Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Is Folk Dancing? - Week 10


Hello Canada!  Welcome to the journey!  On Saturday this week I performed dances from the state of Tamaulipas for the first time!  Check me out in my new costume.  The two songs I danced were  La Calandria, performed by Linda Ronstadt, and La Chimenea.  The performance went well and considering all the challenges faced, I rated myself an A-/B+.  It was one of my better performances.  


I hope everyone enjoyed reading last week's post.  As we enter the Easter season, I face more delectable chocolate temptations.  What's the latest assault on my waistline?  The Cadbury Creame Egg.  You either love them or hate them.  They are an Easter holiday tradition.  I've been eating them since childhood and I love them.  I vaguely recall the television commercials which aired back in the day.  Chocolate propaganda geared at brainwashing children to eat those wonderfully delicious eggs.  They worked on me!  I've never stopped eating them. 

In a moment of vocabulary enlightenment during last week's blog, "Three Challenges", I used the word plethora!  What an awesome word, plethora.  As I was thinking about the word this week, I decided I needed to check and make sure I used it correctly.  In the course of my web search, one of the page results for plethora was this YouTube video of a scene from The Three Amigos.  It's called "What Is A Plethora?"  I thought, "well how fitting!"  So I am providing a link here for your viewing entertainment.
   

This week I want to explore the topic of folk dancing and define what it is and some it's roots.  There are several interesting and informative resources on the web that go into great depth on the subject of folk dancing.  By no means is this post an exhaustive resource.  I encourage everyone to research and explore the topic for themselves.  Here is some of what I enjoyed learning.


FOLK DANCING: 

Folk Dancing is defined as a popular dance, considered as part of the tradition or custom of a particular people.  According to Wikipedia, the term folk dance describes dances that share some or all of the following attributes:
  • Dances performed at social functions by people with little or no professional training, often to traditionally based music.
  • Dances not generally designed for public performance or the stage, though may be later arranged and set for stage.
  • Execution dominated by an inherited tradition rather than innovation (though folk traditions change over time)
  • New dancers often learn informally by observing others and/or receiving help from others.
More controversially, some people define folk dancing as dancing for which there is no governing body or dancing for which there are no competitive or professional performances. 

Wikipedia goes on to state:

The term "folk dance" is sometimes applied to dances of historical importance in European culture and history; typically originated before the 20th century.  For other cultures the terms "ethnic dance" or "traditional dance" are sometimes used, although the latter terms may encompass ceremonial dances. 


There are a number of modern dances, such as hip hop dance, that evolve spontaneously, but the term "folk dance" is generally not applied to them, and the terms "street dance" or "vernacular dance" are used instead.  The term "folk dance" is reserved for dances which are to a significant degree bound by tradition and originated in the times when the distinction existed between the dances of  "common folk" and the dances of the "high society". 

There is a good example of this in the movie Titanic.  Titanic sailed in 1912.  Jack is invited to dinner with the first class and high society after supposedly saving Rose from falling off the ship, although she was considering suicide.  Do you remember?  After dinner, Jack challenges Rose to meet him at the grand staircase.  Rose accepts the challenge and they spend a night of what some considered, reckless fun.  There is one scene where they go into the belly of the ship where the common folk are playing instruments, dancing and living it up.  Jack and Rose indulge in beer and there is a kind of dance off between the two.  Jack displays his folk dancing best and Rose displays here ballet talents by rising onto the tip of her toes.  Here we see the difference between the two, dances of common people and dances of the trained and studied high society.


Wikipedia concludes with:

A number of modern ballroom dances originated from folk ones.

The terms "ethnic" and "traditional" are used when it is required to emphasize the cultural roots of the dance.  In this sense, nearly all folk dances, such as polka, cross ethnic boundaries and even cross the boundary between "folk" and "ballroom dance", ethnic differences are often considerable enough to mention, e.g., Czech polka vs. German polka.

Not all ethnic dances are folk dances; for example, ritual dances or dances of ritual origin are not considered to be folk dances.  Ritual dances are usually called "Religious dances" because of their purpose.

There you have it, Wikipedia's take on what is folk dancing with my injection of Titanic.  Folk dancing is the dance of the common people.  It has been passed down through tradition, from generation to generation.  It has survived through oral tradition and lore.  Lore is cultural material and tradition transmitted orally from one generation to another.  Although there are many printed documents and structured resources on folk dancing today, there still remains an element of oral tradition as the maestro or teacher passes on to their students what they have learned.  Folk dancing has evolved through time into the what we see today.  In a future posting, I will explore the development of modern folk dancing.  Much of what audiences experience today are glorified reenactments, visually stunning extravagant productions in comparison to the original core foundations of folk dance.


