Category Archives: Dance

Cultural politics of the Warlpiri purlapa

Performances of Aboriginal musical traditions have become widespread in various national and international contexts and are significant to the ways in which Aboriginal people from distinct regions project their specific identities to a broader world. In recent decades, Warlpiri people, from the remote settlement of Yuendumu in the Tanami desert of Australia, have increasingly attracted interest in the performances of their ceremonial songs and dances in intercultural spaces, often for audiences with little understanding of their religious significance.

Against a historical backdrop of settlement history and the shifts that have occurred to public ceremonial forms during this period, performances of purlapa at the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra have foregrounded issues of Aboriginal politics, systematized racism, contemporary social movements, and the basic difficulties of running a tent embassy on meager donations, especially during the Canberra winter when firewood supplies were low.  Purlapa is a genre of Warlpiri public ceremony involving a high-stepped dance style performed in circular movement with participants shifting their dancing sticks from side to side in rhythm with sung verses. Once held frequently for community entertainment, the performance of purlapa has declined drastically in recent years. Shifts in these performance opportunities show how Warlpiri people engage with a broader world in specific aspects of their identities while maintaining important links to a specific cultural heritage.

Read more in “Performing purlapa: Projecting Warlpiri identity in a globalized world” by Georgia Curran and Otto Jungarrayi Sims (The Asia Pacific journal of anthropology. XXII/2–3 [2021]).

Below is a 1978 performance of a purlapa ceremony recorded on 8 mm film.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Dance, Politics, Religious music, World music

Central America’s vast dance and musical heritage

The music of Central America tends to borrow heavily from the music of Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, and the Caribbean Islands to the east, and, in the case of Nicaragua, from the politically motivated nueva canción (new song) movement. Additionally, some traces of the ancient Mayan culture can still be found in Nicaragua and Belize, and more strongly in Guatemala. People of Mayan background form around half of the population of Guatemala. Their cultural heritage has been preserved to an extraordinary extent because of their great reverence for their cultural heritage, mythology, and rituals. Their instruments include various slit-drums, gongs, rattles, and cane flutes that sometimes have the rattles of rattlesnakes enclosed in a hollow space above the embouchure. This is then closed off with a thin membrane, and the resulting menacing buzz is heard in the music of the Baile de venada (dance of the deer).

Along with Indian traditions in Guatemala is the equally thriving music of the Ladino population, which is Hispanic in origin and is found mostly in the country’s urban centers. The instrument that is central to Ladino music, namely the marimba de tecomates, which has a keyboard of wooden bars with gourds suspended underneath, is thought to be of African origin. Although Ladino groups have now adopted more contemporary marimbas, there is still a great variety among them. The largest, the marimba grande, has a range similar to a piano and is usually played by four players.

The son guatemalteco is the national dance of Guatemala, and dancers bring out the son rhythm with zapateadas or foot stamping. These indigenous rhythms and themes have also been incorporated into classical music. The brothers Jesús and Ricardo Castillo were Guatemalan classical composers of the early 20th century. Jesús wrote a treatise on the Mayan music of the country, and both brothers wrote pieces using Indian themes (Suites indigenas) and even operas such as Quiché Vinak. In Nicaragua, composers such as Luis Delgadillo (1887–1962) included Inca themes and other indigenous Nicaraguan music in their work.

The country furthest south in Central America, Panama, was previously part of Colombia until 1903, and is considered by some to be the source of Colombia’s cumbia genre. Its musical traditions are a mix of Spanish, Indian, and African, but as one of the most cosmopolitan countries of the region, folk music is now mainly the preserve of schools and folklore societies.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by reading through the Latin America section of the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

Below is a performance of son guatemalteco and a piece entitled Fiesta de pajaros composed by Jesús Castillo.

Previous related Bibliolore posts to check out:

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Filed under Central America, Dance, Popular music, World music

Revival of hula ku‘i

The reign of King David Kālakaua holds special significance for Hawaiian traditions. After decades of missionary-led censure, Hawaiian customs became revitalized when Kalākaua encouraged their revival. Master teachers (kumu hula) were summoned to the court at Honolulu, where they enjoyed royal patronage. From the environment, hula ku‘i emerged as a new style of dancing.

The term ku‘i means “to join old and new”, and refers to the mix of old and new components of poetry, music, dance, and costume. Traditional conventions gained a new format: texts were strophic, and each strophe consisted of a couplet. Indigenous vocal styles and ornaments were added to melodies based on tempered tones and simple harmonies. Each couplet was uniform in length, most commonly eight or sixteen beats. The format mandated the repetition of the melody for each couplet, and each couplet was commonly performed twice. An instrumental interlude, popularly called a vamp, separated the stanzas. In dances by seated performers, this interlude is called ki’i pā. New sequences of movements joined preexisting, named, lower-body motifs.

