Mid Atlantic Chapter – AOSA

St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School Washington, DC

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mary Alice and I had a wonderful time with you last Saturday, and we were very impressed at the range of ages, the high level of participation, and with your positive and enthusiastic spirits. The greater DC area schools are lucky to have such a dynamic group of music teachers!

Many thanks to Laura Petersen, who did a marvelous job setting this up and communicating with us before the workshop, and taking care of us during the workshop. Also thanks to treasurer John Barnes and the many other folks who worked hard to make this workshop possible.

Your homework is to go dancing.

Here are some of the websites with information on the many community and contra dances around the DC area:

Glen Echo Park’s Friday and Sunday dances are fantastic; well attended with great callers and great music. Beginners are always welcome. (Of course you are beyond beginners.)

Glen Echo Friday night contra dances http://fridaynightdance.org/

Here are two websites on traditional dances around the DC area

Below are announcements, followed by notes on our sessions.

Or, jump straight to the session notes.


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(or “Everything we know”)

We do this every summer. We will be setting the dates for next summer soon; it will be Mon – Fri either July 2-6 or July 9-13, 2011.

Hartt Summerterm, West Hartford, CT

General info: http://harttweb2.hartford.edu/summer.php

The foundation of this class is the wealth of songs, dances, singing games, and folktales that spring from the Anglo American/African American oral traditions. Each participant will write a song and tell a folktale.

Contact: Dee Hansen * 860-768-4128 * dehansen@hartford.edu

Upcoming Harmony/Choral Singing workshops, weekends and camps with the Amidons:

THIS Friday – Sunday, September 16 – 18, 2011

Star Island Choral Singing Weekend


Peter and Mary Alice Amidon are joined by Mary Cay Brass – http://marycaybrass.com/ who is not only one of our New England Dancing Masters colleagues, but one of the best and most popular choral singing leaders in southern Vermont. All this on one of the most beautiful spots on this earth, an island retreat an hours boatride off of the coast of New Hampshire.

Contact: Peter Amidon – amidonpeter@gmail.com; 802-257-1006


Blaydon Races (p. 10 in handout)

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.

My Heart is Ready (p. 11 in handout)

This is our favorite new instant singalong for group harmony singing. Mary Alice and I are longtime fans of Cindy Kallet’s singing. You can hear her singing this on her CD “Heart Walk” http://www.cindykallet.com/music/1568 You can hear a recording of the Amidon arrangement by going to our website www.amidonmusic.com, clicking on the “Listen” tab will take you to our Listening page. Double click on “SATB Secular” and scroll down to find “My Heart is Ready”.

Tree Song (p. 3 in handout)

in NEDM’s Down in the Valley collection I introduced this with a story that I made up. Elements of the story came from this singing game, the singing game ‘Roger is Dead’ (NEDM’s Down in the Valley) and the traditional song ‘Chiney Doll’ (on our ‘Song in My Heart’ CD). Lorraine Hammond, who composed this wonderful singing game, is a songwriter and musician, and one of the best known Appalachian dulcimer players in the country. She is in the greater Boston area. The piano arrangement on the CD is Peter’s and is available as a children’s choir piece for young singers. We find this to be a calming, centering dance, both for the children and for ourselves.

Going to Alberta (p. 2 in handout)

In NEDM’s Sashay the Donut collection This is a GREAT way to teach the ballroom position (used for the waltz, the polka, and for a contra dance swing) at the same time as a simple polka step. We have found this to be a great dance for little kids, big kids mixed ages, community dance, in short, for anyone. You can do it as an a cappella singing game, or accompany it with piano, guitar, accordion, or Orff instruments, or do it to the music on the Sashay the Donut CD.

Dance Teaching Tips

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; posture; teach the forward separately from the back in the forward and back; shake partner’s hand, hang on, take partner’s left hand for teaching promenade; while promenading: inside person is the moon/peanut butter/gent, outside is the star/jelly/lady; four steps of making a circle from a promenade: “Hang on to partner stop walking, hang on to partner face the center, drop hands, take hands.”; 9 ways of keeping the circle big and round on circle left and right; dosido (gents start on inside, ladies start going outside) flowing into two hand turn flowing into promenade; when music starts clapping the first of each 8 beats; doing the dance with your hands; “thick” calling, then “thin” calling then no calling; saying the call right before the ‘clap’ or before the first beat of the phrase and figure.

La Bastringue (not in your notes)

In NEDM’s “Chimes of Dunkirk“. For music you can use “La Bastringue” from “Chimes of Dunkirk” or any reel.

