Dancing among Home-Schooled Children

by Rick Kephart
July 12, 1993

(Country Dance and Song Society News #114, Sept/Oct 1993)

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Over this past year, I taught folk & country dancing (among other subjects) to the children at the L.P.H. Resource Center for Home-Schoolers in Pottstown, PA (where home-schooled children can go for supplemental classes). They were between the ages of 7 and 14. Most had never even seen a folk dance before; the most experienced folk dancers I had there were a brother and sister who had done a Virginia Reel once. Most of the children, by the end of the year, said that dancing turned out to be their favorite activity at the Resource Center. The dance that most of them liked best was "The Black Nag".

The method I used, which went well with the children, was to divide the lesson into 3 sections most of the time. One part would involve learning a new dance figure, such as siding or figure-8. In another part I would teach an entire new dance, often involving the new figure they had just learned the week before. And in the other portion, we'd do previously learned dances (mostly by request from the children).

Some of the girls had taken ballet lessons. This proved to be more of a problem than an advantage, as I had to put quite a bit of effort into preventing them from substituting ballet steps for folk & country dance steps.

In the beginning I had wanted to include the parents in the dancing, as a family atmosphere was fostered at the Resource Center. But it turned out the parents thought the dancing was too hard. One parent went so far as to question my teaching ability because she thought the dance instructions were too difficult --- in spite of the fact that none of her children had any trouble at all mastering the dances I taught!

On the last day of the Resource Center for the year, we had a small performance. I picked the dances which looked best, and we worked very hard on them to perfect them.

Some of the children were, naturally, worried about messing up. I advised them that if that should happen, the one thing they have to do is keep on going as though nothing had gone wrong, and nobody in the audience will know that they made a mistake. I told them the story of a terrible dance instructor I had seen once at an Irish dance performance at a mall. Even to me, the young dancers appeared very good. But after the dance, the teacher announced how good it was that, even when the girls made mistakes, they kept right on dancing without stopping. If she hadn't said that, nobody would ever have known they had made any mistakes! I assured the children that I would never say anything so stupid. If they made mistakes, nobody would ever know. But as it turned out, everybody remembered every figure perfectly, without even needing any cuing from me. The audience was most impressed that the children could remember so much.

There were children of the same age in the audience. One of the boys, a 10-year-old, objected to performing in front of other boys, afraid they would make fun of him. But it turned out that the children in the audience were as impressed by their performance as the adults were.

The biggest discovery I found in the course of the year was, in general, how much more quickly and easily children are able to learn even the most complex folk and country dances than adults are. It is good for children to be learning these dances, so they can be preserved and so country dancing doesn't become increasingly plain and frivolous over time. And it shows that dances should never be simplified for children! If anybody needs dances to be simplified for them, it's adults. Children can handle the complex and challenging dances.

The Resource Center puts out its own newsletter nearly every month during the school year. Sometimes, children would describe in their own words how to do dances we've learned. Here are two of their descriptions:

Shrewsbury Lasses by Daniel (age 8)

We'd all stand in lines of 6. In the first couple, first the boy would go up and bow then do another step and bow then go back and then he'd go up and circle with the girl. Then he'd go back and the girl would go up and curtsy, then curtsy again, then she'd go back and circle with the boy. And then the boy and the girl would cast down and circle with the bottom couple. Then they'd skip around and go into the middle, turn, and go down. And then the couple that was on the top casts down and circles and skips around. And now the bottom couple is at the top and he bows and they do the same thing over again.

The Black Nag by Lucy (age 10)

The Black Nag is a dance where there is a pair right here and another pair and another pair and they're all lined up. The boys are on one side and the girls are on the other side. The first pair and the second and third, they all take one step up and then another one and then 2 step backs and then you do that again. And then one pair goes up and the next pair and then the last pair and then the last pair goes back and then the second one goes back and then the third one goes back. Then the corner ones change sides back to back, then the other corner ones do, then the middle ones do. Then the boys do a figure 8 and then the girls do a figure 8 and that's it.

the end


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