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Music and Dance collections at the American Folklife Center

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Music and dance have such prevalence in American Folklife Center collections that, appropriately, we announce guides to these cultural expressions in the same Folklife Today post. The resource guides “Music in the United States” and “Dance” provide descriptive access to more than 1000 AFC collections.

Music and dance are intangible cultural expressions that lend themselves to documentation and research (given their public or community-based nature). The Center’s collections in this arena are extensive and represent virtually all diasporic communities in America in every state and territory. Particularly strong are pre-1950 African-American genres, pre-1950 Anglo-American genres, and 1930s-1960s Folk Music Revival materials. Traditions practiced by communities around the world have also been extensively documented, and the Center’s strength lies primarily in the fieldwork of English-speaking ethnographers. Significant Spanish-language and Portuguese-language materials from major ethnographers have long formed part of the collection and emergent genres continue to be documented.

These two new guides follow the four-page pattern of other American Folklife Center Topical Guides. The “Introduction” pages are designed to spark interest in the topic. “Digital Collections” provide direct links to online content. “Related Online Resources” points to podcasts, blogs, and public programming about the topic.  The “Searching the Collections” pages feature predetermined searches of key resources such as the Library of Congress online catalog.

screen capture of music in the united states resource guide

One example of a recently acquired dance collection is the “Dance Battle with Urban Artistry,” emceed by Junious Brickhouse, 2017 February 22. This was a program from AFC’s Homegrown Concert Series in performers engage in a series of dance battles. Watch it in the player.


An example of music collections is found in the Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection. It is Irish-American music from the Rhode Island Ceilidhe Club, Cranston Rhode Island, 1979. Listen to it in the player below.

man plays the ullean pipes
Patrick Sky plays the uillean pipes, Rhode Island Ceilidhe Club, 50 America St., Cranston, Rhode Island, 1979. Photo by Thomas A. Burns.


Areas of Distinction

Dance and Music are among the Center’s nine so-called “Areas of Distinction,” which provide a useful way for us to describe the AFC archive as it relates to the fields of ethnography. The Folklore and Folklife Collections Policy Statement provides definitions and examples of collections in these areas. By writing these broad guides we hope to construct a framework of resources. Below you can see the scaffold begin to emerge with the overarching guide listed first, followed by more specific sub-topic guides.

Folklife and Material Culture

Music and Dance of the United States

Music and Dance of the World

Music, Dance and Narrative of Native American communities

  • forthcoming

Narrative and Verbal Arts

Occupational Folklife

Public Memory and Collective Experience

Public Folklore

Vernacular Religious Expression


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