USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Good Luck Free Throw

Everyone who plays basketball has some sort of free-throw routine. This is my brother’s:

Skye: When I get fouled, I go to the free throw line. The referee hands me the ball.I spin it, let it hit the ground, it comes back to me. I dribble twice. Look at the basket, take a deep breath. Spin it again. Shoot. Make it. And then do it again for the second free throw but I don’t get second free throws.

Me: Does everybody have a free-throw routine?

Skye: Yeah, but everybody’s is different.

Me: When did you discover your free-throw routine?

Skye: Middle school. I’ve changed it up a couple times. It used to be three dribbles instead of two. Ball is life. Ball is wife.

Analysis: Basketball is not a game of luck. However, having  a free throw routine can help to center a lot of players when they’re being yelled at from the opposing team’s crowd. Like in other sports, there are moments where a single athlete’s performance can matter more than the entire team’s. A free throw, when all of the team is watching, is a moment of extreme pressure for the individual. If the player has a routine, he feels centered and ready to score.

Folk Beliefs

Ghost light (Theatre)

Allegra:  I think this might be pretty common folklore, but every theater has a ghost. Sometimes, in particularly old theaters, a ghost can cause disruptions if not appeased.

Me: Have you ever experienced a theater ghost?

Allegra: Yes. Many times. Our high school theatre had a ghost who would take the bra from a quick change pile and move it to the opposite side of backstage. Well, perhaps that wasn’t a ghost. Probably just a bad techie. Anyway, yes the ghost light is kept on in empty theaters (theaters which are not in rehearsal or performance) to appease the ghost, and I suppose for safety reasons as well. People do not want to be fumbling around in a dark theatre when they enter.

Me: What do they look like?

Allegra: Well it’s a lightbulb on top of a metal stand, and there is usually a cage around the light. Whoever leaves the theatre last is supposed to plug it in so that the next person can see.

Analysis: A ghost light goes along with many superstitions in theatre. (Never say Macbeth, a bad final dress rehearsal means a good opening night and vice versa) The ghost light superstition seems ridiculous but it is a serious practice among Thespians. As artists, actors are prone to letting the supernatural have more sway. Perhaps this is because their imaginations are more active than dryer fields of work, or because their work is so subjective and a bad show can be the result of events outside of their control. In either case, a ghost light is one of many theatre superstitions well alive today. 220px-Ghost_Light_on_Stage

Folk Dance

Bat Masterson – Brazilian Wild West Song and Game


Ricardo is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and currently lives there “for 75 percent of the year.”

Original Script:

No velho Oeste ele nasceu,
E entre bravos se criou,
Seu nome lenda se tornou,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.

Sempre elegante e cordial,
Sempre o amigo mais leal,
Foi da justiça um defensor,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.

Em toda canção contava,
Sua coragem e destemor,
Em toda canção falava,
Numa bengala e num grande amor.

É o mais famoso dos heróis,
Que o velho oeste conheceu,
Fez do seu nome uma canção,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.

Seu nome lenda se tornou,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.
Seu nome lenda se tornou,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.


In the old West he was born,
And among brave ones was created,
His legendary name became,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.

Always elegant and friendly,
Always the most loyal friend,
Justice was a defender,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.

In every song,
His courage and fearlessness,
In every song he spoke,
On a cane and a great love.

It is the most famous of the heroes,
That the old West knew,
Made his name a song,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.

His legendary name became,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.
His legendary name became,
Bat Masterson, Bat Masterson.


Ricardo: “It’s sang all the time by kids, like, in class or in, like, a break in school because there is hand game that goes with it, but I totally forget how the game goes (laughs). It’s just a fun little thing for young kids to do when they have nothing to do.”

My Thoughts:

I can relate to this song very strongly because when I was younger, I loved playing patty cake with my older sister. Singing games are a great way to pass time when you are a kid, and it is interesting to me that other cultures practice this as well.


Mano Po and Beso

Pauline is an international student from the Philippines. She is studying Chemical Engineering in the United States, and she plans to return to the Philippines once she graduates and receives her B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating delicious food, and taking naps.

Original Script

One of the customs in the Philippines is this thing called mano po, which is basically like when you see like one of your older relatives like an aunt or grandparent or anyone who is basically older than you, you have to grab their hand and then you like place it on their forehead and then you say, “Mano po.” And that’s like the way of greeting people, like greeting of the elders, but people don’t really do it anymore in the city. I only do it when I visit my relatives in the province. So instead, like in the city, we just do this thing called beso, where you basically just put your cheek on someone else’s like, “Mwah, beso, hi.”