MEXICAN FOLK DANCING:

Developed over five centuries, the Mexican folk dance is seeped in the history and culture of Mexico
According to Wikipedia, folk dance of Mexico covers a wide range of dance forms that evolved from the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (February 1519 - August 13, 1521) to about 1750.  [These dances have continued to evolve in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Now, in the 21st century, these dances continue to be enjoyed and developed by dance groups and instructors around the globe.]  These dance forms derived from the country's indigenous, European and , to some extent, African heritages.  While dance had been an important part of the country's pre Hispanic history, most of these [original] dances were either eliminated by evangelization or modified with only few dance forms surviving mostly intact.


There are many resources that go into great depth regarding the development of folk dancing in Mexico.  One that I enjoyed reading was on Buzzle.com:  Facts about the Mexican Folk Dancing.  One dance, The Jarabe Tapitio, stands out among the many.  Here is what Buzzle states about The Jarabe Tapitio:
The Jarabe Tapatio:  Often considered to be synonymous to Mexican dancing itself, the Jarabe Tapatio or 'the Mexican hat dance' is one of the most beloved dance forms in Mexico.  This traditional dance form is considered as the national dance of Mexico.  Having originated in the state of Jalisco, the Jarabe Tapatio is a courting dance, where the man tries to romantically sway a woman into courtship.  While the women wear the traditional china poblana, which includes a fringed blouse, a skirts and a shawl, the men are dressed in an ornate charro or cowboy suit.  The dance gained immense popularity when the famous ballerina, Anna Pavlova, incorporated it in her repertoire.


Starting in the early 16th century when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, outside dances such as the waltz, ballet, polka and schottische, greatly influenced the indigenous dance forms.  Subsequent conquests allowed the German, French, Spanish and Italian dances, to mingle with the original folk dance.  This resulted in the emergence of three dance forms of Mexican folk dance:  danza, mestizo and bailes regionales.  Danza is an indigenous ritual dance, performed in religious or community settings.  Mestizo showcases western influences on the indigenous dance, in either steps or the theme.  Bailes regionales or the region dances, are a manifestation of the dance form by each community, usually presented in community and theatrical performances.  So Mexican folk dancing covers a wide rage of dances, used in a variety of settings, for a variety of purposes.


In addition to traditional dances and dance forms, traditional dance steps and footwork, traditional skirt work, and traditional costuming, there is the music itself.  Folklorico is danced to Mariachi music and other forms of indigenous music.  Many of the songs either tell folk tales, embrace loyalty to Mexico or capture elements of Mexican life.  The music is a reflection of the culture, diversity, lifestyle and everyday experience of the Mexican people.  I have noticed that many of the songs are about birds:  pigeons, roosters and so on.  Lore is a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject, held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth.  Mexican dance, music, holidays and faith are full of lore. 

La Bruja:  The Witch

Let's look at one folklore tale in the music.  I think the song La Bruja, danced from the state of Vera Cruz, is a good example.  There are several recordings of the song with some slight variations in the details of the tale.  Here are the lyrics and English translation of the version from the soundtrack of Frida. 
Ay que bonito es volar
A las dos de la mañana
A las dos de la mañana
Y ay que bonito es volar, ay mama
Volar y dejarse caer
En los brazos de tu hermana
En los brazos de tu hermana
Y hasta quisiera llorar
Me agarra la bruja,
Me lleva al cuartel,
Me vuelve maceta,
Me da de comer
Me agarra la bruja,
Me lleva al cerrito,
Me sienta en sus piernas,
Me da de besitos.
¿Ay dígame ay dígame ay dígame usted
Cuantas creaturitas se ha chupado usted?
Ninguna, ninguna, ninguna no ve
Que ando en pretensions de chuparme a usted
Y ahora sí maldita bruja
Ya te chupastes a mi hijo
Ya te chupastes a mi hijo
Y ahora sí maldita bruja
Y ahora le vas a chupar
Y a tu marido el ombligo
Y a tu marido el ombligo
Y ahora le vas a chupar
Me agarra la bruja,
Me lleva a su casa,
Me vuelve maceta,
Y una calabasa
Me agarra la bruja,
Me lleve al cerrito,
Me sienta en sus piernas,
Me da de besitos.
¿Ay dígame ay dígame ay dígame usted
Cuantas criaturitas se ha chupado usted?
Ninguna, ninguna, ninguna no ve,
Que ando en pretensiones de chuparme a usted



