Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1928 Film Clip Of Black Children's Circle (Ring) Games

Edited by Azizi Powell

[UPDATE: December 29, 2018- Revised title. The original title was "Here's A Fantastic Find! A 1928 Film Clip Of Black Children Playing A Ring Game With A Boy Dancing In The Center".]

This pancocojams post showcases a portion of a video of African American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston's anthropological films. The focus of this post is the portion from 3:24 to 4:50 of the YouTube video of that film that shows a ring game with a child dancing in the center of the circle.

This film clip is probably from Zora Neale Hurston's 1928 film Children's Games. However the background sound for that segment and for most of that particular film clip is Zora Neale Huston singing a version of the secular African American folk song "Mule On The Mount". People who want to focus on the children's ring game and the center child's dancing can mute the sound on this video.

I hope that someone publishes more content on YouTube from Zora Neale Hurtson's Children's Games, including text information about and lyrics of the games that are featured in that film. And I hope that someone publishes this specific section of the YouTube video entitled "Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928" without the background singing (or even with the background singing).

I apologize that I don't know how to edit a YouTube video and upload that edited video onto YouTube. I assume that it would be legal to do so as long as the source for the original source for that film clip and the YouTube video that is being edited are cited. But I'm not sure about any of that.

I found this video while searching for YouTube examples of children playing the ring game (circle game) "There Stands A Blue Bird". I played this game in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s with the title and first verse "Here Stands A Blue Bird".

The segment of this showcased film clip that shows children playing a ring game (with a boy in the middle dancing) is from 3:24 to 4:50 in that YouTube video.

I'm not sure which ring game the Black girls and boys are playing in this particular film clip. However, it's almost certainly an example of a "show me your motion" ring game (i.e. a circle game in which people take turns going into the center of the ring and performing a dance or some other movement/s).

The sound that is heard during that segment is Zora Neale Hurston singing the African American song "Mule On The Mount" and not the children singing the ring game.*

From "Profile - Zora Neale Hurston" by Aimee Dixon
..."Better known for her work as a novelist, Zora Neale Hurston could be, according to an essay by Gloria Gibson, the first African-American woman filmmaker. The film footage, which includes Children’s Games (1928), Logging (1928), and Baptism (1929), appears to be from her work as a student of anthropology under the tutelage of famed anthropologist, professor and mentor, Dr. Franz Boas. A graduate of Barnard College and a Guggenheim fellow, Hurston traveled to back to a South similar to her hometown of Eatonville, Florida to capture a variety of short takes of African-American life. Ethnographic in nature, the films reflect a focus of folklorists of that time period who believed that “…cultural performance and beliefs must be expeditiously collected and documented because they would soon be gone forever” (Gibson, 205)"...
This comment is also quoted in the discussion thread for the flim clip that is showcased below in this pancocojams post.

Click for a pancocojams post on "There Stands A Blue Bird"

SHOWCASE VIDEO: Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928

Andrew Rasmussen, Published on Aug 11, 2013

I do not claim anything original from this video.

The film was shot by Hurston in 1928 and I got it from here:

The audio is Hurston herself, as recorded in the mid 1930's. You can these tunes and more here:

In this video: "Wake Up Jacob", "Tampa," "Mule on the Mountain," and "Halimuhfack"
Sound was first introduced in movies in October 1927, making Zora Hurston's films very early examples of sound films.

The segment of this showcased film clip that shows children playing a ring game (with a boy in the middle dancing) is from 3:24 to 4:50 in that YouTube video. "Mule On The Mount" is the song that Zora Neale Hurston is singing while the film shows the ring game. Click for the related pancocojams post "African American Folk Song "Mule On The Mount" (information, lyrics, & sound files)"

Girls and boys forming the ring (circle) hold hands with person at either side and skip counterclockwise at a fast pace around a boy who is standing in the middle of the circle.

When the boy begins to dance, the children stop moving around the circle. They drop hands and begin to clap their hands. It doesn't appear that the children are singing throughout this dance performance or even at any time during that dance performance. The film captures glimpses of the children forming the ring stamping their left foot (and some children moving both of their knees and feet) while they watch the boy dancing in the center of the ring.

The boy is doing fast foot work that is accompanied by a flip into a half split several times during his dance performance. (I wonder if this half-split is a precursor to the voguing dance move that is called a "death drop"). I'd label the type of dancing he's doing as "buck dancing" and/or "a jig", but I'll leave a more detailed description of this dance to those who can name it and describe it better than me.
Here's one of very few comments from that YouTube video's discussion thread:
Andre Wilson, 2014
"Fantastic! Very important footage that documents the real lives of African Americans. I particularly love the footage of the children's game. Zora documents games in "Mules and Men" and included the lyrics and description of the game "There Stands a Blue Bird" which is probably what this film footage represents."
Unless it is noted in that Hurston's 1928 Children's Game film clip, I don't think that there's any definitive way of knowing which game song the children are playing. However, "There Stands A Blue Bird is played this way.

Thanks to Zora Neale Hurston for her life's legacy. Thanks also to all those who are featured in this film clip and thanks to the publisher of this film clip on YouTube. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. I used the terms "buck" and "jig" in my general description of the showcased video [film] of the boy dancing in the center of the ring, but "bucking" and "jigging" might mean the same thing.

    I quoted several definitions of and information about that old school bucking in this 2013 pancocojams post: The Pigeon Wing, The Buck & Wing, and Buck Dancing, Part I (information & videos)

    Here's one of the excerpts that I featured in that post [using the version of that excerpt that I retrieved on March 7, 2017 in case there might be differences from an older version]
    Solo dancing (outside the context of the big circle dance) is known in various places as buck dance, flatfooting, hoedown, jigging, sure-footing, and stepping. The names vary in meaning, and dancers do not always agree on their use. The term "buck," as in buck dancing, is traceable to the West Indies and is derived from a Tupi Indian word denoting a frame for drying and smoking meat; the original 'po bockarau' or buccaneers were sailors who smoked meat and fish after the manner of the Indians.[3] Another source states that the word "bockorau" can be traced to the "Angolan" word "buckra', and was used to refer to white people,[4] which is disputed.[5] Eventually the term came to describe Irish immigrant sailors whose jig dance was known as 'the buck.'"

    One source states that buck dancing was the earliest combination of the basic shuffle and tap steps performed to syncopated rhythms in which accents are placed not on the straight beat, as with the jigs, clogs, and other dances of European origin, but on the downbeat or offbeat, a style derived primarily from the rhythms of African tribal music.[6]

    Buck dancing was popularised in America by minstrel performers in the late 19th century. Many folk festivals and fairs utilise dancing clubs or teams to perform both Buck and regular clogging for entertainment."
    Other sources may disagree with this theory about the origin of the word "buck" as it relates to dancing.

    Note that 18th and 19th century "bucking" describes a different type of dancing than the pelvis thrusts given that name in the late 20th/early 21st century Black majorette bucking that is a feature of j-setting. That performance dance form is exemplified by most Historically Black Colleges & Universities majorette dance troops.