Cat no. 212566

Dance Little Lady

Running time19:58 Colour Sound 1953-1954 Staffordshire

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National dances in Thailand, Bali, Fiji, Hawaii and the West Indies.


AmateurTNA ProjectTravel / TravelogueWomen's Filmmaking

A young woman, listening to a radio programme about national dance styles, attempts to act out descriptions of the national dances in Thailand, Bali, Fiji, Hawaii and the West Indies in the privacy of her own garden, unaware that she is being watched by children in a neighbouring garden. Shots of the woman interpreting the descriptions of hand positions or body movements in the dances is followed by footage of the respective dances, taken during a round the world trip. The film’s commentary is provided by a fictitious radio programme, in which Stuart Day acts the radio announcer and Laurie Day assumes the role of Miss Mary Mills.

A young woman carries a radio and some magazines down some steps from a garden patio to the law, where she places the radio next to a sun lounger and the magazines on it. A radio programme, featuring a selection of Noel Coward songs, is just concluding and the next programme, a feature on national dances, narrated by Mary Mills, begins. The young woman sits on the lounger and flicks through the magazines; gradually her attention is drawn to the programme and, following a description of the hand positions common to national dances in Siam [Thailand], manipulates her hands in attempts to assume the described hand positions.

Footage of the dagger dance, as recorded on a visit to the courtyard of the Arts Museum in Bangkok, follows. [See City of Temples, Catalogue 3182, for other dances recorded during this visit to the Arts Museum and the performance of the Gamelan orchestra.]

The young woman has rolled up a magazine and, using it like a dagger, pretends to stab a person as the programme relays an anecdote about an attempt on a Siamese King’s life by a dancer during a performance of the dagger dance. Thoroughly engaged by the programme, the woman attempts the hand and shoulder movements described as common to dances in Indonesia. Rising from the lounger, the woman attempts to mimic the description of movements in the dance, notably a lateral movement of the head. The radio programme refers to the excellent behaviour of children in Bali, particularly in watching dances. There is a cut to a girl in a neighbouring garden, who is quietly observing the activities of the young woman. Largely hidden by shrubs close to the fence, the girl beckons her friends to come and join her as the woman mimics the dance on her lawn.

Footage of dances in Indonesia follows.

The girl has been joined by two boys. The young woman returns to her sun lounger, and uses a magazine as a fan as the next dance style is introduced.

Footage of a dance in Fiji follows.

Lying on the sun lounger, the woman listens to the description of dances in Hawaii. The woman swings her feet and hands as the programme describes the movement in the dance. Rising from the lounger, the woman interprets the description of the hula. In the neighbouring garden, the girl is joined by another and they exaggerate the swaying action of the woman.

Footage of hula dancing from the trip to Hawaii follows. [See also Thanks for the Memory, Catalogue 212568, for footage taken from the same location on Waikiki beach.]

Four children watch at the fence, each attempting their own copy of the woman’s movements. The woman, meanwhile, returns once again to the sun lounger. She stops as the programme refers to dance in the Caribbean. The calypso is introduced and the woman interprets the description in her own manner.

Footage of a Caribbean carnival follows.

A young boy bangs on the base of a metal container with a piece of wood. The two girls at the fence urge him to quieten down. Aware now that she is being watched, the woman stops dancing, sits on the lounger and picks up a magazine. The children having retreated from the fence play on the lawn. The girls dance in a circle, while one of the two boys continues to beat the metal container as the other helps to hold it. The radio programme concludes and the woman smiles contentedly as she reads a magazine.

The Radio Programme

Radio programme [Music]

Announcer: That concludes this selection of Noel Coward songs on Gramophone records. Now we are to have a talk by Mary Mills on national dancing, Miss Mills […]

Miss Mills: When I was in the Far East I became interested in the similar styles of dancing among neighbouring countries. Take Siam and Indonesia for example. Very early in life children in both countries are taught to flick their wrists and bend their fingers backwards until they touch the wrist, so that the swept back hand position can be achieved so essential to every dance they perform. In Siam even the feet and toes turn back, while the body is rigidly controlled. Both races dance to Gamelan orchestras. These contain few stringed instruments, mainly wind and many varieties of percussion, from the gamelan itself, which is like an ornamental xylophone, to gongs and drums played with the flat of the hand or the fingers and tiny funnel-like symbols.