Oh, how lovely it is to fly
At two o'clock in the morning
At two o'clock in the morning
Oh, how lovely it is to fly, oh mother


To fly and let yourself fall
Into your sister's arms
Into your sister's arms
I almost feel like weeping


The witch grabs me,
Takes me to her quarters,
She turns me into a flowerpot,
She feeds me


The witch grabs me,
She takes me to the mountains,
She sits me on her lap,
She smothers me with kisses.


Oh tell me, oh tell me, oh tell me please!
How many children have you sucked dry of life?
I've sucked none, none, none. Can't you see?
It is you who I'm trying to suck the life out of!


And now you'll see wicked witch
You've already sucked away my son
You've already sucked away my son
And now you'll see wicked witch


And now you're about to suck out
your husband's life through his navel
your husbands life through his navel
And now you're about to suck out


The witch grabs me,
Takes me to her quarters,
She turns me into a flowerpot,
And a pumpkin.


The witch grabs me,
She takes me to the mountains,
She sits me on her lap,
She smothers me with kisses.


Oh tell me, oh tell me, oh tell me please!
How many children have you sucked dry of life?
I've sucked none, none, none. Can't you see?
It is you who I'm trying to suck the life out of!


Photos of Folk Dances from Around the World:

Here are some photos from various folk dances from around the world that I found on the web. A resource you can also view photos of folk dancing is Multicultural California's Facebook page.  They also have videos of folk dancing on YouTube.


When it comes to photos and pictures of Mexican folklorico dancing, I prefer those that depict the folk dancing in the original time period it originated.  I like the rawness of them.  They often depict the Jarabe Tapatio dance.  There is one particular mural in a restaurant on Olvera Street that is truly amazing.  The artist did a great job showing the folk dancing couple in a traditional Mexican village, in traditional clothing, in an environment that is authentic and true to the dance.  Here are some other images that I like.




In closing, I want to state that in my opinion much of what we see today as folk dancing is a reproduction and recreation.  Folk dancing has become more of a specialty and a novelty reserved for special occasions or other events that reenact history or periods of time.  Renaissance Festivals and the like are a popular trend.  To some extent it has become a commodity that some have capitalized upon.  In modern society, most just want to be spectators and observe, not participants.  It's not something we see as part of everyday life.  It's not part of the current society's culture.  People who are interested in dancing it, seek out the instruction.  They become students of dance.

Imagine if everyone who went to a Mexican restaurant that provided Mariachi entertainment, got up and danced the Jarabe Tapatio whenever it was played.  Imagine if it were that common, something that everyone did.  To me, that would be a practical and realistic expression of folk dancing that could be part of the current society.  Perhaps in some areas of the world, things like that still happen. 

Recently, I saw a program on television that was dedicated to folklorico dancing and mariachi music.  Everyone in the audience was either a dancer or musician.  All performed on stage in their group at one point during the show.  At the end of the show, everyone on stage and in the audience, played or danced La Negra.  It was something very moving to see.  The camera panned across the auditorium and everywhere you could see, everyone was participating.  In that moment in time, it seemed folk dancing and music were somewhat restored to an earlier purpose.

Whenever I mess up during a performance, I have the tendency to beat myself up.  Usually no one even realizes I messed up, its just my obsession with perfection.  In times like that, I need to keep in mind what it is that I am doing.  Folk dancing.  Although it is entertaining to watch, it wasn't intended to be entertainment originally other than the for the individuals own entertainment and enjoyment in celebrating life, expressing themselves through traditional dances and dance styles.  I need to lay aside the burden of stressing over providing entertainment and focus on getting back to its roots.  Enjoy it for what it is and the rest will take care of itself.  That's a healthy perspective!  Until next week...

Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail: onebigwedo@gmail.com
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo
Blogger: www.onebigwedo.blogspot.com

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana
E-Mail: Bf_herencia_mexicana@yahoo.com

Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one!  Folklorico lessons and performances are both available. Herencia Mexicana performs for private & public events of all kinds. Book your event today! Herencia Mexicana welcomes new students. No previous folklorico or dance experience required.  All are welcome.

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