The defining distinction of the hula ku‘i was accompaniment from guitars and ‘ukulele. For dances by standing performers, mele composed in the new format also had the accompaniment of ipuor other Indigenous percussive instruments. In the 20th century, performances of those mele came to be called either ancient hula or hula ‘ōlapa, referencing the division of labor between dancers (‘ōlapa) and musicians (ho’opa’a).

Read the entry on hula ku‘i by Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman in The Garland encyclopedia of world music. Australia and the Pacific Islands (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

The image above is of hula dancers and musicians, circa 1883. Photo courtesy of the Hawai’i State Archives. Below is a video of Hawaiian dance and music from the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival held annually in Hilo, Hawaii.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Dance

Drag lip syncing and haptic aurality

The performance of lip syncing is ubiquitous in the drag community. It represents a drag queen’s modus operandi from high-femme queens to gender queer club kids. Crucial to lip syncing is the idea that voice is both self and other, voicing the speaker and the listener at the same time–creating an autoaffective feedback loop. Drag queens actively listen to the voice on the track, not only in the moment of lip-syncing, but also in rehearsing this synchronization and listening painstakingly while practicing before the performance.

According to Rodent, one of London’s premier drag queens, an intensely high volume of sound is necessary to their successful lip-sync performance because it enables them to embody the music and the voice, and to “transport [themself] in the moment”. The immersive soundscape of lip-syncing allows drag queens to engage tactually with sound’s vibrations forming what Jacob Mallinson Bird calls a “haptic aurality”.  Haptic aurality creates a successful drag performance because it addresses the immersive potential of sound, its spatial dimensions, tactility, and intercorporeality while suturing the break between drag queen and loudspeaker, “facilitating the reperformance, dramatization, and extension of the processes of everyday speech”.

Read on in “Haptic aurality: On touching the voice in drag lip-sync performance” by Jacob Mallinson Bird (Sound studies 6/1 [2020]. pp. 45-64, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-3927).

Below is a clip of a drag lip sync performance from a television show in the Philippines called “Drag Race Philippines” (inspired by the US show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”)

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Filed under Dance, Performance practice, Performers

Forró and St. John’s Day in Brazil

June 24, the date on the Catholic calendar commemorating the birth of St. John the Baptist, is widely celebrated in northeastern Brazil. Festas juninas (June festivities, or St. John’s Day festivities) take place from early June to mid-July and are characterized by the presentation and representation of diverse cultural traditions of the region.

Forró, the typical music of this period, brings together diverse musical genres, dances, and a strong festive connotation. Forró emerged in the 1970s with strong contributions from artists of northeastern Brazil, who performed for migrants in the region including construction workers, maids, and middle class people nostalgic for regional rhythms. Although many forró musicians born before the mid-1970s acquired their musical competence outside of formal educational institutions, large segments of the younger generation attend schools of music (though not necessary in lieu of other learning strategies). Meanwhile, changes in the organization of professional forró activities are linked to the larger transformations of northeastern festas juninas since the late 20th century.

Read the entries on forró and junina music in the Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular (2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME). Also find the article “Musicians in street festivals of northeastern Brazil: Recent changes in forró music and St. John’s Day festivities” by Carlos Sandroni, et al. (The world of music V/1 [2016] pp. 159–79) in RILM Abstracts.

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Filed under Dance, Popular music, South America, World music

Zilipendwa and nostalgia

Tanzanian zilipendwa is a look-over-the-shoulder metagenre whose musical subject is a moving target dependent on the current time reference.

The term was initially reserved for east and central African dance music chestnuts popular during the 1960s and early 1970s post-Independence period, but it recently encompasses the music of the mid-1970s through late 1980s, a time generally associated with the Socialist policies of Julius Nyerere.

Fans of zilipendwa are most eloquent about its value in their lives when making humorous generational distinctions with Bongo Flava, the region’s hip hop and R&B. Zilipendwa fans are also quick to demonstrate their affinity through physical expression, dancing a style known as serebuka, translated as “blissful expressive dance”.

Recently popularized on the television show Bongo Star Search, serebuka dancers take to the floor and bounce off the walls with a coterie of enthusiastic free moves and styles (mitindo) covering fifty years of popular music history.

Nostalgia for zilipendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long past; it is enacted instead for the sake of health and community well-being. Zilipendwa is a conscious act towards musicking the values of a fading era, creating temporary autonomous zones where the perceived chaos and noise of neoliberal globalization are now waiting to rush in.