Miss Mills: Legend has it that once when the dagger dance was being performed before the royal court; one of the dancers broke away from his partner and tried to assassinate the King. So this dance was out of favour for many years, especially in court circles. The Indonesians have developed this technique in their own vigorous and characteristic fashion. They flutter their middle fingers and shrug their shoulders alternately. Although the dancers are star performers by the time they are 8 years old, they assume an enigmatic expression and the bent kneed shuffle that carries them around the stage. Clothed in brilliantly hand woven sarongs, heavily threaded with gold, and elaborate head dresses of nodding flowers, they do that strange lateral movement of the head that so intrigues western audiences, though our version is but a caricature of the real thing. The Balinese have a passion for music and dancing and love to watch any performance put on for visitors. The children are the best behaved in the world. As they watch without a sound, their more talented companions as they interpret the many legends and tales of Balinese lore, especially the Great Ramayana of their Hindu religion to the music of larger gamelan orchestras, arranged around an open square in which the dancers perform.

Miss Mills: The giant Momomosoko [?] frightens the tiny ones, but those silent brown people take it very seriously. The grown-ups are probably reliving their dancing youth and thinking that the younger generation isn’t nearly so expert as they were in their day. In the Pacific the Polynesian origin of all the dances is clear. In Fiji for example that lush green island of sugar plantations and Nakavadra the long mountain range that legend says is the home of the gods, from whom Fijians say they are descended. I saw children performing meke mekes to the chanting and clapping of their companions and though the arm movements are different, there is quite the touch of the hula about them.

Miss Mills: The Fijians are a gracious dignified people, who’ve kept their self-respect, because they were not conquered but freely chose Britain as their protector. Of course the Pacific dance we all know, is best seen against the blue sea of Waikiki beach, where luscious grass skirted beauties weave their arms and sway to the music of Hawaiian guitars. The feet keep time, those swaying hips give the rhythm, and the arms and hands interpret the meaning of the dance. Every line of those Hawaiian songs is expressed by those graceful hands, as clearly as if they were sung, for each phrase has its own movement. A downward flutter to express the gently falling rain for example or a wide ripple of hand and arm for the sea, though all the copyists seem to know is the movement that means sitting there so graciously. It is difficult now to believe that this dance was once a religious ceremony used for sacred rites and guarded by strict taboos, for now it is a combination of poetry, music and pantomime and is danced for joy, for celebrations and to express the call of romance.

Miss Mills: The swaying sirens of Hawaii are indeed intoxicating but now I want to snatch you from the blue waters of the Pacific to the equally Asio-Caribbean [?], where lie those coral islands luxuriant with sugar and spice. West Indian dancing appears to be the natural instinct of the Negro race, when you see it you know where jive came from. Of course there are the specialised calypsos, but their natural impulses emerge when a carnival jump-up is held, and then crowds weave through the streets bobbing and undulating to the rhythm of their own invention, steel bands made out of oil drums sawn off to various depths.

Miss Mills: These ingenious instruments were invented in Trinidad quite recently, only 5 years ago in fact, to the immense delight of the natives, who welcomed this new and unexpected source of music. Truly a flash of pure primitive ingenuity. Joyously they flung themselves into developing its possibilities. It was a new toy, providing a heaven sent outlet for their naturally exuberant spirits, for the Negro has an uncomplicated childlike nature. Swiftly the other islands grasped this new gift for their enjoyment. I feel I cannot finish this talk on a happier note than that created by a West Indian steel band, surely the only instrument in the world that is tuned with a cold chisel.

Announcer: You have been listening to Mary Mills talking about national dancing and that concludes the programme brought to you by courtesy of ‘Jitterbugs Corn Cure’, ‘The Plaster You’re After’, and this is the end.


Featured Organisations:

Gamelan Orchestra Temple Dancers, Bangkok

Featured Buildings:

Courtyard of the Arts Museum, Bangkok

Laurie Day; Stuart Day

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