Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"Toodala" -A Refrain In The Play Party Song "Mighty Pretty Motion" & An Old Term For Community Parties In Texas

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides information about the word "Toodala", a song refrain in the play party song "Mighty Pretty Motion" and a term for that was used in Texas (USA) for community parties.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the unknown composers of these songs and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to those who are featured in these embedded videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos.
Click for a pancocojams post about the possibly related African American term "too-la-loo"

The content of this post doesn't necessarily mean that the word "toodala", these songs, or these types of community parties originated among African Americans.

There was a lot of overlap between the folk recreational music and dance culture of southern Black Americans and Southern White Americans, particularly with regard to the lyrics, tunes, and performance styles of play party songs. There was a lot of sharing across populations and there's no way of knowing which population originated quite a number of those songs.

That said, I think that the fact that many of these songs include the name "Susan Brown" in their lyrics* suggests that these songs were popularized by (if not composed by) Black people. I reached that conclusion because I believe that the last name "Brown" refers to a Black woman in the same way as the name "Sally Brown" refers to a Black female in many American [USA} sea shanties.

*For example, these lyrics from the play party song "Chicken In The Fence Post"
Chicken on the fence post, can't dance Josey;
Chicken on the fence post, can't dance Joe;
Chicken on the fence post, can't dance Josey;
Hello Susan Brown ee o.

Here's a short description of "play parties"
"The play-party developed out of the American frontier experience and continued in rural environs well into the twentieth century. A play-party is a social gathering in which young people "play" a game involving drama and swinging movements performed to singing and hand clapping, without instrumental accompaniment. The play-party evolved from children's games and grew up in an era when musical instruments were considered inappropriate for proper social occasions. Many churches in early American communities shunned the fiddle, which was often described as "the Devil's box." In the middle South and in the southern highlands, oral tradition preserved play-parties, and as pioneers migrated westward, they carried these traditions with them.

The play-party typically used a song like "Skip to My Lou" or "London Bridge" as a game, combined with music. Participants and sometimes bystanders sang the songs. Play-parties took the place of dance parties for children and adolescents where all other dancing was forbidden. Also popular in less restrictive communities, the play-parties continued into the1930s as entertainment for young adults who could not afford to go to a public dance. As public schools developed, play-parties thrived on the playground. In the twentieth century playgrounds likely preserved many of the songs. Play-parties, common in most Oklahoma communities, only began to lose popularity in the 1950s."...

Here's another excerpt about play party songs that I quoted in a 2013 pancocojams post entitled "Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees (Four In The Middle), examples & comments"
Texas State Historical Association – Folk Music
"...Another folk song-and-dance tradition is the play party. Many early Texas settlers were fundamentalists who believed that dancing and fiddle music were sinful. They satisfied the universal urge to move to music with the play party, which was song-accompanied dance that allowed no instruments. They called their rhythmical group movements "marches" or "games," they danced in rings or in longways formations but never in squares, and they swung each other by hand, never by the waist. They used many popular dance tunes—"Old Clark," "Old Dan Tucker," "The Gal I Left Behind Me," "Willis in the Ballroom"—but because of the lack of instrumental music, the words became all-important. Play-party songs have preserved many stanzas that were lost in the fiddle-dance tradition. A play party usually began with a choosing game such as "Needle's Eye" or "Hog Drovers," then progressed to ring-game songs like "Saro Jane" or "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees," and in full swing went into longways dances like "Weevily Wheat," "Little Brass Wagon," and "Baltimore." Play parties were not only popular among fundamentalists; they were necessary when no musician was around. In spite of the reservations laid on the players by their elders, play-party songs and formations were just as joyful and exuberant as their sinful fiddling square-dance counterparts."

Excerpt #1:
"Informant/Performer:Mrs. W.W. Goldman Poteet, TX, 1940

Source: Helen Gates, "Toodala" In Texian Stomping Grounds, Ed. J. Frank Dobie, Mody C. Boatright,and Harry H. Ransom Austin, Tex.: Texas Folk-Lore Society, 1941
1. Mighty pretty motion, Toodala, Toodala, Toodala,
Mighty pretty motion Toodala, Toodala, la lady.

2. Rock old Soni, Toodala etc...

3. Right back this way...

4. Swing your partner...

For younger children, the song may be used to improvise descriptions of ongoing events, making up words around any chosen theme.

Game Directions
Formation: Circle with several couples
Action: During the singing of the first stanza the players go in to the center of the circle and back out; on the second stanza they go to the right, on the third stanza to the left, and on the last stanza each boy swings the girl to his right and weaves in and out around the circle, swinging each girl. (This stanza part is similar to winding a May pole.) They keep on singing the song and dancing until each boy gets back to his initial partner.

Background Information: Toodala parties come in with the robins and roses and watermelons - at all seasons. The people who attend usually range from twelve to twenty years. No refreshments are ever served, and no invitations are sent out. The word gets around that the Russells are having a Toodala party Friday night, and Friday night the Russells' front yard will be filled with young people singing and playing. Sometimes Toodala is played inside the house, but it's usually too crowded, and often in the winter time

Toodala is played outside around a big fire...In comparing Toodala to square dancing, it can be said that they are practically the same thing. The dance steps are fundamentally the same; in square dancing the music was furnished by some fiddlers; in Toodala the players provide their own music. The words to the songs are different, but in Toodala, as in square dancing, the floor or ground makes no difference at all."
In the second verse "Rock old Soni", the person named Soni is being told to rock (dance). "Rock" here may mean "move your hips back and forth".

Excerpt #2
Mighty pretty motion, toodala,
Toodala, toodala,

Mighty pretty motion, toodala,
Toodala-la lady.

“Toodala parties used to be held frequently in Texas. The dancing was usually outdoors; entire families came… Words were improvised during the dancing, which was in the manner of square dancing.”
The phrase "mighty pretty motion" is found in a number of play party songs. That phrase means "That's a very nice dance step that you've just performed".

Example #1: Mighty pretty motion or Toodala - a circle dance from Texas

Dany Rosevear, Published on Jul 4, 2013

A singing game collected by Ruth Crawford Seeger A resource for children, teachers, carers, librarians, parents and grandparents...

Mighty pretty motion, toodala, toodala, toodala,
Mighty pretty motion, toodala, toodala my lady.

Right back this way, toodala, toodala, toodala,
Right back this way, toodala, toodala my lady.

Swing your partner, toodala, toodala, toodala,
Swing your partner, toodala, toodala my lady.

Example #2: Toodala - Musicianship Project 1

Rachel Kimball, Published on Sep 15, 2015

Autoharps and Digital Bass; Individual part


David Hudspeth, Published on Mar 8, 2016

This video is of the song toodala, a play party from Texas. This was created to help student learn the lyrics and movements of the play party.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment