Thursday, July 19, 2018

Teaching Folk Dance to Kids

I’ve been teaching folk dance to kids ages 6-12 at my local summer camp for the past ten years. It’s exhilarating, challenging, exhausting, and fun. This is not school, where academic discipline rules; nor is it an afterschool enrichment activity that the child and parent have specifically chosen. Every kid in camp – whether they think they’re going to like or not - folk dances with me.

Over the years, I have developed a repertoire of the dances that click with kids – and some very useful techniques.

Here’s a quick list of dances that kids love:
  • Singin’ in the Rain: This one is an easy, fun starter – the music tells you what to do, and you can lead it from the front. I also like it because it allows kids to be goofy (something particularly good for self-conscious pre-adolescents).
  • Syp Simeon (Russia): I call this the Russian hand jive dance, and I always end with it. It’s done sitting down, with hand gestures, starting slow and getting faster and faster. It's a great one for teaching kids it’s okay to make mistakes. 
  • Zemer Atik (Israel): My kids call this the Egyptian dance because of the camel hand hold, and it’s always a favorite.
  • Huayno Peruano (Peru): The steps are simple – just easy jogging on the beat – but the group has to stay together, with hands on each other’s shoulders, and the leader (could be you, or various kids) can make zig zag and spiral patterns.
  • Zimbole (South Africa): This one has the kids walking, clapping and stamping, and the pattern ends with them raising their arms up and yelling “hey!”
  • La Mariposa (Bolivia): This is a sweet circle dance with claps and stamps, and they get to wiggle their fingers like butterflies.
  • A La Vibora de la Mar (Mexico): One pair of kids makes an arch, then all the pairs duck under one by one, and they keep going until the music stops.
  • Chicken Dance (Germany): Yep – this dance is actually originally from Germany. Kids love it, and I use the part where they swing partners as a way to encourage inclusiveness, making sure nobody gets left out.
  • Macarena (Spain): This 4-wall line dance is good for spatial awareness. 
  • Chilili (Bolivia): The older kids just love this one, as it moves back and forth with claps and snaps.
  • Cupid Shuffle (U.S.): This is 4-wall urban soul line dance, with very hip urban music and a fairly simple pattern.
  • Hoe Ana (Tahiti): Also known as the Canoe Dance, this has kids sitting in lines as if in canoes, and making arm gestures that tell a story.

And here are some basic tips:
  • Have lots of dances ready to teach
  • Choose dances with lively music that kids will enjoy.
  • Be ready to change on a dime if something isn't working.
  • Feel free to simplify dances so they’ll work – I’ve done this with La Bastringue (Canada), Kulsko Horo (Bulgaria), and with a basic Irish Ceili Dance.
  • All kids love dances with claps, stamps, and kicks.
  • Give them choices – let them request their favorites.
  • Mix up folk dancing with freeze dancing to a wide variety of world music – ask them to suggest music from countries they’re interested in or their families came from.
  • Try to mix up the boys and the girls, and separate the wild ones.
  • Bring a map, and show them where the dances come from.

My favorite thing? When the kids run into the room, take off their shoes and socks, and immediately shout out the dances they want to do. And, of course, the smiles on their faces.

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