Iowa – Simpson College Music Dept. Workshop


Simpson College Music Department Workshop – Indianola, Iowa – Saturday, January 16, 2016

Creating a Dynamic Learning Community with Traditional Dance, Song and Storytelling

led by Peter & Mary Alice Amidon

Many thanks to Dr. Micheal Patterson who was our contact, the organizer, the driver, and much more. Thanks to the volunteers who helped load in and out, set up the hall, and sell our materials.  This is our third workshop at Simpson College (previously in 2005 and 2010) and Dr. Patterson has a way of making it feel like home to us. We have become big Iowa fans!

First some announcements, then the notes:

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Sign up on our email mailing list for approximately once-monthly notices about upcoming Amidon workshops and publications.  Just go to the Amidon website and sign up on the homepage:

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MEET OUR BOYS & their ladies:

Stefan and Zara singing with the Starry Mountain Singers. Zara singing lead on the left, Stefan singing bass on the right.

Stefan on percussion/vocals and his wife (red head) Zara Bode with their band the Sweetback Sisters

Sam storytelling/singing

Sam fiddling

Sam’s wife Beth Orton 

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 Go to your own local dances; they are fun, welcoming, aerobic, and it will make you a better dance teacher:

Here is the link for Des Moine contra dances.

Here is the link for contra and square dances in Iowa.

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AccordionThe best place we have found to find a good smaller accordion for music teaching is “The Button Box” in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Circassian Circle Mixer in NEDM’s Listen to the Mockingbird collection Mary Alice played for this.  You an use any hot reel, for example “Fancy Hornpipe” from NEDM’s  Any Jig or Reel CD. Always start teaching this dance by having the students promenade and defining ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ (gent/lady or moon/star or whatever).  I like doing this with fourth  graders who have a little dance experience.

Sun is in My Heart
A Little Seed
Both of these are in in the handouts, and in NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD.  Both are calming chants that we use as much to center ourselves as the children.

Form the CornIn NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. A great no-formation dance for any age, any situation.

Tree Songin NEDM’s “Down in the Valley“.  I introduced this with a story about Roger.  It is basically the same family: Roger, Mary, their thirteen children, their youngest daughter who then marries and lives with Roger and Mary and has Eliza.  I use this same family for the storytelling introductions to “Chiney Doll” and “When I First Came to This Land”.   You can order the music (unison/piano) for your younger children’s choir from our Amidon Online Choral Sheet Music Download Store.

Here We Go Riding our PoniesIn NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. Children practice handshakes and eye contact in this instantly engaging singing game.

Come Along Everybody in NEDM’s I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. We like to start a music class with this; having the children take hands in a line-which-becomes-a-circle as they first come into the classroom door.

Starburst (or “Accretian Reel”) – Challenge your students to do this dance without your calling; following on their own the phrasing of the music.

Old Bald Eagle Square in “Sashay the Donut” The simplest square dance we know. In both this and “Solomon Levi” try teaching the dance and then put on the CD and let Andy do the calling.  You should dance with your students.  Use “tap in” to deal with a class of, say, 20 students.  the five students who are out (because you are dancing!) each have an assigned student in a square that they trade back and forth with each time you say “Tap in!”.

Solomon Levi in “Sashay the Donut In teaching the students the “separate and walk around the outside of the square” figure, be sure to teach them to pass right shoulders on the other side.  If you have gents and ladies sets, the gents would pass on the outside and the ladies would “hug” the circle.

PICTURE BOOKS I – See the picture book bibliography in the handout.
When I Grow Up

  What a Wonderful World
  Mother Earth


Fox Went Out in Song in My Heart book & CD.  I introduced this with a story about how the Fox family got so hungry that Poppa Fox just had to go on the dangerous journey of stealing a duck and a goose from the farm.

Humpty Dump – a great song for teaching nursery rhymes to older children.

