Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Here's A Fantastic Find! A 1928 Film Clip Of Black Children Playing A Ring Game With A Boy Dancing In The Center

Edited by Azizi Powell

I'm sure that many historians, folklorists, and other people interested in early twentieth century African American culture already know about Zora Neale Hurston's 1928 films, including the film Children's Games an excerpt of which is featured in the YouTube video entitled "Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928". However, I've found only a few online references to Huston's 1928 films. And I've not found any descriptions of the ring game with a child dancing in the center of the circle that is showcased in a segment of that "Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928" video.

3:24 to 4:50 of the YouTube video of a 1928 film clip entitled "Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928" shows
Black girls and boys playing a ring game with a boy dancing in the center.

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"**.

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"). 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).

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.

* 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 YouTube sound file of Zora Neale Hurston singing "There Stands A Blue Bird". That sound file is probably from Hurston's 1928 film Children's Games.

Also, click for a YouTube sound file of Zora Neal Hurston singing "Mule On The Mount".

I plan to publish a pancocojams post on "There Stands A Blue Bird" and a pancocojams post on "Mule On The Mount" ASAP. The links to those posts will be added here.

SHOWCASE VIDEO: Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928

Andrew Rasmussen, Published on Aug 11, 2013

I do not claim anything original from this video.
It occurs to me that this YouTube video entitled "Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork 1928" is a compilation of all the films that Hurston made in 1928, including the Children's Game film. Is this compilation new or was it produced in 1928 or in the late 1920s?

Sound was first introduced in movies in October 1927, making Zora Hurston's films very early examples of sound films. (Hurston's Children's Games film has sound as documented by the YouTube video of "There Stands A Blue Bird" whose link is given above.)

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.

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 specifying which game song the children are playing. Zora Neale Hurston's film Children's Games was published in 1928. This film may have been (entirely?) shot in Hurston's hometown of Eatonville, Florida. Zora Neale Hurston's ethnographic study Mules To Men -which was based in Eatonville, Florida- was published in 1935.

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.

Click for the related pancocojams post "African American Folk Song "Mule On The Mount" (information, lyrics, & sound files)"

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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.