Category Archives: Folk Dance

Danza de los Viejitos

Main piece:

There’s this thing called Danza de los Viejitos. It’s is a dance to represent the 4 elements, which are water, earth, air and fire, and the dancers wear this thing called a Sarape, a cloak, and a straw hat and sandals with a wooden bottom so that their footsteps are like, heard by the people who are worshipping. It’s kinda cool because the dance has a cool purpose. It’s so that we can pray for a good harvest, especially, corn, and so that we can have a stronger connection to the spirits.

Context

The informant, SB, currently lives in Pomona, CA and his parents are from Mexico. He goes to CalPoly Pomona. This is a tradition that he remembers fondly from his childhood. I met him through his girlfriend, JH. This story was collected over a group call.

Thoughts:

I think that this tradition is interesting because a lot of other cultures also have it where the four elements are “Earth, air, fire and water”––this is true of Greek, Babylonian, Chinese, and other cultures I’m sure. It goes to show how integral these four elements are to the well being of the body and the environment, cross culturally. 

The Dabke Dance

This interview is a transcribed conversation between me, interviewer, and interviewee, referred to as SM. 

SM: I’m from Lebanon and in Lebanon and many other Middle Eastern Countries along the Sinai Peninsula, we commonly do this dance we all refer to as the dabke. I always see it at family weddings and other celebrations like birthdays.

Me: So what does this dance look like?

SM: So this dabke dance is done with both men and women, and it’s basically when people line up together and hold hands or link arms and then in a circle begin to dance and stomp their feet in synchronization. They also, like, sway their bodies from side to side in synchronization. Everyone dances and, oh, everyone sings as well in the circle. The circle rotates and people just keep swaying and dancing and stomping.

Me: Ok, and why do you do this dance?

SM: I was told by my dad, and other family members, that the dabke actually originates in Lebanon when we as Phoenicians used to make our homes out of stone and would put straw, wood, and finally mud on top. My dad said they used to have to stomp on the mud to pack it into the straw and be sturdy. Apparently the only way to do that on the roofs of the homes was to have men line up and stomp in synchronization.

Me: Have you ever done the dabke?

SM: Yeah, I’ve done it at a couple weddings and stuff – usually it just breaks out and everyone gets swept into it.

Background:

Interviewee was born and raised in America, but his parents are both Lebanese. He lived in Dubai during his teen years and has always had very close ties to Lebanon. He visits Lebanon at least once a year and speaks with his parents regularly, where they speak in Arabic and often chat about history. They also all continually practice many Lebanese and Arabic traditions and share folklore. 

Context:

This interview was conducted over a video call. Interviewee and I are romantically involved, so the conversation was very open and casual. He was very willing to help out and share some of his culture’s lore. 

Thoughts:

It is interesting to hear a young person’s rendition of a traditional dance that clearly is still prevalent in Middle Eastern culture. His recollection and the version he knows is only one of many – many different dabkes emerged in different Middle Eastern countries. The interviewee explained the history of the dabke quite well – it is adapted from a roof dance. I greatly enjoyed learning about this and would love to see it in person. 

For a different version and more history of the dabke dance, refer to this link: https://www.arabamerica.com/dabke-cultural-background-preparing-arab-american-wedding-season/

El Caballo Dorado

Background: Informant is a 22 year old first generation Mexican American.

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Are there any popular traditions your family has for parties?

Informant: Well for almost every party, they play this song called El Payaso del Rodeo by El Caballo Dorado. It is a song where the same dance moves are repeated, you start by stomping your foot, and when the music starts you dance to the left, then dance backwards, then forward and back again, you essentially turn after the last time you dance backwards to face different directions. This song is a staple at most parties, but especially at quinceneras.

Context: Interview with a family friend, asking about any family traditions.

Thoughts: I have heard of el caballo dorado, but I was not aware that it was not the name of the song. I always called the song and the dance el caballo dorado. It is interesting to know that some people know the actual facts of the song. Meanwhile others, like myself only know what we always been told. The caballo dorado is a fun dance, and really gets people on the dance floor.