Brotherhood & Sisterhood in Song in My Heart
Mary Alice and I have found that being creative is one of the keys to good health (I mean this literally, to not getting sick). Writing songs can be a deeply creative activity; but it is not mysterious.  Here is how you write a song: sit down and write a song.  You might start by setting a poem to music.  Just try singing the poem.  Use whatever first melodic idea you come up with and work from there.

Chiney Doll  in Song in My Heart” book & CD. I introduced this with a story about Roger’s (from the introductory story to “The Tree Song” grandaughter Liza.

Traffic Jam – learned from John Krumm
Use “Heel & Toe Polka” for music from “Chimes of Dunkirk” CD.
This is a terrific “scatter mixer” for any age; particularly for older students who do not have much dance experience.

Sandy Boys – We are sad that the cut we used is no longer available on iTunes, but you can do this simple and very accessible dance to any reel medley.

Choosing partners
We think it is a real gift to children to teach them  how to choose their own partners.  I like to frame this in ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ language to help the children get over their self consciousness over  choosing partners. I start with a story about how Kings and Queens realized that it might be more fun to dance with more than just their own spouses, and so they needed to devise a polite and efficient way to choose other partners.  “And the method they came up with was so good we still do it today.” I have them all practice the words: ‘May I please  have this dance?’ ‘Yes thank you.’ and then practice answering me, and then practice  asking me.  Then I demonstrate what it looks like to ask a partner to dance, by asking one of the ‘Queens’.  Then, I have that Queen sit down, and I ask her again, showing the 10 steps: The approach. Eye contact. The question. The answer. King puts out his hand. Queen stands and takes King’s hand. They hang on to each other’s hand and walk to the top of the hall.  If there are  two Queens then there is a Queen on one side and a Queen on the other side.  If there are two Kings (you know the rest). If it is a King and a Queen, the King stands on the King’s side, the Queen on the Queen’s side and they face each other, nose, toes and bellybutton, taking two hands. Then they drop their hands, and, voila, there they are.

Durham Reel – In NEDM’s Chimes of Dunkirk collection.  We used ‘Slow G’ from NEDM’s ‘Sashay the Donut’ CD; Assembly (the same band that recorded Other Side of the Tracks) at their dreamy best. It is fine to dance “across the phrase” on this.  There is no progression in the dance: the same couple leads each of the figures. It is a good chance to give children leadership responsibility.

Larry’s Mixer  In NEDM’s Listen to the Mockingbird”. We used the cut “Cheris” from NEDM’s Other Side of the TracksCD, which is the band “Assembly”, a quartet that includes  our two sons Sam (fiddle) and Stefan (percussion). Also try doing this to “The Coming Dawn” from the same CD, or try “Golden Keyboard” from NEDM’s Any Jig or ReelCD.  All of these are flowing music, and I find that this dance can have a sublime “Historic English County Dance” feel (think Jane Austen) when done to those cuts of elegant music.


Inchworm – We love using this to get groups of children singing like a children’s choir. I find a “tuner” (a student who sings beautifully with good intonation) and then I have them all say: “Mr. Amidon (I sing), guitar (play at pitch on guitar) , tuner (the tuner student sings the phrase), me (all of the students sing the phrase exactly as the tuner did)”.  This is especially effective for male teachers to help children get past the octave issue.

Picture Books II – See the picture book bibliography in the handout.
Exclamation Point
Over the Rainbow
Day Is Done
Owl Moon

Peddler’s Dream – There are many versions of this traditional folktale in the U.S., England and Europe.

Acting out story – See the section in the notes about acting out stories. This is a wonderful and dynamic activity to do with your students.  You also might “give” the acting out more to the students by having one of the students be the narrator.

Sam Amidon retells and sings Chiney Doll
When Mary Alice asked 2 1/2 year old Sam to sing “Chiney Doll”, first he had to tell the story.  His grunting and pauses through the story were not because he could not remember the story; he remembered it perfectly well.  That was his efforts to change the images in his mind into language; the very essence of storytelling.  Sam, 34, now makes a living travelling the world singing folk songs and telling (sometimes kind of strange) stories.

