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Information: A dance.

Translation: A shortening of Hanebo parish in Hälsingland, Sweden.

Pronunciation: HAHM-boh

Region: Sweden


There's a useful concept in folkloristics called Normalform (it's a German term, despite its neat English equivalence, hence the capitalization). A Normalform is that variant of an item, whether a folktale, a ballad verse, a dance, a tune, or any other piece of folklore, which serves as a standard by which other variations are judged. It may be idiosyncratic (personal), or social. If personal, it may be the way you first learned it, or the way someone you respect taught it to you later; if social, it may be "the way we've always done it" or some new way that gains favor out of presumed authenticity (a treacherous concept in itself) or just because it's fashionable. Departures from Normalform are often regarded as wrong, untraditional, and so on. The problem is, every person or social group tends to regard his, her, or its own variant as the Normalform. In other words, it's all relative.

A hundred years ago, many folklorists busied themselves trying to find something called the Urform (another German word), meaning "the original form" of a folklore item. Extensive and elaborate studies were undertaken, notably among Finnish folklorists, to discover a tale's origins. Though the idea of Normalform retains its usefulness, the Urform concept has been long abandoned as an exercise in futility: there is no identifiable "original form" of a folklore item. Even a story invented by a known storyteller does not become folklore until it has been retold and accepted as "one of our stories," rather than "one of her or his," and by that time, subtle changes will have been introduced. It can also be said that every performance of a story, dance, tune, etc. is unique, and that the boundaries of acceptability (that is, conformance to Normalform) are flexible. That's the case even in something as specific as Uppdansning: otherwise, very few would win medals.

The Hambo done at contra dance events in Seattle may look to some more like what they regard as the Swedish Normalform than the Hambo done in South Carolina, New England, Boulder, or Portland; but it's still unlikely to win anyone a respectable place at Hälsinge competitions. As several contributors have pointed out, it may not conform to our Normalform, but it's still what those dancers do, and persist in doing. Is it "wrong?" Nope. It's just different. It may not be a pretty sight to some eyes, but if the dancers are enjoying themselves, our clucking is just irrelevant Grundyism. And as for our own competence in matching the presumed Normalform – even our own – we open ourselves there to outright ridicule. (For that matter, the Hälsinge variation is not the only Normalform in Sweden; variants exist all over.)

Changing the case at hand, would someone like Peter Michaelsen care to comment on the divergent Boda musical traditions, which of course affect the form of the dance? If we already encounter difficulties at Uppdansning (for example, between Malung variations and the recent tendency towards merging them), what effect will divergence within a living tradition such as Boda have on our Normalforms?

With apologies for technical jargon,

–Paul Jordan-Smith

Sometime in the past, someone asked if the Hambo done at contras and at international folk dances in the United States is really an American variant, rather than another Swedish version. In another inquiry, someone asked if the man stamps when beginning the Hambo turn, as many Americans do at contras and at international folk dances in the United States. I sat back and enjoyed the various comments on these subjects, but I refrained from participating in the discussion, but now I thought perhaps I should share with you some information that never came out of these discussions.

I have been leading international folk dancing for the past twenty years, and in that capacity, I used to get very annoyed by the way contra people and international folk dancers did the Swedish Hambo. Not at the beginning, because that is the way I first learned it myself, with possibly a stamp and with the shoulder-waist hold. I only became annoyed after I learned the Hambo as it is danced in Sweden, which I learned when I became married to a Swedish dance teacher for a ten year period, and danced in Sweden with friends and relatives. But now I am not so sure I was right at all; in fact, perhaps what is done by some serious international dancers, and what they apparently passed on to contra dancers, is really a true variant of the Hambo, one perhaps once done actively around the Stockholm area. In fact, once in a conversation I had with the Swedish dancer, Ingemar Sund, he had called our version of the Hambo, the Stockholm Hambo (Ingemar was in the top ten of the Hambo competition over twenty times and won it four times).

Well, to illustrate why I am thinking this way, let me share with you some old instructions on dancing the Hambo that I found among my many dance instructions. These instructions state that they come from the NÄÄS Institute in Floda, Sweden, year 1939. Note, the instructions call for a stamp and the shoulder-waist hold while turning.

–Jerry Schiffer


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