Michigan Music Conference Workshop


Michigan Music Conference Workshop – Grand Rapids, Michigan – Thursday, January 21, 2016

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

led by Peter & Mary Alice Amidon

Many thanks to Dr. Corey Micheel-Mays who was our main contact before and during the workshop, and to all the other folks who made this possible.

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 a link to a web page that has listings of contra and square dances in Michigan.

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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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Blaydon Races
in NEDM’s Chimes of Dunkirk collection
We used ‘Blaydon Races’ from NEDM’s 2010 Revision of the ‘Chimes of Dunkirk’ CD for this. You can also use any jig or  reel medley for this dance. We did this is a mixer, but you can also do it with younger children without changing partners. We often call this at weddings.  We always start  teaching this, as we do with any circle mixer, by having the dancers promenade and defining the gents/moons/peanut butter/inside partners and the ladies/stars/jelly/outside partners. You can see the Blaydon races danced at a community dance on the Chimes of Dunkirk DVD.

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.

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.

Dance Teaching  Tips: POSTURE – touch ears with shoulders, then relax shoulders, describe good posture, find a someone with good posture as a “posture leader” (“We are going to call this “Selena 3rd grade posture”. Mittens; front of your mitten on the front of your neighbor’s mitten, thumb lightly on back; take hands drop hands take hands drop hands.

Old Brass Wagon – In NEDM’s Down in the Valley collection
This can be an a cappella singing game, or, with the CD (or live music) a great early dance to instrumental music.  When I teach it I walk through the figures first, and then say “Now just do whatever Mary Alice says,” and put on the CD.

Starburst (or “Accretian Reel”) – Challenge your students to do this dance without your calling; following on their own the phrasing of the music. Do a square dance after this dance by have each group of four find another group of four with which to make a square set.

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 I Want to Be Me – celebration of being who you  are.
   Where the Forest Meets the Sea – meditation on a rain forest that was.
text & illustrations by Jeannie Baker, Scholastic, Inc., ISBN 0-590-72453-3.
Music: Rainfall from the album Amber by David Darling
   Mother Earth – about, well, Mother Earth.
Over the Rainbow – Eric Puybaret, Imagine Books – a Peter Yarrow Book, ISBN 978-1-936140-00-8
   What a Wonderful World – picture book of the song.
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood, Henry Holt & Co., ISBN 978-1-62779-254-7
   Madeline – a girl at a girl’s school has an appendectomy.


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.

Seed in the Ground in Song in My Heart book & CD. One of our favorite songs for chldren we’ve learned in the last ten years.  Later Peter taught a “flash” dance he’d created to the song (see below).

Humpty Dump – a great song for teaching nursery rhymes to older children. We have them recite the poems in a sort of formal way before putting them into the song. Challenge your students to come to class with nursery rhyme selections.

Chiney Doll  in Song in My Heart” book & CD. I introduced this with a story about Roger’s grandaughter Eliza. We talked about introducing songs and other activities in the music classroom with stories.

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.

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.

Kings & Queens – in NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut” collection.
We used ‘On the Danforth’ from NEDM’s ‘Other Side of the Tracks’ CD for this dance.  You might also use our other version of ‘On the Danforth’ which is on our ‘Sashay the Donut’ CD. Before we teach this dance we will dub each child a King or a Queen, and talk to them (sometimes while the music is playing to help sustain the mood) about what it means to be a King and Queen: They have royal posture, they never rush, they make good decisions, they are very attractive; basically describing the ideal King/Queen or, which, in my mind is being the very best person they can be.  Then I “dub” each child a  king or a queen, making sure they have their royal posture before I dub them. This is in the style of an Historic English County Dance (e.g. dances done in Jane Austen’s time).

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.

I’m Growing Up – in Song in My Heart book and CD and in “I’m Growing Upbook/CD/DVD. Mary Alice made this song up to illustrate for young children the stages of life.

Martin Luther King – in “Song in My Heart” book and CD. We used this a lot when we were music teachers, and we sing it every year at our community celebration of Dr. King’s life and work that we have every year in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Vote for Me – in “Song in My Heart” book and CD. Faya Rose Toure AKA Rose Sanders, the first female African American judge in Alabama, lives in Selma, where she writes songs with children and teenagers to keep them in touch with Selma’s rich history around voting rights.

Brotherhood and Sisterhood – in “Song in My Heart” book and CD. We encourage you to write your own songs and sing them with your students. It is deeply satisfying, and having children sing your composed songs helps demystify songwriting for children. Songwriting is both challenging and deeply fun.

PICTURE BOOKS II – See the picture book bibliography in the handout.
Exlamation Point – the coming-of-age story of an exlamation point.
Day Is Done
– comforting bedtime song.
First Strawberries
– native American folktale about anger and forgiveness.

