USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Dance
Earth cycle
Folk Dance
Rituals, festivals, holidays


My informant is a young Indian-American woman who is well-versed in the customs of her culture and frequently participates in these traditions. She told me about Garba, a traditional Indian dance.

Garba is a non-choreographed dance celebration usually performed during the festival of Navratri (based on the Hindi words for nine + nights). Garba is typically performed by North Indians and Gujaratis but is sometimes celebrated by Punjabis.

Garba usually celebrates the Hindu goddess Durga, who is considered to be the main mother of creation. It consists of two circles, one in the center of the other, with an idol inside the inner circle. The inner circle is supposed to represent the womb of the universe, while the circles represent time because the Hindu concept of time is cyclical due to reincarnation. The dancers are always switching dance partners, so they are constantly moving.

The traditional outfit worn during Garba is a chaniya choli: a top that sometimes has a vest or jacket, with a long skirt and a scarf. People come to this celebration dressed up in bright colors and the women wear lots of nice jewelry – essentially people choose to come dressed up and looking their best.

The version of this dance that my informant is familiar with is called Dandiya. In this dance, each dancer wields two wooden sticks roughly 2cm in diameter and 1.5ft in length. Sometimes these sticks are decorated but they are usually plain. Two people act as dance partners and hit each other’s sticks together: first one stick, then the other, then both, then they spin, and then move on to the next person. This is the basic movement, but people tend to improvise in fancier patterns so their partner has to keep up (my informant jokingly told me that this is why North Indians tend to be good dancers). This style of Garba (also known as dandiya-raas) is associated with Krishna. “Raas” means play/dance. This style is supposed to imitate a sword fight.

I am glad that my informant knows so much about the symbolism behind this dance, as it adds so much more depth and beauty to the understanding of this practice. I also find it interesting that there is a rendition that combines the idea of creation and the flow of time with battle.

Folk Dance

Chinese folk dance

This friend of mine [Noted as W] is a dance enthusiast, and she provided a clip of her performance of Chinese dance. 

The interview:

Me: So, what are the significant features of Chinese dance?

W: For staters, you’re wearing those traditional clothes. There are some featuring movements I could share with you though. The primary movements are mostly jumping, leaping, turning, and flipping. I think flipping is the most distinct movement among the all, where you need to do some tumbling movements, or circling your torso around your waist, something like that. The turnings are also important. There is a rule that whatever direction you intend to move at, you should go to the opposite first. For example, if you’re going to move your hand to the left, you should go right first for a little bit to give the audience a false impression, like what I did in the video at 00:06. This rule applies to almost every Chinese dance. I couldn’t really describe it, other than how it’s performed and those technical movements, it’s also imbedded in the feels and spirit of the performers.


The dance my friend performed turns out to be a dance re-choreographed from the original a folk dance. However, it would still be regarded as a traditional Chinese dance. There are countless folk dances in China, what characterized them into the genre of Chinese dance are those movements and the aura the dance brought out, but not the dance itself.

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.



Folk Dance
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.”


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:


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

Folk Dance

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.

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.

Folk Dance

May Day

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: There’s this festival that we have in England called May Day, and it’s the first of May. I don’t really know where it came from. We always have a holiday on the day so I always get a day off school. We do it to welcome spring, in a way. I’ve also heard that it’s to celebrate workers. But it’s not a workers’ day, per say. And I have seen people doing the Maypole dancing.

Collector: Pole dancing?

Informant: It’s not pole dancing as in pole dancing, like kids do it. I learned it at school, it’s taught at schools. At least it was when I was in primary school. Basically, it’s like a big wooden stick and it has like ribbons attached to it and people like dance around it.

Collector: Have you ever experienced that?

Informant: Yeah at like fairs I guess, on May day. There’s always a pole. I don’t really know the purpose of circling a pole to celebrate spring, but people do it. It’s very common. And there’s good food at the fairs too. Oh, and we crown a May Queen. That’s like a girl who does a bunch of things for May Day. Like she’s part of the parades and stuff. I’m not really involved in it, but I’ve heard about it. I also heard this story that in the past they used to kill the May Queen at the end, but like, I don’t know if that’s true or not.

