Monday, February 13, 2012

A Comparison Of Various Calenda-Like Dances

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides videos of dance performances in the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa that remind me of descriptions of the 17th and 18th centuries Caribbean and United States dance the "Calenda".

I'm certain that these comparisons have already been documented by dance historians. However, they are noteworthy to people like me who approach YouTube videos as an introduction to various music & dance traditions and as a way of comparing aspects of those traditions.

Here's a brief description of the Calenda for those who may not be aware of that dance or dances:
From Lynne Fauley Emery: Black Dance From 1619 to Today, Second Revised Edition (Princeton Book Company, 1988, p. 24)
"The Calenda, according to most accounts, had certain characteristics: it was performed by one or more couples encircled by a singing, clapping ring; the movement of a couple consisted of a rather shuffling advance and retreat, with most of the movement originating in the hips, while the limbs played a very small part of the dance. Except for the description given by Labat, there was no physical contact between dancers."
Here's the description of the Calenda dance in the Caribbean that was written in 1698 by the French monk Father Jean-Baptiste Labat:
"The dancers are arranged in two lines, facing each other, the men on one side and the women on another. Those who are tired of dancing form a circle with the spectators around the dancers and the drums. The ablest person sings a song which he composes on the spot on any subject he considers appropriate. The refrain of the song is sung by everyone and is accompanied by great handclapping. As for the dancers, they hold their arms a little like someone playing castagnettes. They jump, make swift turns, approach each other to a distance of two or three feet then draw back with the beat of the drum until the sound of the drums brings them together again to strike their thighs together, that is, the men's against the women's. To see them it would seem that they were striking each other's bellies although it is only the thighs which receive the blows. At the proper time they withdraw with a pirouette, only to begin again the same movement with absolutely lascivious gestures; this, as many times as the drums give the signal, which is many times in a row. From time to time they lock arms and make several revolutions always slapping their thighs together and kissing each other, it can readily be seen by this abridged description to what degree this dance is contrary to all modesty.
(quoted in Emery: pps 21-22)

Emery goes on to describe a men's stick dance that was also called "Calenda". That dance is not the focus of this post.

The Calenda is documented to have been a popular dance in 19th century Congo Square, New Orleans, Louisiana. Click for descriptions of that dance.
Without any further comments, presented in no particular order, here are three Youtube videos of dances that are somewhat similar in format if not in their entire performance to Labat's description of Calenda:

Welsh Folk Dance "Jac y Do"

Uploaded by Pluckandsqueeze on Jan 22, 2010

The Welsh folk dance is "Jac y Do" (the Jackdaw) which is also the title of the first tune, and has an uncanny resemblance to the The Grand Old Duke of York.

The venue was a the Temple of Peace in Cardiff Civic Centre, with a beautiful Art Deco interior.
We played as a three piece band with Heulwen on fiddle, Lorna on accordion and Peter on guitar, with Alun calling the dance steps.

Video #2: Bèlè - Mabello - Bourg de Schoelcher

MrDjipe, Published on May 4, 2012

Video #3: Zambia Wedding Dancing

Uploaded by daviddamberger on Jul 4, 2009

One of my favorite parts about Zambia weddings are that the wedding party, the flower girl, the knife boys and pretty much anyone else involved in the wedding enters into the room dancing.

The two dance characteristics in those videos that remind me of the Calenda are the "longways set" formation (a line of men facing a line of women - although the Mabelo wasn't always danced in that line formation), and the approaching & retreating movement with physical touch (Martinique, and Zambia) and without physical touch (Wales).

I happened on the video of the Mabelo and then found the video of the Welsh dance which looked so much like it (except for the absence of the belly thrust and hip shaking). The southern African nation of Zambia was colonized by England from the end of the 19th century until 1964 when it declared its independence from colonialization. Therefore, in hindsight, it's not all that surprising that Zambians would have the same Calenda or Calenda-like dance tradition as people from other formerly English colonized nations.

For more videos of Mabelo, click this post of my zumalayah blog:
For more videos of South African wedding dances (known as masteps), click this post of my zumalayah blog:

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