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant’s parents taught her this greeting when she was young. During visits to her elders, she would have to perform mano po. However, this greeting became less prevalent in her life as she grew older. Now, she only has to perform mano po for her older relatives in rural areas; in cities, she does beso.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

In the Philippines, mano po is a gesture performed as either a sign of respect to an elder or an acceptance of one’s blessings from the elder. In Filipino culture, the youth are expected to respect and value their elders for their wisdom and experience accumulated over the years. By offering one’s hand to an elder, one is demonstrating subservience to the elder and welcoming his or her blessings and knowledge. While mano po is still widely used in the Philippines, many Filipinos have replaced this gesture with beso. Not restricted to just older people, it has become a more common greeting between close friends and relatives in the Philippines.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Learning about the Filipino gestures, mano po and beso, reminded me of the various greetings I have practiced or observed from other cultures. Coming from a Cantonese background, I have been raised to respect my elders and obey whatever they say. Compared to the United States, which possesses a future-oriented culture, many East Asian countries seem to have a past-oriented culture, holding elders in high esteem. The beso reminded me of the cheek kissing gesture practiced by the French. Both nations perform this action in social functions to indicate friendship or respect.

folk simile
Folk speech

“Hacer Conejo”-To Rabbit

“Hacer Conejo” – an expression meaning to bail out on the check at a restaurant incorporates folk simile, folk gesture and humor. Holding up two fingers (index and middle fingers in a spread out V) behind your head means you are thinking about doing “conejo” and lets the others in your group to get ready to run without paying the bill. It is also a way to freak out a friend who is still eating and scare them in to thinking you are about to bail out. When I asked my grand Aunt Marlly, who had married my Grandfather’s brother, she said she had never hear of the story and the expression that it sounded rather sordid. I realized that the story was attached to what social economic level you grew up in. My grand aunt came from an upper class family, while my Grandfather and all of his brothers came from a poorer lower class family where being able paying the bill was not always possible. My Grandmother came from an impoverish class that would never even think about eating in a restaurant in the first place, but she was aware of the expression and knew people who had gotten away with it. The trick was to be a very fast runner and not to have eaten too much.

Analysis: This folk simile, to my maternal grandfather, is more of a humorous gag expression, meant to scare or outrage the other diners you were with. Making the gesture is a way to get a point across without tipping your hand. I personal think is kind of funny, especially when I explain it to other people. In the U.S. the folk gesture of the rabbit ears made with the fingers has a different meaning and when I explain what it means in Colombia, I usually get a laugh or extreme fascination.



My informant is a young Indian-American woman who told me about an important symbol of deference in Indian culture.

In India, it is customary and a sign of respect to touch the feet of people who are considered to be your social superior. This includes mainly elders, teachers, and highly respected individuals. One generally greets the person, kneels down, and touches their feet before standing back up again. Occasionally, the person might stop this individual from touching their feet, insisting that they do not need to be so formal. My informant tells me that it is then extremely awkward if the individual then insists on touching the person’s feet, so they usually drop the matter then.

Naturally, this gesture carries over to the gods when Hindus pray. However, the gesture is a little different when interacting with gods than when doing the same to other people. The act of symbolically touching a god’s foot is known as Namaskar in the north, or Namaskaram in southern Indian regions.

During this process, one does not actually touch the god’s foot, but it is implied through action. Men and women perform this task differently. Men lay flat on their stomachs in a prostrating position, with their arms in front of their head and hands put together in a pointed shape. Women curl over in a face-down fetal position with their forehead touching the floor and their hands laid flat in front of their head. This is a very important form of Hindu prayer.

My informant tells me that a common theme in Hindu mythology includes the negative ramifications of not touching someone’s feet, especially the gods. One particular example of this includes a story of Vamana, one of Vishnu’s incarnations. Vamana has the appearance of a poor old monk, and one day he visited the home of a demon king who used to be kind but had become arrogant and dangerous. Vamana showed up to this king’s home and pretended to beg for alms. The demon king boasted about how he would be glad to give the monk anything he wanted, because he would be able to do so. Vamana then asked for four steps of the demon king’s land, to which the king readily agreed. Vamana grew to a massive size, and made three steps that encompassed first heaven, then earth, then the underworld. When he asked for the fourth step, the demon king realized that there was nowhere left for Vamana to stand and so he offered up his head, thus redeeming himself and restoring his humility. This story has significance to the practice of Namaskar because offering oneself to come into contact with another’s foot is an intense sign of humility. Feet are gross, and furthermore are at the lowest possible point of a person. By willingly touching the foot of someone else, you are lowering yourself in respect to their position.

I always find it fascinating to see the intersection between mythology and cultural practices/values.