The first thing I thought about this particular piece of folklore was how funny it was that a big tradition in England was called May Pole Dancing, but then my friend explained that it wasn’t really pole dancing, and that it is meant to celebrate spring. I think that’s really interesting, because it reminds me of my Swedish friend’s Midsummer ritual. I think it’s really cool how in both of the festivals there are wooden sticks (a cross in the Swedish culture and a pole in English culture) that little kids dance around to celebrate the arrival of a new season. It make some wonder what the origin of these traditions are, and if they all come from the same place.

Folk Dance

Dabbing (Dance)

My informant is Grant, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Grant was born and raised in Los Angeles, however his father is from Iran and his mother is from Japan. Both of these cultures influence his life in different ways. This piece of folklore is a tradition performed on a holiday.

Do you know any folkdance or a form of dance you’ve learned from others?

Grant: “Does dabbing count? (laughing)”

Yeah you can talk about dabbing! So explain it what is “dabbing”?

Grant: “Yeah dabbing, its like popular now in hip-hop and rap that made it famous. You just kind of bend your arm like a chicken wing and drop your head to your elbow”

That’s a dance move?

Grant: “Yeah a lot of rappers do it but celebrities really made it famous and you see it all over twitter and other social media”

Was there anyone specific that started this dance move or do you know the origins?

Grant: “I don’t know exactly but I know it became popular because of Cam Newton. He would dab during all his football games when he scored or even when he had a good play he would just celebrate. I also know the move comes from taking a “dab” which is like smoking but harsher so you have to cough afterwards. The dab is like a cough but as a dance move”

Do you think people know it originated from smoking?

Grant: “I don’t think so, I think it started out that way but once celebrities made it common and little kids and parents started doing it and I definitely don’t think they know it came from smoking”

So would you say all age groups do it?

Grant: “Yeah you see little kids doing it all the time on tv and twitter and even grandparents but I don’t think they know what they’re doing”


I like this piece of folklore because it began as a dance started by popular culture about smoking drugs but through the mass use of the dance move by celebrities and then by their followers it turned into an innocent dance move almost known by everyone.

Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance




Primary Language- English

Occupation- USC Student

Residence- Kansas City, Missouri

Date of Performance- 4/25/16

When I visited Hawaii, I learned of a god they worshipped named Lono. He was the god of agriculture, fertility, rainfall, music, and peace to the Hawaiians. I saw a lot of statues, dolls, and pictures of him when I visited a hotel there. Lono and a lot of other gods have huge statues in Hawaii. It is said that Lono came to earth on  a rainbow but that he was around before earth even existed. Lono came to marry a god named Laka. He was known as a god of peace and had a festival in his honor that we wanted to attend. I do not know much about it but I do know that it is a New Year’s celebration covering four lunar periods. The people dress up with traditional clothes and dance. It seemed pretty cool online but we weren’t there during the time they celebrated it.

Quinn and his father like to visit Hawaii during the semesters spring break or summer. It gives him a time to unwind and relax. He also takes the time to learn some folklore in his travels. Some of the folklore consist of traditions he may partake in like in Hawaii or Mexico, at least in terms of the foods they eat and celebrations they may witness. He likes to remember the folklore he learns because it serves as a memory of the amazing time he has had during his trips around the world.

Lono has been commemorated in Hawaii for a very long time and has given the Hawaiian people something to look forward to on New Year’s as well. A few hundred years ago, the people who were natives to Hawaii believed that Lono was the reason for the bountiful agriculture and times of peace. Thier culture and celebrations are sometimes seen as exotic and beautiful by tourist which has created a source of income by many who reside in Hawaii.

This tradition Hawaii has held and celebrated is very interesting and makes me want to go and visit. It is folklore like this that spreads to many people and causes interest because they want to go see it themselves and experience a new culture. Quinn not only visited a new location with a different environment, but also a place that has almost a completely different culture than his own and loved it. The shows, lights, and festivities put on by Hawaiians causes a surge in tourism and no longer makes them a small country but a huge center for new experiences.