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Clockwise Dance Definition Essay

The lack of clarity in the definition of the oberek and its differentiation from related dances was further increased by a variety of names that had been used in reference to it. In addition to obertas and ober, the dance was also called: obertany (from "turn"), wyrwas (from "pull out"), wykrętacz (from "turn"), drygant (related to "move"), zwijas, zwijacz (from "roll" or "twist"), drobny (from "small or "minced"), and okrągły (from "round"). These names reflect the fast tempo, circular movement, and the whirling character of the dance.

According to Oskar Kolberg (Kujawy, vol. 4 of Complete Works 1867), in central Poland dances from the family of the mazur (kujawiak, mazur, oberek) were often performed in a set preceded by a chodzony (walking dance, a folk polonaise) and organized in an increasing tempo. The set ended with a frenzied oberek (MM=160-180). According to Aleksander Pawlak, this 19th-century practice was abandoned early in the 20th century (Pawlak, 1981, 14-15). Interestingly, Pawlak's field studies reported even faster tempi for the obereks; the majority of the melodies discussed in his study had a tempo higher than MM=190, reaching up to MM=240 (Pawlak, 1981, 141).

Krakusy dancing the oberek, 1999.

    The oberek described by Ada Dziewanowska is a national dance "not only because it is common all over Poland, but also because it is danced by all the social strata. Different regions, however, still retain their local style, variations and their specific music" (Dziewanowska 1999, 592).

The folk dance groups often perform the national form of the oberek in the costumes from Łowicz Mazovia (the central part of the region). The State Folk Song and Dance Ensembles Mazowsze and Śląsk perform "a most artistic, but stylized rendition" of the oberek. It has also become a recreational dance growing in popularity and providing competition to the Polish American polka.

In classical music, the name oberek was used by composers of stylized dances starting with Oskar Kolberg who collected obereks from Mazovia in four volumes of his study dedicated to the Mazowsze region (vol. 24-27 of the Collected Works) and in two volumes from the Kujawy region (vol. 3-4 of the Collected Works). Kolberg's own arrangements are in vol. 67 of his works. Other Polish composers of obereks include Henryk Wieniawski (Obertas for violin and piano, Mazurka characteristique no. 1), Roman Statkowski, Karol Szymanowski, Aleksander Tansman, and Grażyna Bacewicz (who composed obereks as self-standing works for violin and piano, as well as movements in more extended compositions, e.g. the finale of her Piano Sonata no. 2). Needless to say, the fastest Mazurkas by Fryderyk Chopin are also examples of obereks; for instance, his Mazurka op. 56 no. 2. In contrast to the mazurka, polonaise and krakowiak (cracovienne) the title oberek is very rare in the music of Western composers, and it does not occur among the titles of Polish dances composed in 19th-century America (see Janta, 1982).

In Grażyna Dąbrowska's account (Dąbrowska 1980, 149-151), oberek is faster than a mazurek; it is danced by couples who are placed on a circle and rotate both around the whole circle and around their own axis (to the right). The dancers follow the direction "against the sun" (pod słońce, counterclockwise). The strongest dancer may ask for a change of direction of the whole group which then would dance "ze słońcem" (with the sun, clockwise). The most difficult change of direction involves a simultaneous change of the rotation around the personal axis, performed to the left only by the best dancers.

Krakusy in Łowicz costumes in Kraków, 1996.
    At times the women turn around the men; sometimes the men vary the motion of their legs, performing a wider "twisting" gesture on the third beat. The dancers in a couple do not separate (with the exception of quick turns performed by the woman) and tend to hold their hands throughout. There are few steps to provide variety in the course of the dance; its enjoyment stems from the very fast tempo, regularity of turns and the simultaneity of changes of direction. There are no complicated acrobatic displays in the folk tradition of Mazowsze.

Dziewanowska (Polish Folk Dances and Songs 1999, p. 591) described the oberek in its national form and regional variants as "a joyful, exuberant and noisy dance with stamps and shouts." In the national form, the basic "bouncy" step of the oberek which articulates its triple meter may be danced with a partner held in a dance position, with partners apart facing each other, or in solo dancing. The issue of separation of dancers is one of the differences between the forms of the oberek in folk practice and artistic stylization on the stage.

Mazowsze dancing the oberek, 1964.
    There are more differences between the stylized form and its model; the stage-oriented folk dance groups use many ornamental and acrobatic figures in the main form of the oberek, kneeling, heel clicking, jumping, stamping and double-stamping, lifting the partner (performed by both men and women), women jumping over the men's outstretched leg, etc.

In addition to this elaborate form of the oberek, Dziewanowska describes also three distinct regional varieties, each of which could be performed in the appropriate costume from the region. The Łowicz oberek is danced in a less bouncy manner than the national version. It consists mainly of the couples turning around the dance area. Small flat steps are used, with little progression around the circle. In the region of Opoczno further south in Mazowsze, the oberek is danced faster and with more bounce and vigor than in the other parts of Poland. In the Lublin oberek (east of Mazowsze, central and south-central Poland), the dance was often interrupted with couplets improvised on the spot, in which the dancers would tease each other.

