Performed by Tonga men and boys in Malawi, malipenga involves competitive teams organized in a quasi-military hierarchy—titles include “sergeant”, “captain”, and “kingi” as well as “doctor” and “nurse”—dancing in rows and columns and wearing European costumes.
Rather than simply viewing it as a product of colonialism, malipenga should be understood in terms of the dynamic nature of ngoma traditions, an ongoing cultural feature that has survived the disruptions of the colonial period.
This according to “Putting colonialism into perspective: Cultural history and the case of malipenga ngoma in Malawi” by Lisa Gilman, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000, pp. 321–345). Below, an example from Champhira.
Filed under Africa, Dance
In 18th-century East Anglia, agricultural workers often performed in the streets disguised in blackface and women’s clothing in exchange for largesse; this practice became known as Molly dancing. The dancers, who were often drunk, disreputable, and destructive, were regarded as degenerate by preservationists, and the practice died out in the 1930s.
Four decades later an expansion of the English folk revival fostered an interest in obscure traditions, and a resurrection of Molly dancing ensued. Its new incarnation is marked by a completely different cultural context, improved status of the dancers, and an emphasis on creativity.
This according to “Molly dancing: A study of discontinuity and change” by Elaine Bradtke, an essay included in Step change: New views on traditional dance (London: Francis Boutle, 2001, pp. 60–85). Above, Gog Magog Molly; below, the Ouse Washes Molly Dancers.
Filed under Dance, Europe
When Maud Karpeles set out to document the tradition of the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers of Bacup in 1929, she was regarded with considerable wariness.
The dancers insisted on drawing up an agreement with the English Folk Dance Society that allowed documentation only—teaching of the dances or their unique tune, Tip top polka, were forbidden—in return for active support from the society. While the mass media have brought them national notoriety since then, the dancers point to the 1929 agreement as the cornerstone of their continuing ability to thrive.
This according to “’In a word, we are unique’: Ownership and control in an English dance system” by Theresa Buckland, an essay included in Step change: New views on traditional dance (London: Francis Boutle, 2001, pp. 48–59). Below, the Nutters perform their signature Tip top polka.
E.J. Brill inaugurated its series Balkan studies in 2011 with Staging socialist femininity: Gender politics and folklore performance in Serbia by Ana Hofman. The book examines the negotiation of gendered performances in Serbian rural areas as a result of the socialist gender policy and the creation of a new femininity in the public sphere from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, with particular attention to musical performances.
Arapīdes, also known as Carnival, takes place on 5 and 6 January (Epiphany Eve and Epiphany Day) in Monastīraki, Greece. Rooted in ancient Dionysiac worship, the ritual involves performances by four groups: arapīdes, masked men in black capes holding wooden swords; gkiligkes, men wearing women’s local dress; pappoudes, men wearing men’s local dress; and tsoliades or euzōnoi, men dressed as guards.
Starting in the morning, the assembled troupe visits each house in the village and dances with the head of the household, who then presents a donation. In the afternoon the troupe performs in the village square; then all of the villagers join in the dancing, which lasts into the night.
This according to “Ritual acts and dance: The case of the Arapides in Monastiraki” by Ioannis Prantsidis (Studia choreologica VIII , pp. 81–120). Below, the troupe dances in the village square in 2011.
The Ewe of Ghana have a long history of incorporating musical elements from other cultures into their traditions. Recent developments among the Tagborlo family in the master drumming for agbadza funeral dancing (above), influenced to some extent by contacts with Western popular music, involve humor (including graphic sexual jokes), taunts, and quotations from popular songs in a manner resembling sampling procedures in rap music. These innovations are entirely within the tradition—the basic rhythmic structure, cultural context, and instrumentation remain the same.
This according to “’My mother has a television, does yours?’ Transformation and secularization in an Ewe funeral drum tradition” by James Burns (Oral tradition XX/2 [October 2005] pp. 300–319). Below, agbadza drumming and dancing at a funeral in Atsiekpui, Ghana; the master drummer on the far left conveys verbal messages through references to speech rhythms and tones.
