Synopses & Reviews
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 literature. Archaeologist 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.
"Traditions of dance and folklore have long been tied to changing seasons and agricultural cycles, and so too have women been linked throughout history to the fertility of the natural world. Basing her investigation on linguistics, archeological evidence, and folklore itself, Barber (Women's Work) explores how the relationship between dance and women has developed over the ages in Europe. She explains that the advent of calendars and holidays were initially intended to aid in agrarian planning; then she focuses on the women who were celebrated and revered during these holidays. They took the form of fairies, mermaids, nymphs, and more, and in their ritual incarnation whether in art or performance they were ornamented in silks, skirts, beads, and flora, and could curse or bless the upcoming agricultural season. Rich with anecdotes and compelling explanations of the origin of many modern customs (such as throwing rice at a bride), Barber's is an informative and amusing read, often bringing together many diverse sources traditional stories, illustrations of artifacts, and aspects of popular culture into an illuminating whole that will serve as a nice introduction for those unfamiliar with the topic, and a valuable reference for scholars of European dance and folklore. 150 illus. and photos, 9 maps. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A fascinating exploration of an ancient system of beliefs and its links to the evolution of dance.
About the Author
Elizabeth Wayland Barber is the author of Women's Work and The Mummies of Ürümchi. Professor emerita of archaeology and linguistics at Occidental College, she lives in California.