Felix Nelson, conducting a dance lesson as part of a Ghanaian drumming and dance residency
as part of the Schoharie River Center’s Middleburgh, NY Advantage Afterschool Program in 2021. Photo by Ellen McHale
Local Learning and New York Folklore are pleased to welcome Mira Johnson to the role of New York State Folklore in Education Network Coordinator. With a doctorate in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning from Penn State University and an M.A. in folklore from the University of Oregon, Mira is excited to bring her expertise from both the fields to the New York Folklore in Education Network.
Due to the growing interest and need to support authentic pathways between diverse tradition bearers and both formal and informal learning spaces, in 2021 Local Learning and New York Folklore partnered to hire a shared staff position at .5 fte who could engage and coordinate our growing folklore education network. We continue to invest in this position to connect and coordinate between sites where Culture, Community, and the Classroom programs have happened, as well as other arts, humanities, and culture activities of New York Folklore. In a recent survey of program participants in Local Learning and educational folklore programs, 84% of the respondents ranked their interest in participating in the New York Folklore in Education Network at the highest level, including participating in hybrid, face to face, and zoom gatherings. Mira will help conceptualize network activities to engage artists and educators from across the state.
As a regional culture specialist for Pennsylvania’s state folklife program, Mira conducted fieldwork with rural and urban folk artists and tradition bearers, and served as the program coordinator at FolkArtPA, Pennsylvania’s statewide folklife program. She later served as the Folk Arts and Education Coordinator at the Pelham Arts Center in Pelham, New York, where she oversaw the folk art performance and workshop series and worked to integrate folk art education into the center’s studio art curriculum.
Mira is also an adjunct assistant professor at Bronx Community College in the English Department and the First Year Seminar Program. She is currently board member and board secretary for New York Folklore. Her research addresses the role of traditional knowledge and ecological relationships in community-based education, as well as regional belief practices.
Mira started in this role September 1, 2021. She will be available at [email protected]
In this guest blogpost, Dancer and linguist, Torkom Moysesiyan provides a glimpse into the ancient Egyptian dance of Saidi. Saidi originates in Upper Egypt and is danced by both women and men.
“Saidi dates back to ancient Egypt. It is an Egyptian folkloric dance that derives from the Arabic term, aSSa’yeed, meaning “The Upland,” a geographical area located on both sides of the Nile River in Upper Egypt. The Egyptian Saidi is a martial arts dance that has two variations: altahteeb, performed by men and raqs alaSSaya, performed by women. The tahteeb exemplifies masculinity and a battle scene, whereas in the latter women imitate the combative skills celebrated in the tahteeb.
In tahteeb, performers use a heavyweight stick whereas in raqs aSSaya, women use a light or heavyweight cane, often decorated with beads and sequins. The Saidi movements revolve around striking, spinning, rowing, flipping and twirling. Men performing saidi usually wear a long galabiyya with a turban, and women wear a galabiyaa or long dress with a headscarf. Some of the instruments present in saidi are mizmar (an oboe-like reed instrument), rebaba (a stringed instrument), nay (flute) and tabla (a frame drum with a deep sound). The rhythm of saidi is 4/4, and it can be performed either as a solo or group piece.
The saidi dance from Upper Egypt, known as tahteeb, is important because it helps us learn about the lives of the ancient Egyptians, particularly, how they used it to prepare for a battlefield. What’s more, the saidi dance was inscribed on the walls of Pharaonic temples and performed with a stick by the ancient Egyptians as a tribute to the Pharaoh.
The late Egyptian dance choreographer Mahmoud Reda, created a theatricalized version of the folkloric saidi dance, known in Arabic as Raqs Alassaya, cane dance, specifically for female dancers, imitating the martial arts movement of the tahtib. Saidi is performed during special occasions such as a wedding, birthday, festival or other related celebrations. Raqs Without Borders, a Middle Eastern and North African dance festival often invites native Egyptian artists in NYC to teach and perform Saidi.”
Follow the link before for an example of the work of Torkom Moysesiyan in a theatricalized version of saidi, adapted for stage, and performed in Rochester in 2017 at “Tales of Arabia,” hosted by Katrina Scott. The music is Wala Ya Saidi.
Torkom Movsesiyan wearing a traditional galabeya with a cane, worn by males performing Egyptian saidi dance from a 2018 dance project in NYC, Raqs Revolution. (photo credit: Tevon Miller).
Torkom Moysesiyan is the director of Torkomada, Inc., a multidisciplinary not-for-profit organization, envisions the indigenous and folk dances of the Middle East and North Africa as an important, but neglected diplomatic tool in cultural diplomacy, especially in U.S.-Middle East relations. Headed by Torkom Movsesiyan, a Bulgarian-Armenian trained by dance legends Morocco and Tarik Sultan, Torkomado focuses on Raqs Sharqi, a traditional Egyptian folk dance, popularly known by its misnomer—belly dance. TORKOMADA is a member of UNESCO’s International Dance Council. TORKOMADA currently conducts academic research on dance, builds dance curricula for after-school programs in NYC, and works closely with a foreign language project, where students studying Arabic language can learn it through Middle Eastern music and dance.
