Barber, Professor Emerita of Archeology and Linguistics at Occidental College, sets out to document the origins of dance in the region ranging from Crete through the Balkans to the Baltic In the effort, however, she spans not only her native disciplines but also women s herstory, the social sciences, ethnology, and folkloristics to systematically explore the gestalt of agrarian culture, from folktales and ballads, herbalism and textile arts, to courtship and marriage rituals, as well as dance, and proves that perishable customs and beliefs can survive for millennia Part I examines the functional origins of dance in the region of interest Most important among these is the appeasement of the spirits, especially ancestors and the volatile spirits of maidens who had died before giving birth, as their fertility remained latent and transferable to the earth if placated, but their power could be destructive if not Dance served as part of the rituals that marked time, often as sympathetic magic, inducing the earth to perform in various ways mimicking or responding to the actions of the dancers It also established and affirmed the bonds of community that are so important to survival particularly in agrarian societies.Part II uses the folktale The Frog Princess to reveal the role of dance and women s arts to prove the bride s fitness for marriage and likely fertility In agrarian cultures, fecundity was paramount to provide extra hands for labor and marriage often took place only after the bride proved fertile by pregnancy Christianity was largely an urban phenomenon and its valuation of virginal brides was limited in its influence.In Part III, extensive archaeological evidence traces the rituals and beliefs discussed in the previous sections back to the Age of Rome, Greece, and the Bronze Age Part IV, the shortest chapter, draws upon social and cognitive sciences to answer the question of Why dance Why Because we are hardwired for rhythm, because we feel solidarity moving together, because our brains go into ecstatic hyperdrive when several cognitive systems muscular, emotional, etc get fully synchronized, all firing in unison This is an eminently readable, though primarily scholarly treatment It is extensively researched, and the detail and various versions of the practices and folktales can be either tedious or engrossing, depending on one s disposition This is an essential addition to Dance Studies and Women s Studies collections and belongs beside the work of Marija Gimbutas and Mary B Kelly s Goddess Embroideries series. As anyone who has ever sung a work song while digging knows, communal song and dance are a community bonding activity that channels energy Barber looks at Eastern European folk dance and triangulates it with folklore and archaeological materials, especially textile and pottery designs, to make the case that it is a very stable transmitter of useful information about the calendar, work techniques, the natural environment and cultural values which often boil down to don t marry anyone stupid or too delicate to shovel goat shit or we ll all die. From Southern Greece To Northern Russia, People Have Long Believed In Female Spirits, Bringers Of Fertility, Who Spend Their Nights And Days Dancing In The Fields And Forests So Appealing Were These Spirit Maidens That They Also Took Up Residence In Nineteenth Century Romantic LiteratureArchaeologist And Linguist By Profession, Folk Dancer By Avocation, Elizabeth Wayland Barber Has Sleuthed Through Ethnographic Lore And Archaeological Reports Of East And Southeast Europe, Translating Enchanting Folktales About These Dancing Goddesses As Well As Eyewitness Accounts Of Traditional Rituals Texts That Offer New Perspectives On Dance In Agrarian Society She Then Traces These Goddesses And Their Dances Back Through The Romans And Greeks To The First Farmers Of Europe Along The Way, She Locates The Origins Of Many Customs, Including Coloring Easter Eggs And Throwing Rice At The Bride The Result Is A Detective Story Like No Other And A Joyful Reminder Of The Human Need To Dance So thorough, and inclusive of both extensive book research and work she did going and actually talking to real live people, which is rare in this kind of book It covers a vast swath of lore, connecting the Slavs, Greeks, and Germanic tribes I learned a great deal, and have a lot of blog posts to write using this one The only thing I wish is that she had studied and included research on the Baltic peoples as well. Loads of information, some gets repetitive. Amazing anthropological work on the origins of folk dance and folklore in Eastern Europe. Interesting ideas but I felt that it was a bit repetitive. Loved it Reads like a textbook reference guide Learned a lot and wished I wrote it, myself. I finished this book back in the summer, but wanted to write a sorta detailed review for a while, just never got around to it Barber s scholarship is immense At some moments of reading I was reminded of reading Frazer s Golden Bough some general principle or