if not all dances are for couples, a man and a woman. Probably the most famous dance is the “hat dance,” but there are many others.

 

(Note: The hat dance involves the man placing his sombrero between him and the woman, with both of them dancing around it in until they meet.)

 

Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the dances being very unique, but what I remember the most is almost getting knocked out by a mezcal pot during the festival. Could you also talk about the food at “La Guelaguetza?”

 

Informant: (laughs) Of course, of course. “Guelaguetza” is actually a Zapoteca word, which roughly translates to “sharing of gifts.” Other than sharing their music and dances, “La Guelaguetza” is also the place where everyone shares their native foods… but not in a buffet or a restaurant. They actually give samples of the foods in the middle of the dance performances.

 

Interviewer: They pass out the food in a very… uhm… unique manner, do they not?

 

Informant: Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and would most definitely interrupt the dance if they tried giving samples to such a huge crowd, so the performers often opt to throw their items into the crowd! Most of the time they’ll bring a type of sweet bread, but you can also expect mole negro, tamales, and yes, even pots of natively brewed mezcal to be thrown your way. “La Guelaguetza” is so significant for Oaxaca because it celebrates all the cultural diversity in the state by bringing us all together through music, dance, and food.

 

A video of “Jarabe Mixteco” (lit. Mixteco Syrup) one of the more well known dances performed at “La Guelaguetza”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlol6TZebE

 

Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi

“Holi is one of the most celebrated Indian festivals because of the color it adds to everyone’s life, literally. It is a jubilant two-day festival which my family celebrates by lighting a bonfire on the first night to cleanse all the bad and evil. The next day is all about the festival of colors and we start by applying powdered colors on each other followed by dancing and eating delicious meals. Holi gives us a chance to be reborn and melt away the bad and negative things within us.”


 

Though Holi has arguably made an appearance into the mainstream through uses of color at various festivals, the interlocutor asserts that Holi is the best celebration that involves color. He has actively participated in Holi celebrations throughout his entire life, claiming it was an event he looked forward to each year. He remembered the agonizing anticipation he felt as a child waiting for this festival to arrive, as it was a time in which his energy could be channeled into something wild and fun without restraint. Holi, he stated, is the time when no one can hold back on their energy; everyone has to keep their spirits high throughout the entirety of the two days. He also mentioned that he mutters good wishes during the prior bonfire, mainly to strengthen the positive and purifying effects of the fire. He claimed that while Holi is meant to be a fun break from every day life, its cultural significance allows every participant to reconnect with themselves and the community in the most exuberant manner.

The vibrant colors of Holi tend to speak for themselves, illustrating the brightness and positivity that Indians seek and value. The two days demonstrate immense stamina, also demonstrating an incredible desire through the process—people would not be so incredibly energetic for two days if they did not have the desire to take a break from the trials and tribulations of life. Despite the myriad colors used to celebrate, there appears to be quite a distinct dichotomy between the forces of good and evil. The bonfire and the many colors are meant to dispel the forces of evil, allowing the good to prevail through it. Yet, good takes on many different forms for various people, and the numerous colors and sparks of the bonfire allow that good to manifest itself through its diverse configurations. Thus, Holi is a celebration that is communal while also obtaining the ability to be personalized for everyone involved.

Folk Dance

Sirtaki

Interviewer: Can you tell me about the greek dance the Sirtaki?

AH: Yeah, that’s probably the most famous greek dance people always are performing it at celebrations and stuff.

Interviewer: What type of celebrations is it performed at?

AH: you can see it at a lot of stuff like holidays, parades, birthdays, just whenever there is an official celebration of something. 

Interviewer: How do you actually do the dance?

AH: You basically are in a line of people where you stick out your arms and put them on the people next to you’s shoulders and then move back in forth as a unit kicking your legs and lunging. 

Interviewer: Do you know the origin off the dance?

AH: No not really but everyone in Greece knows it and it is a pretty old part of our culture, I think it has been around for hundreds of years. 

Interviewer: How do you feel about the dance? 

AH: I think its pretty fun to see. Since its usually done while I’m celebrating something it’s always in a fun environment and its usually kind of funny too see because the people doing it are usually dressed up and it’s a funny looking dance.

Context: My informant is an eighteen-year-old student at USC. He was born in Athens Greece and lived there his entire life until coming to Los Angeles for college. He learned about this folk dance during his time living in Greece. This interview took place in person at Leavey library on USC’s campus. 

Analysis: This is folk dance is an interesting piece of Greek folklore. It reminds me of how when I visited Spain I was able to see how much the flamenco is a part of the Spanish culture. I enjoyed hearing that this is not a dance that is commercialized or sold as part of Greek culture but rather a real part that greek people enjoy.

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