Quinceanera celebration

Main piece: 

The following was transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer.

Informant: A tradition… that all families, all hispanic families celebrate, or all families do is a daughter’s 15 year old birthday. They call it a quinceanera. All families do it. The 15 year ceremony is very important because the dad presents his daughter to society… because umm…  because she stops being a girl and becomes a young woman. 

Interviewer: What do you do in the quinceanera? 

Informant: The most important part is mass to give thanks for her 15 years of living. Godparents are chosen for the ceremony. After mass is the party. And in the party there is a lot of food… eh there are different types of you know ehh platters depending on the region. There’s dance, wine, y around 10 in the night, the waltz is danced with the dad, the brothers if any, and the rest of the males in the family including grandparents, uncles, and cousins. After that there are other dances, the one that the quinceanera likes and she dances with her “chambelanes”. They change attire and after the dancing, there is one last ceremony. The madrina gives her one last doll, the last doll she’ll be given because she stops being a girl and the madrina crowns her with a crown and replaces her shoes with slippers. Once that’s done, she’s officially considered a princess and a young woman. 

Background: The informant was my mom who was born in Mexico City. She was raised in Mexico but came to the U.S. about 20 years ago. She still goes back during the summer to visit family and that sort of thing. She has learned about this tradition since she was very young because all her cousins and sisters went through the quinceanera so she knows the ceremony very well. However, she did not have one because instead of a party/ceremony, she wanted a car so she got that instead.

Context: I was in the kitchen with my mom and I needed one more collection piece from her so I asked her straight up what’s another tradition that she knows really well because I needed one more. She told me the importance of the quinceanera as I was helping her prepare food and I had my phone out to record our conversation.

Thoughts: I know the quinceanera is a big tradition because I lived it with my sister when she turned 15. I’m not a good dancer, or even like dancing, but I had to for my sister’s ceremony in order to keep with tradition. I can tell it’s a special moment for them because like my mom explained, it is the transition from a girl to a young woman. Everyone in the family enjoys the ceremony and it’s a fun time overall. The girl never forgets her quinceanera because of how grand the spectacle is.

Hula

Context: The informant is my aunt and will be referred to as L.I. She is originally from Hawaii and is of Filipino descent. She grew up in Hawaii, which is where the Hula dance and its importance, but she now lives in San Diego with her husband (my uncle) and their two children.

Main Text: L.I: “No one speaks true Hawaiian anymore so the Hula is how Hawaiians communicate now, by portraying words in a visual dance form. The two main categories of Hula are Hula Auana and Hula Kahiko. The Auana is much more flowy and common now, it is usually accompanied by song, guitar, and a ukulele. Kahiko, on the other hand, is more like a slap dance like the Samoan Haka and is accompanied by chanting”.

M.M.: “Is there a reason for there being two separate forms?”

L.I.: “The Kahiko is how they communicated in ancient times and the Auana is more modern and Americanized, its a lot more accepted. The hand motions within Hula dances are used to represent the words in a song or chant. For example, the fluid hand motions in the Auana can signify nature: the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean.”

Analysis: Hula dances have always been an important part of Hawaiian culture, they are performed at all Luaus and weddings. I find it interesting how the Hula dance transformed in order to be more accessible and appealing to visitors from the United States. It demonstrates how the Hawaiian islands adopted to their new identity within the United States of America. The more fluid Auana form of Hula is very recognizable within the continental United States whereas the Kahiko is not.

Filipino Money Dance

Context: The informant is my aunt and will be referred to as L.I. She is originally from Hawaii and is of Filipino descent. She grew up in Hawaii, but she now lives in San Diego with her husband (my uncle) and their two children. The following text describes the Filipino Money Dance which was performed at her wedding.

