“Toi Toi Toi” – Folk Speech for Performing Artists

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 21
Occupation: College Student
Residence: California, USA
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/18/2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): n/a

Context:

Informant AT was a current undergraduate student at The University of Southern California pursuing their BFA in Dance at the time of this collection. AT has been training in multiple dance genres since they were young. Dancing has allowed AT to travel around the world where they have had the opportunity to perform for and learn from many different dance artists.

When speaking with AT, they described a folk speech they heard while in Europe that was said to AT and other dancers just before a performance.


Text:

“Toi toi toi”


This folk speech is similar to saying “break a leg” in that it means “good luck” and/or “have a great show.” AT mentioned that this can be said verbally or written in a card, but they have only ever heard/seen it while performing in European countries, not the United States.


Analysis:

After hearing about this from AT, believe that this particular folk speech functions to direct well wishes to performers without explicitly saying it. Wishing someone “good luck” explicitly is believed to have the opposite effect. Since performers are usually faced with anxieties or “stage fright” before performing, there became a need for a different way of expressing one’s well-intended wishes. This folk speech meets this need while simultaneously creating “insiders” (the performers) and “outsiders” (non-performers). If an outsider were to hear this folk speech it wouldn’t have any significance and might even puzzle them. As a performer, you learn and adopt the customs and sayings of other performers that you come into contact with. This allows for the transfer of the unofficial knowledge/meaning of “toi toi toi.”


Annotation:

This folk speech is similar to another that can be found in the USC Folklore Archive. See this variation here:

Keeney, Samuel, and Samuel Keeney. “University of Southern California.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, 17 May 2020, folklore.usc.edu/saying-merde-instead-of-break-a-leg-for-ballet/.