dancers perform to a gamelan ensemble, Bali, 1941.
(Fahnestock South Sea Collection. Photo by Howard M.
|In 1940 and 1941, Sheridan and
Bruce Fahnestock, along with their wives and members of their
sailing crew, conducted two expeditions to the South Seas to
collect information on Pacific Island birds and gather specimens
for exhibits at the Museum of Natural History but also to record
the music of Oceania for the Fahnestock-Hubbard Foundation
in New York. The Fahnestock Collection also includes film footage
and still photography, such as this photograph depicting Balinese
Although virtually all cultures have dance as part of their heritage,
the concept of folk dance, as it has been commonly understood in
the United States until recently, developed in Europe during the
seventeenth century. Folk dance in Europe was customarily associated
with so-called “peasant” or “folk” communities,
created and choreographed collectively and anonymously, and passed
on informally from generation to generation. Some English and European
folk dances, as well as certain children’s games, are thought
to have had their origin in ancient rites, religious ceremonies,
and life-cycle rituals. Maypole dances, for example, celebrate
the return of spring and incorporate symbols of fertility.
The belief that folk dance is an authentic representation of
an ancient heritage and the cultural identity of a folk or a nation
has inspired scholars, politicians, and others to seek out typical
and representative dances. For much of the twentieth century, in
Western Europe and the United States, folk dancing was popular
as a way to promote regional and national identity. After World
War II, in the new socialist states of Eastern Europe, professional
groups formed under state sponsorship to develop stylized productions
of folk dance for stage presentation.
There have been attempts in the United States to identify a particular
dance form as the true American folk dance. Folklorists, however,
stress the inappropriateness of singling out one form of cultural
expression as quintessentially American or preeminent. In our multicultural
society, folk dance embraces, among others, the Anglo-American
square dance, Native American fancy dance, Spanish fandango, Latin
salsa, Irish jig, Bohemian polka, Scottish highland fling, African
American hip-hop, and English Morris dance.
Men's Fancy Dance
Competition, Omaha Powwow, Macy Nebraska, 1983.
(1983 Omaha Powwow Collection. Photograph by Carl Fleischhauer)
|The American Folklife Center holds
documentation of Omaha Indian Music from the 1890s and from
the 1980s. The multiformat field collections contain forty-four
wax-cylinder recordings collected by Francis La Flesche and
Alice Cunningham Fletcher between 1895 and 1897, and more than
three hundred songs and speeches from the 1983 Omaha harvest-celebration
powwow. The powwow is a social gathering that helps to ensure
the cultural conservation of Native American song and dance
traditions. Dance Competitions are held in various categories
and prizes are awarded to the most accomplished dancers.
The American Folklife
Center’s Neptune Plaza Concert series, which began in 1977,
and was reconstituted as “Homegrown: The Music of America” in
2002, has featured a diverse range of music and dance traditions
from this country and around the world, and many of these are documented
in video, photographs, and audio recordings in the Center’s
collections. The Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project, the Chicago
Ethnic Arts Project, and the Maine Acadian Folklife Project documented
dance traditions ranging from square dancing to polka parties.
Folklife Center collections also contain materials on the music
and dance from cultural groups around the world, including Alaskan
Tlingits, Jamaican Maroons, and Moroccan Berbers. Of particular
note is the Discoteca Publica Municipal de São Paulo Collection,
a group of sound recordings, film footage, and photographs made
in 1938 that represents one of the first ethnographic compilations
of music, dance, and ritual from Brazil.
In December 1986, Margaret Fahnestock Lewis, of Great Mills,
Maryland, presented the American Folklife Center with a collection
that includes 143 sixteen-inch disc recordings of music and dance
from Bali, Fiji, Java, the Kangean Islands, Madura, the Marquesas
Islands, New Caledonia, Samoa, and Tahiti. These recordings were
made by Mrs. Lewis’s late husband, Sheridan Fahnestock, and
his brother, Bruce, on two expeditions in 1940 and 1941, the first
aboard the ship Director II. The collection includes documentation
of Legong dancers performing to a gamelan ensemble in Bali. Accompanying
the discs are five reels of color film and numerous letters, magazine
articles, and newspapers clippings documenting the progress of
Dance: The Magazine of Folk and Square Dancing, September,
(Periodical Collection. American Folklife Center)
|Folk-revival clubs and organizations
abound, and many publish magazines and newsletters that include
a wealth of information on events, activities, and the history
of particular forms of folklife expression. Many of these hard-to-find
periodicals are available at the American Folklife Center.
In 1949 Gheorghe Popescu-Judetz became director and choreographer
of the Romanian government-sponsored Ciocîrlia Ensemble,
and for the next twenty-two years (until his death in 1972) he
worked on the compilation of a catalog and ethnographic description
of all Romanian dances and variants. The research resulted in a
collection of several thousand notated folk dance variants, more
than 3,200 tape-recorded melodies, and approximately 4,000 notated
dance melodies. The collection also includes musical arrangements,
choreographic diagrams, photographs, and show programs documenting
the activities of the Ciocîrlia and Perinitza Ensembles.
Gheorghe’s wife Eugenia Popescu-Judetz donated the collection
to the American Folklife Center in 1990 and 1995.
Dance presents special problems for documentation, even when
a video camera is available. Some researchers have developed systems
of dance notation, and examples of these are available in the archive.
In addition, the archive holds journals and other publications
that are devoted to dance and the cultural activities surrounding
|To learn more about Omaha
powwows and hear recordings of the events, go to the online
American Memory presentation, Omaha
Senegalese drummers and dancers of the West African griot
tradition, perform at the Library of Congress, June 5, 1986.
(Neptune Plaza Concert Series Collection. Photo by Reid
the Sakadolskis-Pakštas wedding reception, Chicago,
Illinois, June 25, 1977.
(Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection. Photo by Jounas
|African griot traditional dance,
African American hand-dancing, Khmer classical ballet from
Cambodia, Omaha Indian dance, flamenco, and English contradancing
are some of the many dance traditions that have been featured
on the Neptune Plaza in front of the Library's Thomas Jefferson
Building and documented for the Folk Archive.
||In 1977 the American Folklife Center and the
Illinois Arts Council conducted a survey of more than twenty
ethnic groups in Chicago to document ethnic artistic expression
to that city. The resulting collection contains more than three
hundred hours of sound recordings and thirteen thousand photographs.
This was the first fieldwork project undertaken by the American
Folklife Center, founded less than a year earlier. In this
photograph, four bridesmaids dance at a Lithuanian American
wedding reception. The woman at the left is the maid of honor,
as signified by her headdress.
A young May queen and
her courtiers around a maypole in the Cotswold village of
Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire, England, May 1, 1933.
(James Madison Carpenter Collection. Photo by Butt [Studio],
a pre-Christian rite, the custom of erecting a maypole (with
its dancing and other associated customs) flourished in England
in the Middle Ages, was banned in 1644, was reinstated in 1660,
and finally was revived as a children's festivity in the mid-nineteenth
century. Many such customs are documented in the James Madison
Carpenter Collection, considered one of the world's most important
collections of British folk dance, song, and ritual drama.
Carpenter was a Harvard-trained American scholar who sought
out folk traditions in Britain, collecting the bulk of his
material in England and Scotland from 1928 to 1935. Traversing
the countryside in an Austin Seven roadster with his battery-powered
Dictaphone cylinder-recording machine, a typewriter, and a
camera, he documented two thousand songs, ballads, sea shanties,
and carols, as well as children's singing games and three hundred