Main Text: “The money dance is a common tradition in Filipino culture and it is performed at weddings. The DJ will call out one line for men and one line for women, and they usually pass out pins. Then one by one people will approach the bride and groom to dance with them. After they dance they use the pins to pin money to the bride or groom as a sign of good fortune as they begin their journey as husband and wife.”

Analysis: It is common for people to give gifts or money to newlyweds to wish them good fortune or to help them start their new life together. This Filipino tradition turns this practice into a fun, engaging activity that expresses the relationship between the guest and the newlywed. It also reminds me of a Polynesian tradition where during graduations, the graduate is presented with a wreath of money that they wear around their neck. It is interesting how monumental life events are met with monetary gifts to help the person find success in this next phase in their life.

The Schuhplatter

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from dialogue between my self, GK, and my friend DH.

DH: The Schuhplattler is a popular German dance that I know of. I’ve watched it preformed a number of times but have never preformed it myself. But it is a very exciting and funny to watch because the song is played by an accordion and the dance moves are a bit goofy. 

GK: What are the dance moves? 

DH: There are different parts. First you stomp on the ground. Then you clap and bend your leg sideways in order strike the soles of your shoes. Right after that, you immediately go on to slap your thighs and then your knee caps. After completing those steps, you do it all again but this time with the other leg. 

Background: The informant is a 57 year old man who comes from German heritage. Their whole family are members of a German-American club which is the main reason why the informant became aware of this dance. He did not formally learn The Schuhplattler until he was 10 years old. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this dance face to face.

My Thoughts: In my opinion this dance is one of the more high energy dances that I have come across. I think the main reason for this is because it is a group dance and the dance moves are different from normal dance moves. I have not seen this dance spread into American culture as much, which surprises me because I feel like it would be very popular amongst the younger generations who tend to like funny dances like this. 

Here is a video of the dance being preformed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxRACYQAkgA

Jingle Dress Origin

Main Piece:

Informant: So the story behind the Jingle Dress dance is about a girl who was really sick and her dad really wanted her to get better. And he had a vision or a dream, one of those two, and if you put a 100 shells on a dress, cause that’s how they used to make them, and if she dances for 21 days, or something like that, then she would be healed. And he did exactly what, uh, it told him to and she was healed. Not they call the jingle dress dress dance a healing dance. But, that’s just like one of the different stories of why it was like that. There are multiple stories and things like that. But that’s the one I heard.

Interviewer: What other variations are there?

Informant: Well, that’s the only one I know, but other people say there are more.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade. She is also an Old-Fashioned jingle dress dancer which originates from the Ojibwe people. It is referred to as a healing dance and can be seen at Native American powwows across the United States and Canada.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I asked if she could describe for me the origin story behind the jingle dress dance. 

Thoughts:

One of the greatest gifts given to mankind was movement. Along with the ability to think, we are able to actively engage with our environment. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Dance has long been a part of human culture, and in many cases, a key component in ritual and prayer. The jingle dress dance emphasizes the healing properties that dance can have on the mind and body. There are many variations of this story, such goes folklore. The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and can be seen at powwows across the United States and Canada.

Mosh-pit culture at EDM raves and festivals

Main Piece

Interviewer: What are the rules of mosh-pitting?

Informant: If someone falls, you pick them up you do not trample them. You are not trying to intentionally hurt anyone, that is usually a golden rule. Sometimes there are also women-only moshpits, and it is pretty cool because it encourages women to mosh without worrying about the muscled-up guys that usually mosh. Every guy will let them just have their pit, it is always respected. 

There are different types of moshpits too. There is a circle where people just mosh in a big circle thing. And then there is a circle pit, basically you are just running in a circle, there’s no bumping or hitting it is just running. Sometimes people are inside the circle, and some of them can get huge like wall to wall at venues. That is a weird one haha.

There are also ones called Wall of Deaths–those are crazy, man. DJ’s usually start it by saying “Yo, this is my last song, I wanna see a Wall of Death in this Motherfucker. Lets’s Go!” 

Basically what happens is two lines open the middle of the venue, and people go to one of the sides. Once you have a big enough opening, the bass drops, and then both sides just run at each other. You collide with each other and then you just make this giant mosh pit. It is crazy. You’ll usually see this with EDM, pop-punk, heavy-metal. 

Background

The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, who is currently a senior at USC studying Health and Human Sciences whose family is living in a town four hours outside of Denver, Colorado. Coming from a military family, the informant has lived in various areas, the most memorable for him was New Orleans. The informant is half Korean and half Caucasian, and is a sports fanatic having played soccer for most of his life. The informant is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to several festivals a year, originally beginning to attend in his senior year of high school. 

Context

Being someone who attended a lot of Latinx punk shows in my hometown, I am a big fan of moshing. Last year my informant took me to my first rave, and explained the different styles of moshing and how to mosh in this scenario. Now, I have gone to a couple of more, and during our interview I asked hi to break down the rules and different types of moshpits. 

Analysis

I think mosh-pits are a type of folk dance at certain venues where participants are able to act in a more aggressive and violent manner than how they’d act in everyday scenarios. Moshing gives a lot of individuals a chance to express any pent up anger or aggression, while still balancing the concept of PLUR (Peace, Love Unity, Respect) which many ravers follow. I believe that is why there are many types of mosh-pits and set rules to secure that people do not seriously injure themselves. 

Persian-American Nowruz Fire Jumping

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).

CB “Okay, start by telling me why you participate in this event, what you call the event, and who  you participate with”

AM “I celebrate Persian new year every year because I am Perisan and both of my family members that I live with are also Persian. And they grew up in Iran. And because of that they grew up celebrating certain religions and certain customs throughout their lifetime.  So now they also allowed me to grow up in their roots and experience that Iranian culture that I wasn’t really able to experience because I live in the United States now.

“So one of the small events that I celebrate with my family is when we go to a park to celebrate Persian New Year., also known as Nawruz. At this park there are normally other Persians who agregate here and there’s various events that they do for customs, and one of them is that at night time they build a fire, a nice big fire, and they play Persian music and everyone sort of lines up and they take turns jumping over the fire. [laughs] Yeah, that’s one particular thing that occurs a lot

. . .

CB “Can you talk about the fire jumping thing? Is that supposed to symbolize anything do you know”

AM “Hmm. I’m sure it symbolizes something, I don’t know the finite definition of it but I can give you my interpretation of it because that’s sort of what folklore revolves around, right?  So my vision of it is a renewal of life, kinda like when a phenix dives into a fire and is reborn, and so its a meaning of a new year; a new life. So when you jump through it you’re kinda saying this is a new me now. And this is a new year as I branch into my new life.”

Background:

My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. A large amount of his extended family still lives in Iran, and so he has often talked about feeling disconnected from Persian culture. The Nowruz celebrations that he described happen every year in a park in the LA area. He and his family drive about 2 hours to get there, and it’s one of the only times during the year that they are able to connect with the larger Persian community in the area. The fire-jumping tradition that he spoke about seems to be a way to actively initiate a fresh state. I think that he and his family value this event so much because they are separated from the rest of their family, and their culture. By meeting with other Persians every year to celebrate a new beginning, at the same time that their family in Iran is celebrating Nowruz, they are able to bring their Persian culture, and family by extension, with them into their new year.

Context:

I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.

Thoughts:

I was really interested in the fire-jumping aspect of Nowruz. Many different cultures emphasize the idea of new beginnings around the new year. However, for my informant, his Nowruz celebration gave him a ritualistic way of acting out this new beginning. It made it so that it was almost the action, not the holiday, that symbolized this rebirth. I also thought that it was especially interesting that he referenced a popular piece of western folklore, the phoenix, when describing his traditions. I think that this represents a large part of his assimilation to American and western culture. While he is still distinctly Persian and tied to his roots, the way he thinks of his celebrations is defined by both his heritage, and his surroundings. This exemplifies the development of Persian-American culture as a separate unit from either culture.