Performing Folklore: Ranchos Folclóricos from Lisbon to Newark

Performing Folklore: Ranchos Folclóricos from Lisbon to Newark

Performing Folklore: Ranchos Folclóricos from Lisbon to Newark

Performing Folklore: Ranchos Folclóricos from Lisbon to Newark


Through the lens of expressive culture, Performing Folklore tracks Portugal's transition from fascism to democracy, and from imperial metropole to EEC member state. Kimberly DaCosta Holton examines the evolution and significance of ranchos folcloricos, groups of amateur musicians and dancers who perform turn-of-the-century popular tradition and have acted as cultural barometers of change throughout 20th-century Portugal. She investigates the role that these folklore groups played in the mid-twentieth-century dictatorship, how they fell out of official favor with the advent of democracy, and why they remain so popular in Portugal's post-authoritarian state, especially in emigrant and diasporic communities. Holton looks at music, dance, costume, repertoire, venue, and social interplay in both local and global contexts. She considers the importance of revivalist folklore in the construction and preservation of national identity in the face of globalization. This book embraces "invented tradition" as process rather than event, presenting an ethnography not only of folkloric revivalism but also of sweeping cultural transformation, promoted alternately by authoritarianism, democracy, emigration, and European unification.


Everywhere and Nowhere

“They’re everywhere!” a friend exclaimed at the outset of my preliminary research trip to Portugal in the summer of 1993. “Saturday and Sunday afternoons, they’re always performing. Thousands of them, everywhere. Just ask anyone. Go to any public square, anywhere. You’ll find them.”

I was in search of ranchos folclóricos, groups of amateur musicians and dancers who performed late nineteenth-century popular music for, reputedly, throngs of people. Intrigued by their apparent ubiquity, I went to the tourist office in Lisbon to obtain information and schedules. Much to my surprise, the woman at the front desk knew of no upcoming folklore performances in Lisbon or the surrounding areas.

“But are you sure there are no schedules? Ranchos folclóricos—don’t they perform everywhere?”

“Apparently not anywhere near here,” she snipped, handing me a brochure for the Algarve’s resort beaches.

“But do you know who I could call? Where I might go to find out?”

“Nope. Sorry,” she said returning to her paperwork.

The clerk’s seeming indifference to my inquiry regarding folklore performance was something to which I would soon become accustomed, not only from people in Lisbon’s tourist industry, but also academics, artists, bureaucrats, and other urban sophisticates. in addition to the fact that folklore is still associated with fascist merrymaking, ranchos folclóricos are also widely viewed by many Portuguese urban dwellers as piroso, or “tacky,” as one Lisbon teenager termed them. Slightly daunted, I continued my search.

I was staying with friends in the Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest and most “popular” neighborhoods, and asked them about ranchos folclóricos. Upon mention of the topic, they threw their arms into the air, bent at the elbows, and began twirling right, then left, then right, giggling uncontrollably. This parodic gesture represented what they considered to be the prototypical folklore movement.

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