Seed in the Ground dance – I made this as a sort of “flash dance” for children:
If you got the sun
*Walk sideways with hands miming sun rising.
and if you got the rain
*Walk sideways the other way with hands miming rain.
and you plant a little seed
*Crouch down.
in the old back lane
Then jump and turn halfway with
arms moving directly over head,
end pointing in opposite direction.
And you wish and you hope
hands clasped together in front,
take step to diagonal left, then diagonal right,
And you keep the weeds down
Crouch down, keeping head up.
You might find, oh
standing up, step and gesture with arm to left.
You might find
step and gesture with arm to right
a root growing down from the seed
mime with hands
in the ground
take one step forward (leaving other foot in place) ending with forward  leg bent a little and back leg straight as arms and hands sweep from front to both sides (separating) as if miming the flat surface of the ground.

Kindergarten Reel – In NEDM’s Listen to the Mockingbird collection but just in the book, not on the CD. You can lead this playing the music for the dance. We do have a recording for this dance but it is not on any of our New England Dancing Masters (NEDM) CDs.  If you would like the “Kindergarten Reel” mp3 send me an email <amidonpeter@gmail.com>; and I will email it to you as an attachment.

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: <amidonpeter@gmail.com>


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

Acting out a 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, because whenever I sang the song with him I had always preceded it with the story.  Sam’s 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.

Woyaya – You sounded so beautiful singing this!  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.

CREATING AN ORIGINAL DANCE WITH YOUR STUDENTS I start with the question: “What is a dance?” A dance starts with a formation (or a shape): longways (line of partners facing each other), circle (partners in circle) or  square (four couples facing in). There is also the Sicilian Circle formation (couple facing couple around a circle)  And also the concentric circle formation where couples are in a circle with, say, the gents facing out and  the ladies facing in. Then there are the figures, which is, simply what the dancers do in the dance.  Some obvious figures include some you do with the whole group (let’s say we’re doing a circle mixer): Forward and back – Circle left, Circle right – Grand Right and Left, etc. and figures you do just with your partner (or neighbor): Right hand turn – Dosido and some that are a bit of both like      Promenade. It is OK to have an original figure or two in our original dance, but not too many.  Mostly you should have familiar, common figures that dances can learn quickly. Once we (or I) decide on a formation, I simply say, “What first.” and do whatever the first person suggests, in our case, “Forward and back”. As the suggestions come in I might invite discussion about which suggestion to choose (if there are more than one).  I try to use as many of the children’s  ideas as possible, and I almost always have the children try out dancing a suggested figure before discussin g it. Your job is also to facilitate the children creating a dance that is fun to do.  You might make a small suggestion here and there, especially one that might help make a student’s suggestion more successful and flowing. The children can help figure out how to make the dance fit the AABB of the music.  It is also an option to ignore the AABB and make up a dance that goes across the AABB pattern of the music. Once you and your students have made up a dance, it is important to name the dance.  This is the same process as making up the dance.  I take in suggestions and facilitate the decision making.  Sometimes we combine the words in two or three different suggestion.  Sometimes we vote on two or three different name candidates.  Sometimes, as  happened with us, someone comes up with a suggestion so inspired that I declare it the official name by acclamation. When students create their own dance, they really take ownership of it.

Ambiguitous Michigan Pineapple – your original circle mixer. Like acting out a story, this is a creative activity, which means that it has an element of risk. Your challenge when you do this with your students is to facilitate as many of the children’s ideas as possible into a choreographically satisfying dance that follows the phrasing of an AABB (or AABBCC) jig or reel. I took the authority of trying to make the tunneling idea work. When I discovered that in the grand right and left, #1’s gents were ending up with #2 ladies, I decided to abandon the tunneling, even though we probably could have worked it out, because I knew time was short. When you are doing this with children a little creative tension is fine, but you need to decide when enough is enough and move on to another idea. I love the elegant and lively circle mixer you came up with AND the extraordinary title.  Here’s the dance:
A1: Forward three steps, raise held hands with a “Whoop” on fourth beat. Then step back. (8)
Hanging on to hands, sashay to the left. (8)
A2: And sashay back to the right. (8)
Dosido partner. (8)
B1: Grand right and left three changes (right past partner, left past next, right past next. (8)
Seesaw (left shoulder dosido) the next person you meet; this is your new partner. (8)
B2: Promenade this new partner.

Sicilian Vowel Dance – In NEDM’s Sashay the Donut collection
We used ‘Golden Keyboard’ (actually, the piano only comes in at the end of the cut) from NEDM’s ‘Any Jig or Reel’ CD for this. Do this with 5th or 6th graders who have a fair amount of dance experience, and who have already learned the grand right and left (‘Lucky Seven’ from our Chimes of Dunkirk collection is a good teaching dance for the Grand Right and Left figure). You should have at least 20 dancers (five groups of four) to do this dance; 24 or more is even better.  It can work at a community dance if you have all the younger children dance with an adult or older experienced child partner. The main teaching point is, once folks are in the formation of couple facing couple (Sicilian circle formation), having everyone point to the left.  Those pointing to the inside of the circle say “I go inside first.” Those pointing to the outside say, “I go outside first.” That is the direction they start going  when they do the big, no hands, stay-with-partner grand right and left.

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)