observation is noted, then illustrated with numerous examples and instantiations Sounds exciting enough right But, Barber s book has some issue with structure and direction, in my assessment at least The general premise of the book is that throughout European cultures you see a folktale tradition of Rusalki or willies , samovila , mavka , etc spirits of virgin girls who died before marriage childbirth They inhabit the wilds, generally by rivers, and spend their time dancing, playing tricks on passerby s etc Since they never bore children, they have lots of stored up, unused fertility If you could tap into that fertility, through appeasement, tricks, etc., you could have that fertility spread to your crops and livestock This is where the book description starts in the dust jacket, it s where we start in the first chapter, but the focus of the book soon expands greatly Very soon and we re reading about dancing male troupes, ancient methods of marking time, and Barber always returns to the core theme of women dancing in order to bestow fertility in an agricultural world, but the tangents, asides, and side paths are numerous and it makes the book feel less coherent Of course, it s all informative and interesting, but it s often hard to make it back to the theme And of course, what I described so far holds for about the first third of the book The middle is an extended analysis of the tale of the Frog Princess, and the final third is a sort of tracing of a tale of a magical animal woman bride back through the ages to the dawn of agricultural And again, here we take various forays into various subjects, and dancing maidens seem to feel like one facet amongst many in what seems to be a general exploration of European cultures and how their development was shaped by the need for fertility in agriculture, husbandry, and humans Beyond the loose focus, the writing style seemed incoherent, shifting between an almost academic analysis of the subject to a tone that clearly felt like Barber trying to reach a general audience On top of that there were some footnotes that felt entirely extraneous and there was one instance where I double checked a primary source just out of curiosity on the matter and found somewhat trivial discrepancy between the source and what Barber wrote I really wanted to like this book , but these issues are bringing me to just give it 3 stars. This book is an archeologist s ode to her passion for Eastern European folk dance Parts are erudite, and full of fascinating facts about the region s culture and history She explains, for instance, why the colors of white, red and black are so popular Why embroidery goes around the neck and sleeves to protect the wearer from evil spirits , why some dances go clockwise and others the reverse, why dances from some regions have regular beats, such as 3 4 or 4 4, and other regions have odder ones like 7 8, 9 8, etc Why Western Europe does partner dances, and Eastern Europe does line dances.My favorite parts of the book, however, and the ones that will stick most in my mind, are about Balkan dances themselves As an avid folk dancer in my teens, I had an intuitive understanding of the sacredness of these dances Barber explains where this comes from, namely the ritual nature of the dances themselves, which were used to ensure fertility and connect with earth and water goddesses.She had two quotes in the book from William McNeill, author of Keeping Together in Time, about the psychological effects of soldiers marching together I absolutely loved these, because it was the first time I had ever seen anybody describe the magic of moving in unison with a group of people in the case of dancing, to timeless tunes and rhythms Marching aimlessly about on the drill field, swaggering in conformity with prescribed military postures, conscious only of keeping in step so as to make the next move correctly and in time somehow felt good A sense of pervasive well being is what I recall specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual It was something felt, not talked about Moving briskly and keeping in time was enough to make us feel good about ourselves, satisfied to be moving together, and vaguely pleased with the world at large the emotion it arouses constitutes an indefinitely expansible basis for social cohesion among any and every group that keeps together in time,moving big muscles together and chanting, singing, or shouting rhythmically Muscular bonding is the most economical label I could find for this phenomenon, and I hope the phrase will be understood to mean the euphoric fellow feeling that prolonged and rhythmic muscular movement arouses in nearly all participants in such exercises Isn t that beautiful Isn t that exactly what a person feels in something like folk dance I will keep this book as a reference for a long time.
Barber received her PhD university from Yale in 1968.
- 448 pages
- The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance
- Elizabeth Wayland Barber
- 23 June 2018 Elizabeth Wayland Barber