I was raised in a Scottish dance culture, later got into international folk dancing, but have become very cynical about the way the terms folk, or cultural, are used.
While I came to this on my own regarding Scottish dancing, I find it applies to what most people refer to folk dancing.
Every two years our island host an international folk dance festival during the week following Easter, 70 teams, 40 countries. And here is my conclusion.
Folk dancing is not folk dancing at all it is the choreographed out of context dancing of the folk dancing folk, pretending to be folk.
You mentioned the American Indian, and I agree to an extent, and through native American friends I have observed them, and they seem to be authentic of
your "way to convey joy, mourning" in addition to language, stories, ethnic pride etc. But many American indian dances in some cases are merely cobbled togather by
Indians who have lost their culture, and are relying on Hollywood, or its equivalent to be th0eir inspiration, and the stories that go with them often have no valid sources related to the American native experience,
often "borrowed" from other cultures with which there is no connection.
Many self appointed folk dance teachers and cultural gurus, are simply a self sustaining priest hood on a power trip.
Long after I became a teacher, I went back to Scotland and took two post graduate degrees, one in ethnomusicology (emphasis, but not exclusvely on dance). the other in comp sci because by that time my
dance database was so large (about 10,000 dances), that there was no way to handle it using he old deck of 3x5 cards method that got me through high school, and for my undergraduate degree.
So my first break with percieved reality is that while there are recognizable elements in Scottish dancing, its published corpus is fake. In comparing the current published scottish country dances with their supposed sources, I only found 1
that the dancer of the source would recognize, and even the modern version did not inclu0de the coda, that was veery clear in their source. A further break through that I probably would have missed without the compter is that two
of the most distinctive figures in Scottish country dancing were totally fake, because they required a 32bar sequence of music, but the annotated music was only 24. Inother words to move from an 334 bar AAB piece of music, to 32 bars, one must double the B theme, which the sources obviously did not. Country dancing an gender specific parallines, requires progression at each repeat, with the top moving down, and the others up. So this expansion to get 32 bars required the B theme to be divided in to 4 & 4 or 6 & 2 then rearranged to allow for the progression.
Since computers have no space restrictions, it is possible for a computer to produce individuals or couples dancing in the same space at the same time. So for control purposes, I created a "word" made up of 4 characters, using all the alphanumeric parts of the key board.
So the first letter of the "word" told the omputer what was supposed to be the result of the action. So if a dance has 4 8 bar figures, and "0" meant nothing achieved, and "1" meant that the couple had moved one place down, the sum of all the initial lettes would have to be 1.
this is the case in most country dancs, especially the older one so the usual pattern was 0+0+0+1 so with 36 alphanumeric symbols, I could easily cover all the posibilities. The next character was a mnemonic of the figure name or class, the next a variation of it, and the last indicating
the number of which dancers involved. while 10,000 might seem an exaggeration. To count as a dance, it had to share the same choreography and name. but a given choreography can have many different names through istory or from location. So that wone set of figures mentioned above that
did match its source as published, because it was known by 4 different names, that produced 4 out of the 10,000 but relatievely few have 2 different names, and the fast majority one choreography one name.
Going back through the documentation, my conclusion was that what is now known as Scottish Country Dancing was invented right after WWI, and as I said, out of all their published, supposedly traditional dances, only one has a history before that time, the rest were simply dead dances reconstructed from ambiguous notes via a peson´s mind who had already decided the interpretation. Admittedly I had an advantage, with better transportation, and access to any library or connection I wanted. I said after WWI, however this corpus did not even claim what it claims now until
1946, by which time all who might have questioend it were either dead, not interested, or forced out as heretics.
then, knowing thisI turned to highland and step dancing and found the same thing, in this case it was standardization motivated by competitions, and this was not achieved until 1952.
Moving byond dthat in my look at the broader area of ethnomusicology, I found the same thing. Here is an example. Fact: after the English put down the rebellions in Scotland, they passed laws designed to control the people, out of which came the myth that the source of mouthmusic in scotland was because the english banned the pipes. Where this becomes questionable in a logical study, is that a large body of mouth music consists of work songs. Two common ones were rowing boats, and waulking wool, the latter where women sat around a table and pounded, squeezed and generaly tortured recently woven cloth, and like the rowing songs, the music provided the rhythm for the work. So if banning the pipes caused the work songs, can you imagine what how the oarsmen coped with rowing while they played the bag pipes, and while an oar can be pulled with one hand, wool waulking takes two hands. Another problem is how these myths circulated so in both cases, I suspect some self appointed expert who never rowed a boat or walked wool, was simply passing something he had heard, or made it up.
This creation of "history" is as ld as history, if one can´t find a cause - effect pair, simply make one up. the church was quite good at this. In Edinburgh there is a typical city tour called the Royal Mile, the distance one must walk down hill to get from Castle to Palace. But originally it was the royal half mile from the castle to the Nether Bow (gate) no palace and the rest was open country, where the king would hunt. One day about to shoot a deer, he saw a cross on its forehead, taking it as a sign, he not only did not shoot the deer, but established a priory on the spot, which later grew into the present palace and gave it to the Canons of St Augustin, naming the priory Hollyrood (Holy Cross in Scots) and to support it, created a village, called Canongate (the street of the Cano