No permission is granted to anyone to print, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, store, display in public, alter, or modify any materials, including but not limited to articles, documents, videos, icons, or images, published by Torkom Movsesiyan or TORKOMADA, Inc.
On May 1, 2020, New York Folklore and folklore programs across New York State will launch a collaboration to present traditional arts and culture from throughout New York State. Each weekday in May, from 4:00 -4:30 p.m., traditional arts activities will be presented through a livestream from New York Folklore’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/New-York-Folklore-76410462500/
“May 2020: 20 Folk Artists/20 Days” amplifies the artistic excellence found within New York’s communities. To view this daily initiative, simply tune in to New York Folklore’s Facebook page each weekday in May from 4:00 – 4:30 p.m. to experience a free, live-streamed event by one of New York State’s folk artists or tradition bearers.
The initiative showcases the artistic excellence and diversity of traditional arts and culture in New York State. Folk arts and cultural expressions are nurtured and perpetuated within communities. They are shared by those who have common regional affiliations, ethnic heritage, occupations, avocational interests, gender, and many other identifiers of interconnection. Artistic excellence is determined by a shared community aesthetic with innovation occurring within the bounds of the interests and concerns of the shared community.
Partners: Coordinating and partnering organizations from throughout New York State include the following: New York State Fiddlers Hall of Fame, Glow Traditions, Long Island Traditions, Los Pleneros de la 21, Arts Mid-Hudson, Brooklyn Arts Council, Arts Westchester, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Rochester Institute of Technology, and The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE). Presenting folklorists and cultural scholars include Karen Canning, Andrew Cowell, Hannah Davis, Julia Gutíerrez-Rivera, Elinor Levy, Jorge Arévalo Mateus, Ellen McHale, Chris Mulé, Aaron Paige, Naomi Sturm-Wijesinghe, Emily Socolov, Valerie Walawender, and Christine Zinni.
Annually, Grupo Folklórico de Poughkeepsie (GFP) brings the culture of Oaxaca, Mexico to the Hudson Valley at its La Guelaguetza festival. La Guelaguetza festival celebrates the unique folklore of Oaxaca, Mexico, which is a region of Mexico noted for its various indigenous communities.
The festival provides a window into authentic Oaxacan dance, music, and food, that is held in “Oaxakeepsie” (the nickname given to Poughkeepsie because of its large number of Oaxacan immigrants). GFP began presenting La Guelaguetza in 2008, as a grassroots effort to bring the festival to the local community.
The festival begins with a parade of all the dancers, dressed in colorful traditional costumes and led by the Corn Goddess. Each group represents a different region of Oaxaca. Because La Guelaguetza is a celebration of harvest and sharing, offerings of fruit and flowers are shared with the audience throughout the festival.
After the introductory parade, the dancing and music begins. The colorful costumes and traditional props are breathtaking. Bilingual masters of ceremony provide the festival’s context by introducing and explaining the meaning of the dances. The lively dance performances and live music allow the audience to see, hear, and participate in the traditional customs of Oaxaca, Mexico.
La Guelaguetza Poughkeepsie is truly a community effort. GFP (under the direction of Felipe Santos) works with Arts Mid-Hudson and Dutchess County Tourism to provide this festival free to the thousands of people who enjoy it. La Guelaguetza immerses enthusiasts of traditional music and dance in the rich traditions of Mexico’s Oaxaca state. In 2020, the festival will take place on Sunday August 2, at Waryas Park on the Hudson River waterfront. Please follow them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pokguelaguetza
Perhaps more than any other single aspect of the discipline of folklore, the collection, study, and analysis of narrative arts, storytelling, and storytellers has been a central part of folklore scholarship since the field was founded in the mid-Nineteenth Century. European collectors such as Perreault (France – seventeenth century) and the Brothers Grimm (Germany- eighteenth century) collected and published many of the well-loved “fairy tales” known today, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. In the twentieth century, American collectors Zora Neale Hurston, Roger Abrahams, Alan Lomax, and others expanded the storytelling canon to include tales with Afro-centric origins. Stories with characters such as Anansi the Spider, Papa Bwa, and the Soucouya, were introduced to a wider audience beyond solely Caribbean and African American communities.Today’s fascination with storytelling is encouraged by the “me” story, fueled by Story Corps, reality TV, Facebook, Snapchat, and a host of other social media that encourages one to tell one’s “story.” This current focus on the individual marks a significant cultural shift away from the historic role of traditional story and storytelling as shared collective expressions intended to stimulate and encourage ideas about family, community, political, secular, and religious values.
If you would like to experience the performative nature of stories, two events are taking place in the Capital District that will provide opportunities. On February 29 (Schenectady) and March 1 (Troy), Nazmo Dance Company will join with folklorists Kay Turner and Rose October-Edun to explore European and Caribbean tales as interpreted through modern dance. Performances will take place at the Schenectady Light Opera and at the Arts Center for the Capital Region in Troy. Tickets can be obtained here: www.nyfolklore.org/grimm.
A second opportunity to hear live storytelling will be the annual conference of Northeast Storytelling. “Sharing the Fire 2020” will offer three days of performances and workshops at the Gideon Putnam Spa and Resort in Saratoga Springs. More information can be found at www.NEstorytelling.org.