A tradition is… what we call… “la mordida,” or “the bite” in Mexico. And basically, it’s when somebody has a birthday, and they get their birthday cake, and after singing “Happy Birthday” to the person, everybody shouts, “Mordida! Mordida!” which means “the bite.” Or, “Take a bite! Take a bite!” And so the person has to take a bite out of the cake without using his hands, just directly with his mouth, and when he takes a bite, usually people will push… their whole… will push their head into the cake so their whole face ends up with cake.



It’s just a funny, festive… it’s good-natured humor… you know, let people know that they are being celebrated and that they’re special somehow and they get, uh, cake on their face. Uh… and it’s just funny because everybody has a different reaction, and everybody ends up with a different face after they take the bite and get the cake in the face. And… I enjoy it, it’s fun for me, and I enjoy it because I think it makes a lot of people laugh… it makes the kids laugh… it makes everybody kind of enjoy, have a good time… uh… be good-natured, be relaxed, and… just kind of go with, uh, go along with the joke and… kind of, uh… just have fun while they’re celebrating the birthday.



I learned it when I was a kid. Actually, I got surprised by… I learned it because they did it to me, and I wasn’t expecting it, that’s how I learned it. And they did it to me at a restaurant, and I just didn’t expect it… the first time that I did it, so… uh… I was a little surprised, but I, uh, laughed, and it was funny, and… all my family laughed as well, and then, uh, of course, I couldn’t wait until it was the next person’s birthday so then I could it to them. So… that’s how I learned it, and then I… we kept on that tradition… um… with our family and with all our cousins and all our friends, and, uh… I haven’t stopped doing it since I was a kid.



This tradition points to an emphasis on humor and lightheartedly poking fun at the birthday person– sort of a way of bringing them back down on their special day, but not in a malicious way. It’s a way for everyone to be in accordance about what must happen and come together to, in a way, gang up on the birthday person, while including that person in the joke.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

Predicting Future Children

When I was little, somebody had told me about this thing… that you can do, uh… supposedly, it’s supposed to help you predict how many kids you’re going to have when you’re older. Um… so what you do is, you make a fist, a tight fist, with your thumb over your other fingers and your hand… like, your palm is facing up, but you’re in a fist… and then you… with your other hand, squeeze the part of your palm that’s open, under your pinkie, and then there’s supposed to be these little balls or bulges or something that appear on your wrist… uh, and that’s the number of kids you’re going to have. And I think… I think the left hand is how many boys you’re going to have, and the right hand is girls. And I… I think it worked for me. I don’t remember if it was exactly right from when I was little, but I think it was pretty close to… to what I ended up having.



The fact that this is something taught to girls at a young age reveals that there is a societal/cultural pressure on females to have children, and to start thinking about having children and fulfilling this social role from an early age. The desire to “predict” the number and gender of children a girl will have is perhaps a way for her to start preparing to have these children, as she enters her pubescent years.


Two Kisses

TM is an accountant who was born in Sunnyside, WA and now is currently living in Bothell, WA. He descends from a heavy Irish and Italian background which have influenced much of his culture growing up. His grandparents were the ones to teach him the most about his culture through their traditions and common sayings.

You haven’t commented about your Italian background as much, is there anything significant you could tell me about that?

TM: That is because the only person who actively practiced Italian culture or spoke the language was my great grandmother and my grandmother a little bit. It seemed to be heritage that has disappeared a bit since. And most of our Italian side was very friendly and loud. Being Italian is all about the greetings and being very loving towards each other.

What are some greetings that stood out to you?

TM: Well my grandmother used to always kiss me on both cheeks and squeeze my face even when I got older it was common for her to always see me as her little grandbaby. But kissing someone twice on the cheek is something I have seen in common in many European countries as a greeting. It is not very common in the US unless you have those roots already. We just don’t get as friendly as they do I guess.

Do you think there was any significance that it was both cheeks?

TM:  Not that I know of, I’m sure there is but I was never told what the significance of it was… hmmm, well I wonder whether it could have been that two is better than one? I’m really not sure but I can tell you it was significant who you kissed and where. Sometimes my great grandmother would kiss me right on the mouth! I would wipe it off and feel like it was a bit gross when I was really little, but I am sure she just did it cause she wanted to show her affection that way. She didn’t speak the best English to begin with.


The culture and meaning of cheek kissing varies in many parts of the world. The US is friendly to it but most of these traditions started in Europe. In countries in Asia physical contact happens less so it is less likely that cheek-kissing would be used on a day to day basis. Now it is not as commonly used in non-European countries but cheek kissing remains a significant greeting and has many variations added with a hug or the kissing of both cheeks one, two three or four times. The affection dates back to 1602 in art and practice.

Folk Beliefs

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.”


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.