Related post: Dagomba dance-drumming
Among the people of Aceh, Sumatra, four concepts of space—cardinal directional, upstream-downstream, central-point-in-circle, and geometric—guide dance formations, the making of rapa’i Pasè frame drums, and the colors and associations of performing costumes and stage decorations.
The upstream-downstream concept, which stems from the tendency to travel upstream for raw materials and downstream for trade, associates upstream spaces with an inward-looking, mystical attitude and downstream spaces with an outward-looking attitude and commercial success. The cardinal directional concept, which is related to the upstream-downstream concept since most rivers in Aceh run between north and south, relates specific colors and metals to the four directions.
The central-point-in-a-circle concept enacts Perso-Arabic models, such as the building of towns around a central mosque, connecting Aceh with its historical links to the larger Muslim world. The dominant geometric concept, which probably dates to before 300 B.C.E., is expressed in straight lines, parallelograms, diamonds, and curved forms including figure-eights, ovals, and leaf and flower shapes.
This according to “Some implications of local concepts of space in the dance, music, and visual arts of Aceh” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXXVI  pp. 1–49). Below, an Acehnese dance celebrates the winnowing and planting of rice.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, the largest group worldwide devoted to the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
With hundreds of branches in 15 countries on 4 continents, the non-profit organization sponsors classes, concerts, and sessions in local communities. It also hosts a website, which accounts for its presence in RILM. A page on their site titled The music includes links to tracks from their CDs, recordings of sessions, and tracks from the Comhaltas Traditional Music Archive; video recordings of some of today’s foremost performers; selections from their own tune books, as well as other tunes from historical sources; a photograph archive; and Treoir, the Comhaltas journal.
Below, Emma O’Sullivan dances a reel at a Comhaltas event. Note that this is not the rigid-posture style popularized by shows like Riverdance, which is considered by many to be a more recent development; this style is known as sean-nós, which means “old style”.
Created by the ethnomusicologist David Locke, Dagomba dance-drumming presents sound recordings, staff notation, and text materials on the dance drumming of the Dagomba people of northern Ghana.
The recordings and historical narratives—including a personal narrative of training in drumming—were collected from Alhaji Abubakari Lunna, an expert on Dagomba performing arts and culture. The story of Lunna’s life conveys the scope of the knowledge that a great drummer learns, the way this heritage is transmitted, and a glimpse into the Dagomba drumming scene during the second half of the twentieth century. The website is hosted by Tufts University.
This is the first in our series of posts celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.
Below, an excerpt from a performance of Takai, a Dagomba dance that involves the striking of metal rods in the dancers’ hands and swirling movements that are enhanced by their flaring costumes.
Related post: Traditional Ghanaian sampling
On 14 January, which is both New Year’s Day and the Feast of St. Basil according to the old Orthodox calendar, villagers in Bulgaria and Macedonia perform the costumed ceremonial dance known as Сурва (Surva, “unripe year”). Children between 4 and 14 years old participate in the малечка Сурва (small Surva), while adults between 15 and 35 perform in the голема Сурва (big Surva).
On the eve of the event, youths go from house to house collecting wood for the ceremonial bonfire. In the morning the participants choose their roles and don the corresponding masks and sheepskin capes. The stock characters may include a groom, a bride, a devil, a priest, a gypsy, and a dancer with a bear. To the accompaniment of drums and shawms, the dancers parade through the village with abundant comical antics. The ceremony culminates with a spirited dance around the collective bonfire.
This according to “Сурварските обичаи од неколку струмички села” (Old customs performed on New Year’s day in villages of the Strumičko region) by Ivan Kotev, an essay included in Rad XIX kongresa Saveza Udruženja Folklorista Jugoslavije (Skopje: Združenie na Folkloristite na Makedonija, 1977, pp. 207–212). Below, excerpts from Surva in Kovačevci, Bulgaria.