The Stomp Dance is part of the Green Corn Ceremony, a four-day gathering held each year to mark the renewal of seasons and express gratitude to the Creator for providing food and life. Along with many southeastern American Indian tribes—including those that were relocated to Oklahoma in the 1800s—the Seminole of Florida have long practiced the Green Corn Ceremony, and it is the center of traditional Seminole religion and social customs. A separate ceremony is held in each Seminole community.

Generally, the medicine man, who is from the Panther Clan, decides each year when the ceremony will be held. The date is set for late spring or early summer, based on the dates of the full moon. The Bird Clan oversees logistics and maintains the ceremonial site. Historically the Bird Clan also chose the site itself, but today each Seminole community holds its ceremony in the same place every year.

Once the date has been established, a stick man is selected. The stick man works with the medicine man and the Bird Clan, assuming the role of master of ceremonies. Since the stick man usually is popular and outgoing, it is not difficult for him to be the motivator. During the Green Corn Ceremony, he will move through the crowd, calling out to those who are not participating. Obviously, the stick man gets his name from the stick he carries. The stick—his motivational tool—is a palmetto branch taken from the thatched roof of the chickee chubee, the biggest chickee (a traditional Seminole open-air house) on the ceremonial grounds. The stick man also announces each dance as it begins.

Stomp dance is a non-Native term that refers to the stomp-and-shuffle of the dance structure. In the Cow Creek (Muscogee) language the dance is called opvnkv hacogee, which means drunken, crazy, or spirited dance. Since the Stomp Dance is a social dance, all community members—men, women, and children—are encouraged to participate. The introductory dance to the Green Corn Ceremony, it is meant to energize the community for other Corn Ceremony events and dances. It is not meant to be physically challenging but, rather, to be a positive, encouraging experience for young and old alike. During the first few evenings of the ceremony, stomp dancing takes place five or six times before midnight. On the last evening, an all-night Stomp Dance brings in the new year and a time of renewal.

The Stomp Dance is led by the tribe’s senior men, each in turn assuming leadership responsibility. The lead man calls out the verses, and the other men respond. The dance continues for at least four rounds, or four songs, which include as many as twenty-three verses. The lead men use the Stomp Dance to teach boys and younger men the songs, the language, and the traditions of dance.

At least one woman (usually many more) supports the male dancers, carrying the rhythm by stomping with her shell shakers. Tied to the legs, shell shakers are traditionally made from box-turtle shells. Since the early 1900s, shell shakers also have been made from condensed milk cans. Male and female dancers alternate in the dance line, with children usually tagging on at the end. Today, as the Stomp Dance becomes increasingly popular, however, many youths perform with such enthusiasm that they intermingle with the adults. As the dancers shuffle with short steps, they form a continuous spiral, which circles counter-clockwise around the fire. More than a hundred participants may join in. Their increasing energy creates a wind that forces the smoke upward. The swirling smoke carries the song’s message up to the Creator, who blesses and approves of the message, song, and dance.

Everyone who participates in the Stomp Dance at the Green Corn Ceremony wears their best Indian patchwork clothing. Traditional Seminole patchwork is made of brightly colored strips and geometrically shaped pieces of cloth sewn together. The fabric is made into jackets, shirts, and capes. Because the ceremony marks a time of renewal, new shirts are sewn for men, and women wear their finest-quality patchwork skirts. Everyone looks their best.

The Green Corn Ceremony has always been a part of life for the Seminole, and the Stomp Dance is one part of the Corn Ceremony that continues to reinforce Seminole social traditions. More and more Seminoles are participating in the Stomp Dance, proof that the traditional way of Seminole life will never disappear.

—Willie Johns

During the Green Corn Ceremony, Seminole men, women, and children wear their finest patchwork clothing, often newly created. The patchwork clothing for which Seminoles are so well known came about in the early decades of 1900s, when they adopted the sewing machine. Women’s (and girls’) traditional dress consists of a full, floor-length skirt and matching cape. Both are composed of contrasting colors of cloth and rickrack, and both include horizontal bands of patchwork, which may consist of alternating squares, rectangles, diamonds, diagonals, crosses, or meandering motifs. During Stomp Dances, women’s leg rattles provide rhythmic accompaniment to the men’s singing. The leg rattles are traditionally made out of turtle shells filled with pebbles, though cans may also be used. Most men’s traditional attire consists of a patchwork shirt or jacket worn with trousers. Men who lead the Stomp Dance, however, may wear what’s known as a long shirt, an older style that incorporates bands of colored patchwork.

2011. Made by Danielle Howard. Weston, Florida. Cotton. 26/8783. Necklaces, 1908 and 1927. Florida. Glass beads, cotton string. 1/7932, 15/3223 and 15/3224. Turtle shell leg rattles, 1986. Turtle shell, pebbles, leather. EP0951. Photograph by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI.

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