This according to “‘Rhumba kiserebuka!’: Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian zilipendwa” by Frank Gunderson (The world of music (new series) III/1 [2014] pp. 11–23; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-17463).

Above, Msondo Ngoma, a group discussed in the article; below, the U.S.-based zilipendwa artist Samba Mapangangala. (Don’t worry—the music and dancing start soon, and they’re worth the wait!)

BONUS: Schoolboys getting down to zilipendwa in the great outdoors.

More posts about Tanzania are here.

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Filed under Africa, Dance, Popular music

Shaker dance spaces

Shakers

The Shakers built their first framed meetinghouse near New Lebanon, New York, along the Massachusetts border, in 1785; this structure assumed the central authority over the Shaker domain and became the architectural prototype for eleven other late–18th-century meetinghouses in New England.

The design of these structures had several distinctive elements, including a heavy timber frame, a sturdy wood-plank floor, double façade doors for separate male and female entry, leadership apartments above the private gable-end door and stairs, carefully gendered spaces throughout, a gambrel roof, and a singular unobstructed ground-floor space to accommodate dynamic communal dancing during worship.

The dance ritual influenced Shaker meetinghouse design and construction in two key ways: it required the adaptation of a mascular timber-frame technology that allowed a broad, uninterrupted floor space; and it necessitated substantial reinforcement of the flooring to safely meet the demands of the large, live weight loads of many worshipers moving rhythmically in unison.

In the floor are noticeable inserted cues, suggesting the arrangements of Shaker dance movements for a maximal dramatic exposure of the dancers’ bodies and faces to public visitors, as Shaker Sabbath performances were attended by large crowds of visitors and were a critical outreach to potential converts. The presence of triangular or fanlike cue patterns opening from the center area of the rear wall outward toward the front double doors in meetinghouses of the Mount Lebanon, Watervliet, Canterbury, Hancock/Shirley, and Harvard buildings demonstrate a level of consistency at villages across at least three states.

Shakers floor plan

(click to enlarge)

It appears plausible that the Shakers’ use of pins specifically placed for dance formations originated at Mount Lebanon, but the idea may have had been even older and implemented already in Dutch barns near Watervliet. The use of dance-floor cues provided greater precision and coordination for public dance performances similar to that provided for marching bands by yardage marks on athletic fields.

This according to “‘Leap and shout, ye living building!’: Ritual performance and architectural collaboration in early Shaker meetinghouses” by Arthur E. McLendon (Buildings & landscapes: Journal of the vernacular architecture forum XX/3 [fall 2013] pp. 48–76; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-14581).

Below, dancers at Hancock Shaker Village.

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Filed under Architecture, Curiosities, Dance

Malipenga mashup

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 modified 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; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2000-8791). Below, an example from 2018.

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Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Dance

Forging Aztecness

Today a growing number of Mexican-American musicians in the United States perform on Indigenous Mesoamerican instruments and archaeological replicas in what is widely referred to as Aztec music.

For example, contemporary musicians in Los Angeles draw on legacies of Mexican nationalist music research and integrate applied anthropological and archeological models, showing how musical and cultural frameworks that once served to unite post-revolutionary Mexico have gained new significance in countering Mexican Indigenous erasure in the United States.

This according to “Forging Aztecness: Twentieth-century Mexican musical nationalism in twenty-first century Los Angeles/Forjando el Aztecanismo: Nacionalismo musical mexicano del siglo XX en el siglo XXI en Los Ángeles” by Kristina F. Nielsen (Yearbook for traditional music LII [2020] 127–46; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-69466).

Above, Martin Espino is one of the musicians profiled in the article (photo by Krystal Mora, used with permission); below, Espino’s group Mexika in 2017.

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Filed under Dance, Instruments, North America

Naṭarāja redux

nataraja

In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharatanāṭyam. This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality.

The earlier dance repertoire focused on amorous relationships between a nayaki (female devotee) and nayaka (male deity), the latter often identified as the earthy, sensual, and sometimes philandering Krishna or Murugan. For the newer repertoire, a more suitable nayaka was Shiva as Naṭarāja—resonant with spiritual detatchment and masculine power, an ideal model for both revivers of dance and Indian nationalist politicians.

The Western-educated philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.

This according to “Rewriting the script for South Indian dance” by Matthew Harp Allen (TDR: The drama review XLI/3 [fall 1997] pp. 63–100; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1997-28267).

Above, a traditional sculpture depicting Shiva as Naṭarāja; below, a bharatanāṭyam piece that evokes the cosmic dancer.

Related article: Varieties of love

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance