USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Dance
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Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Columbus, MS; Pilgrimage Week

Title: Columbus, MS; Pilgrimage Week

Category: Town Celebration/Holiday

Informant: Lieanne Walker

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 60s

Occupation: Blue Collar— Homemaker, stockman, Home Depot Employee, etc.

Residence: Columbus, MS

Date of Collection: 4/21/18

Description:

The town of Columbus, Mississippi holds a pilgrimage week every year to commiserate the town’s history. Settled in the deep South, pilgrimage week revolves around the period just before the Civil War and reconstruction (mid. 19th Century). Pilgrimage week is generally held in the Spring, sometimes early April, and lasts approximately five days.

During the week, one of the main events is antebellum tours. Due to the nature of plantation style living during that era, a multitude of homes were built in that period and hold much of the town’s history and significance as a trade hub and economic cross-roads for cotton, molasses, and tobacco. Many of the homes were kept and maintained by families that have inherited the lands.

While not all of the homes have remained, the ones that are often house relics, clothing, and historic narratives. People living in these homes will open up their estates during the week and dress in clothing passed down from their ancestors. This clothing might include: Confederate uniforms, hoop skirts, antebellum dresses, coat and ties, etc. Women will often wear bonnets and carry fans. Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to tour these houses and are sometimes invited to rent out rooms for bed and breakfast.

During the week there are festivities that happen such as recipe contests, history reports, and parades.

Presiding over the festival is a Pilgrimage court. The pilgrimage court includes a king, queen, ladies, and gentleman. The Pilgrimage king and queen are chosen for being prominent young member of the community that uphold the town’s traditions. The pilgrimage queen is usually a first year college student studying at the local University where the pilgrimage king is typically a senior in high school. The court is comprised of high school males and females from the upperclassman level. The king and queen of pilgrimage week are responsible for attending specific antebellum tours, hosting events at their respective homes, and participating in the pilgrimage week parade. The two are crowned at the end of the celebration during the pilgrimage ball (the concluding ceremony of the event). The king and queen will usually also have a large banner or sign outside of their homes indicating their role in the celebration.

In the evening, candle-lit tours of some of these homes will be offered as well as cemetery tours. Younger members of the community (high school underclassman and below) will volunteer to research and dress up as some of the prominent past leaders of the past community and stand by their graves to give information and tell stories to passerby. These tours are held after sun down and lead by candlelight.

Context/Significance:

The Columbus Spring Pilgrimage is an award-winning event that has been widely recognized as one of the best and most authentic home tours in the South. The antebellum mansions of Columbus are impeccably maintained and as resplendent as ever. Many home tours feature recreated activities of the 1800s, complete with period costumes, which add excitement and even more authenticity to this historic event.

Personal Thoughts:

Columbus pilgrimage week is a way for both residents and visitors to celebrate the history of the town’s past while appreciating the aspects of Southern culture that bring fame to the area. Tourism is a main function of this event as well. When I was younger, my mother brought me to pilgrimage week once when visiting relatives in the area. Similar to the way people will make pilgrimages for religious purposes or self exploration, I felt then and still feel now a connection to the area and a bond with their history. While I’m not sure whether or not I’d call myself personally a “Southerner,” my roots bring me back to the area time and time again. Getting to visit and take part in these pilgrimage activities help give new meaning to the life my ancestors once lived and helps me get a better picture of who I am on an individual level as well.

Folk Dance
Legends

The Highland Fling

BACKGROUND:

A man in Sacramento, California recounts the traditional dance known as the Highland Fling and a legend passed down by his Scottish ancestors. The practice of the Highland Fling originated in the early 19th century grew in popularity throughout the next hundred years. According to my source, when his ancestors immigrated to America, his great great grandma was so excited to see Elis Island, she broke into this traditional dance and captivated onlookers both on and off the boat.

THE DANCE:

Below is an example of the dance being performed:

Source: “Scottish Highland Dancing: Highland Fling.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 July 2006, www.youtube.com/watch?v=emCIxAJCe2g.

THE INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, R, went as follows:

ME: Could you tell me about an instance where you’ve witnessed the Highland Fling?

R: I can’t tell you a time when I saw it live but I can tell you about a story of it happening.

ME: Yeah that works too.

R: Well my great great grandmother, her two brothers, and their parents all sailed from Scotland to New York at Elis Island. I’ve been told that my great great grandma was so excited she began to do the Highland Fling. Now she was only 5 at this time. I guess the people around thought this was very cute. Soon enough she’d drawn a crowd.

 

MY THOUGHTS:

The legend that’s been passed down compliments this traditional Scottish dance. I set out to get more information on the origins of the dance itself but was pleasantly surprised to find out that it actually had some heavy significance in my source’s family.

Folk Dance
general
Musical

Uncle Ezra Sings “I’ve Been Working on The Railroad”

BACKGROUND:

A woman from Sacramento, California recounts her grandfather’s interesting take on a traditional folk song that their family used to sing. Her grandfather was a part time inventor. For the World’s Fair, he created an animatronic who would play the guitar with a dog who would wag his tail to the beat. An animatronic is a robot like sculpture that automatically moves in a pre-programmed manor. In this case the animatronic was a man named Uncle Ezra who would play the American folk song, “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad”. My source recounts her experience with the machine saying she’d never seen the traditional song ever performed in such a unique way.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, B, went as follows:

ME: Could you explain your experience with the machine and how it conveyed that song?

B: Well when I was a little girl, 6 years old, we used to drive up to Decatur, Illinois to visit [my grandfather]. When we got there he took us down into his basement where, before our very eyes, we say an animatronic man and dog. The man–he was called Uncle Ezra–played a banjo and the dogs tail would flip back and forth with the music. That animatronic man was in the World’s Fair in 1932. He was quite a wonder, way before Disney and Disneyland and all the other innovations in animatronic machines with music. And yeah, he would play that song “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad”. It was quite something, I tell you that. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I knew the song but this was something else.

THE SONG:

The traditional lyrics to “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad”:

I’ve been working on the railroad
All the livelong day
I’ve been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away

Can’t you hear the whistle blowing
Rise up so early in the morn
Can’t you hear the captain shouting
Dinah, blow your horn

Dinah, won’t you blow
Dinah, won’t you blow
Dinah, won’t you blow your horn
Dinah, won’t you blow
Dinah, won’t you blow
Dinah, won’t you blow your horn

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah
Someone’s in the kitchen I know
Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah
Strumming on the old banjo, and singing

Fie, fi, fiddly i o
Fie, fi, fiddly i o
Fie, fi, fiddly i o
Strumming on the old banjo

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.

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.”

Folk Dance
Game

Cakewalks

“I learned this probably when I was about ten, in Florida, from other kids. There’s this thing called a cakewalk. I’ve only seen it in the south, never ever heard about it here [in California]. Basically, usually within religious functions, you would go to an event and they would have cake. And they would play music, and you would literally just walk around and they turn off the music and there are chairs. It’s like musical chairs. So you sit down as fast as you can, and whatever number you sit on on the chair, you got the cake. I don’t understand it at all—you’re getting free cake for doing nothing. I first saw it when I was like ten, first at a 4H function, and later at a church function. And it’s like everywhere in the South, but only there.”


 

Analysis:
I have heard of the cakewalk, despite never having lived in the South. Upon doing further research into this game, this game has very deep roots into American culture. It was first performed by slaves, pre-Civil War, and these dances were judged by the plantation owners. The winners of the dance would receive a cake. Now when we use the term “cakewalk,” referring to a task, we mean it to be something that is easy to accomplish. But winning these cakewalks were very hard—the idea they were easy came across because of how skilled the dancers were.

NPR covers the background of cakewalks in the following article: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/12/23/256566647/the-extraordinary-story-of-why-a-cakewalk-wasnt-always-easy

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Legends
Musical
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

CAMBODIAN DANCING

CAMBODIAN DANCING

 

Main Piece:

 

I was exposed to it a lot when I went to church in Los Angeles. (a Christian church). My old best friend was an active dancer of the Cambodian dancing group in Long Beach and her parents would organize dancing performances during the church service as a way to promote Cambodian culture. When the Church service had combined different languages, such as during Thanksgiving I remember my mom would be pissed that my best friend’s mom can get away with organizing a dance meant for either an ancient Cambodian king or something affiliated with Buddhism.

 

I also remember that I had attended one of their trial classes in Long Beach and I observed the elasticity of their hands bent backwards, their balance, the patience to wear heavy gold jewelry and crowns while maintaining a steady yet careful dance flow.

 

The only thing I enjoyed about these dance performances was being entertained by the demon dancer.

 

The demon dancer is probably a character in the dance performance who has intentions of kidnapping or raping or killing the female dancer or princess-like character of the performance.

 

Background Information:

Why do they know this piece?

It’s probably the most creative and representative form of art within Cambodian culture.

 

Where/Who did they learn it from?

My old best friend / the Cambodian service at the Christian church.

 

What does it mean for them?

An art form perhaps worth more exploring when visiting Cambodia.

 

Context of Performance:

Sitting inside friend’s room talking.

 

Thoughts:

I think it’s interesting here how even though the subject’s parents did not have a strong cultural root(s) in Cambodian culture, that as immigrants joining an American Christian church in Los Angeles, California (with a Cambodian service), she was able to in a way get back in touch with her Cambodian cultural roots. Interesting to see that in America, at least, today, you can still go to say, a church, a community/organization outside your traditional folklore handing-down passageway (usually just from family) to learn/get into contact/access with your forgotten cultural roots/folklore.

 

Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Clicking Sticks: A Folk Dance

This is like a dance slash game -um- it’s from like Indian Hindu culture actually like it used to be Hindu, but it’s kind of becoming more of like an Indian thing now -um- and basically you have these sticks. Each person has like two sticks; They’re called Raas (pronounced “Ross”) R-A-A-S -um- and like you, you just go around like hitting your sticks with other people’s sticks and it’s like you, you just like dance around all night like hitting sticks with other sticks and like you’ll make like patterns with your friends and like different complex like dances.

 So like if I have these two sticks and you have yours we could be like 1, 2, 3, turn (gesturing to alternating sides with each count and then spinning around with sticks touching your partners) and then there’s like two lines and they go like opposite ways and like so like I’ll go like… so we both move to our, our left so like after we, I hit your stick three times and turn or whatever then I’ll go to like the person next to you and we’ll do the same thing and we’ll keep going. It’s kinda like a circuit kind of.

Yeah and it’s like it’s around the time so that this whole um dance party thing is called garba -um-… G-A-R-B-A. Um- so -um- yeah and it’s usually in like October November it’s like uhh fall harvest type of thing. Yeah. 

The Informant, one of my classmates, shared the dance of Raas after discussion section. The dance is commonly performed during the Navratri festival alongside a similar and simpler folk dance called Garba. The festival is celebrated to pay respect to the Mother Goddess of the Hindu religion, Shakti. The performance of the dance celebrates the nine incarnations of the goddess.

The Informant told me that she doesn’t remember a time where she didn’t take part in the festivities of Navratri, including the folk dances of Raas and Garba. They’re a part of her life. She doesn’t know who taught them to her or when she first danced. One of the Informant’s favorite parts of the dance is the color. She said it reminds her of Holi, the famous Indian “festival of colors” in which people smear each other with color. By the end, everyone is a vibrant hue. In Navratri, the people begin the festival wearing colorful and vibrant Garba garbs. The dance is rather simple. There are no official steps, but performers click sticks to keep rhythm.

Raas was a traditionally male dominated dance, but has become more inclusive over the years. The two things prominent in Raas are vigor and force, however, a one of passion instead of violence. Raas and Garba are both fast-paced energy-filled dances comprised of two circles, one rotating clockwise and the other counterclockwise.

I loved this account of some of the folk dances cherished in India, but I loved the backstory even more. The fact that these dances have been a part of her life so long that she can’t remember a time that they weren’t present is, in my belief, a true marker of a folk dance that is massively culturally important.  This act is a merging of three areas of folklore. The dance itself, the festival at which it’s performed, and the mythology it celebrates.

For more information on Raas, Garba, and the Navratri festival, see here.

Childhood
Folk Dance
Musical

Forehead, Elbows, Thighs And Feet

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (MS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you remember when you first learned the head, shoulders…

MS: (interrupts) Middle school.

ZM: Middle school?

MS: Mhmm.

ZM: When did you make this version?

MS: Middle school. Wait what? We made up the middle school thing. We made up the new one in middle school.

ZM: Do you know when you learned the like…

MS: (interrupts) Learned “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes?”

ZM: Yeah.

MS: (long pause) Preschool.

ZM: Okay and…

MS: We did it as a joke.

Main Piece:

The following is a transcription of the performance given by MS.

Foreheead, elbows, thighs, and feet. Thighs and feet. Foreheead, elbows, thighs, and feet. Thighs and feet. Pupils, and nostrils, and (pauses to remember the rest) lobes, and teeth. Foreheead, elbows, thighs, and feet. Thighs and feet.

Context: For my short paper topic, I chose an authored song that utilized the common children’s folk song of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, Toes.” When researching the song, I found many variants that differed from the way I learned the song. A little frustrated and confused as to how no one had recorded the version I was familiar with, I went into the common area of my apartment and asked if my roommate knew the song. I then asked her to perform it for me and she was not able to complete the full song in what she called the “normal” way that she learned in preschool. What she was able to perform, however, was a rendition she made with her friend in middle school to mock the standard song. Although her version had the same general format and melody of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” she sang different body parts then typically featured. While singing a particular body part she would touch it just like in the popularized version, with the exception of her pupils.

Background: The performer is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Marin County, California and attended preschool and a private middle school there.

Analysis: I thought this was interesting because while we often discuss natural variation from trying to remember the words, this was a conscious alteration of the song. At a young age, MS and her female friend made a parody to mock the song and express their individuality.

For another version of this folk song see…

“The Children – Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes.” Genius, 2018 Genius Media Group Inc., genius.com/The-children-head-shoulders-knees-and-toes-lyrics.

 

 

Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
Gestures
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Material
Musical
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ferias Monucipilanas

Every city, every town, has a yearly party, feria monucipilanas, and each have their own saint in which they cherish and praise during the festival. The people of the city make a big tower that you light at the bottom of the tower so then the fireworks make really colorful designs upon explosion. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. These fairs seem like the walks that Catholics due in Los Angeles during Easter to acknowledge a saint.

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