Noble Duke of York – in NEDM’s “Rise Sally Rise” (formerly “Jump Jim Joe“) Also NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” book/CD/DVD.
Here is my shortcut way of teaching the cast off:
* Have top and bottom couple each take two hands with partner.
* All other couples leave the set.
* Bottom couple makes a two hand arch.
* Top gent (or you) demonstrates skipping around to left in a cast off, down below and then up through the arch back to place.
* Top lady demonstrates same thing, starting her cast off to the right.
* Top gent and lady cast off at the same time and take one hand with partner as they go through the arch.
* Now all the other dancers rejoin the set and the ladies follow the lead lady and the gent follows the lead gent.
* The next time you do it, have the bottom lady and gent follow, respectively, their lady and gent lines, and the top couple makes the arch when reachng the bottom.
I added the up, down halfway up and jumping movements that the rest of the dancers do while the top couple sashays down the middle and back.  My favorite moment is when the top couple’s sashay back up the middle turns into a skipping cast off just as the other dancers land from their jump and, skipping, follow the lead couple in the cast off.  We were inspired to teach skipping as an art form by watching the wonderful Mark Morris Dance Company.  If you have the older “Jump Jim Joe” CD but would like the updated mp3 of the music we used in the workshop (which is only on the “Alabama Gal” book/CD/DVD and “Rise Sally Rise” CD) send me an email and I will send you the mp3: <>

Woyaya – You sounded so beautiful singing this; it is the first time Mary Alice and I have heard the full arrangement.  I have always loved Ysaye Barnwell‘s arrangement of this Afro-pop song. When I was asked to have our choir lead it at the Guilford Community Church recently I went back to the original Osibisa song as well as the Art Garfunkel version that brought the song to the U.S., but there were only women in choir that day so I did not get to hear the full arrangement then.  I am working on getting permission to include my pianoSATB arrangement in our Online Choral Store.

Shimmering Simpson Orbit – This is the original circle mixer dance you created as a group at the workshop.  I could not remember the name of your original dance.  Patty Haman, who took the workshop, kindly wrote me and suggested the title was “Shimmering Orbit” or “Orbit Shimmering”.  I remember the word “Simpson” being in the title.  If you think the title is something other than “Shimmering Simpson Orbit” please let me know by email <> and I will update this entry.
I do remember the dance which was great:

A1: Circle left, circle right
A2: Forward and back. Forward with a whoop, a kick, and raised hands, and back.
B1: Hokey pokey with hands while dosido partner and then see saw (left shoulder dosiso) partner.
B2: Grand right and left 3 changes: right past partner, left past next, right past next, at the next person, allemand left once around.

Intersection Reel in “Sashay the Donut“. You can get away with doing this with a minimum of 32 dancers (four couples each in four sets). I usually do this with four sets (like a big “X”), but we had exactly the right number of dancers for six sets, Yippee!

Circle Waltz Mixer – in NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut” collection.
We used ‘In Continental’ Waltz from the ‘Sashay’ CD  for the music. This is a wonderful dance for a wedding  where you can do it the original way we learned it, doing  a short waltz instead of the two hand turn.  It is helpful to have boys be “rocks” and girls be “twirlers” (or vice versa) to help keep track of who are the rocks and twirlers.  Here are some tips to for teaching this dance: Start by having everyone promenade. Tell all the inside (left hand) partners they are “rocks” and all the outside (right hand) partners they are “twirlers”. All look at partner and say “goodbye”. Rocks stay in place and keep their feet planted during the “twirl” figure. Carefully teach the first “twirl” each “Rock” does with their left hand neighbor, from left to right. Once the dancers get that twirl, the rest of the dance can go pretty smoothly.
Here are two Youtube tutorials for teaching and dancing the Circle Waltz Mixer:
Circle Waltz Mixer – Teaching
Circle Waltz Mixer – Dancing

We had such fun with you; keep on singing and dancing, and tell your students stories!


Peter (and Mary Alice)