Forward and back (8)
Forward and back (8)
Circle left (8)
Circle right (8)
Dosido partner (8)
Two hand turn partner (8)
promenade partner.
From the Seed in the Ground (p. 6 in your handout)


Owl & the Pussycat (p. 7 in the handout)

I introduced this with a story; a great way to engage children in a song.

Singing games for young children

These will all be in the upcoming New England Dancing Masters collection “I’m Growing Up – Singing Games & Movement Activities for Young Children – Book/CD/DVD. (Probably winter 2012 release).

Shake Them Simmons Down (p. 4 in handout)
Sing a Song of Sixpence (not in handout)

Mary Alice made up motions to this, having children go into the center and act out the parts of the nursery rhyme.

Knees Up Mother Brown (p. 5 in the handout)
Strolling in the Park One Day (note in handout)


Sleeping Bunnies (not in handout


This is a wildly popular game with kindergarten children.

Children, randomly scattered, are lying “asleep” on the floor. At “Are they ill” all answer (in their little bunny voices) “No.”

At “Hop little bunnies” all stand up and hop around. Immediately at end of song all fall asleep on the floor again.

Repeat ad infinitum.

Lucky Seven (p. 10 in handout)

In NEDM’s Chimes of Dunkirk collection We used ‘Golden Keyboard’ from NEDM’s ‘Any Jig or Reel‘ CD.

The grand right & left exercises: First all promenade to determine inside/outside gent/lady or moon/star roles. Then all face partner. Ladies crouch while men weave around circle, starting on the inside. Then Men crouch and assist ladies as they weave around: right hand for outside, left hand assist for inside. Then all stand and face center and do a stationary grand right and left just with the arms, counting up to seven. Repeat that, but this time stepping in place (two steps per arm reach). Then face partner and ‘repeat after me’ some of the rules: ‘I will not turn around, I will not go back…’ etc. Tell them that it always takes seven times to get it right, and make sure, when it doesn’t go right, that they all go back to where they started from (rather than trying to fix it in the middle of the grand right and left figure).

Level one: Wait 8 beats on 2nd half of A2 music.
Level two: dosido partner on 2nd half of A2 music.

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.

Then I have a volunteer Queen ask a King, and when they are finished I have a volunteer King ask a Queen, and they get in place in the line beside the first King & Queen. Then all ask. This can be wonderful, and the children who succeed in doing this can be quite proud of themselves.

Kings and Queens (p. 9 in handout)

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 country dance (e.g. dances done in Jane Austen’s time).

Highland Gates

in NEDM’s Down in the Valley collection This is a great dance for opening a community dance. Folks can join in the dancing as they straggle in.

Old Bald Eagle Square (p. 4 in handout)

In NEDM’s Sashay the Donut collection Andy Davis’s brilliant version of ‘Old Bald Eagle’ is the simplest square we know: a great first square dance for young children. Try it with the Sashay the Donut CD to Andy’s calls.


In NEDM’s Chimes of Dunkirk collection We always do this to the specific tune ‘Galopede’ which is on the Chimes of Dunkirk companion CD. We often end a community dance with this dance. The 2nd version of ‘Galopede’ on the 2010 revision of the ‘Chimes of Dunkirk’ CD has an extra C music at the end for the ‘eggbeater’ figure where, after the top couple sashays to the bottom the last time through the dance, each successive couple sashays down the middle, while the outside couples continue moving up towards the top of the set. Sometimes we practice this final figure ahead of time, sometimes we don’t.


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

and figures you do just with your partner (or neighbor)

Right hand turn

and some that are a bit of both like


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, “Jump!”.

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.

Grand Rapids Flying Spider Web

Actually, neither of us can remember the wonderful name that we came up with for your dance, but I do remember the dance:

Formation: Circle of couples – Spiders on left and flies on right.

Circle left (8)
Circle right (8)
Forward & Back (8)
Gypsy your partner (8)
Spiders go into the center, clapping on fourth beat,
walk backwards back to place. (8)
Flies go into center, clapping on fourth beat,
walk backwards to place. (8)
Starting with partner with right hand,
Grand right and left. (8)
Promenade the fourth person of the
grand right and left.
From the Seed in the Ground dance

Here is the dance we did that I’d made up to this song:

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.

Sicilian Vowel Dance (p. 8 in handout)

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’ 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 (p. 9 in the handout)

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. In the original dance gents are the “posts” and women are the “twirlers”, but it works perfectly fine in a non-gender community dance with a two hand turn. In order to make sure that this works in a community dance you:

Limit the dance to Kindergarteners and older.

Tell K-3 students that they must dance with an adult or a child who is 4th grade or older.

Start by having everyone promenade, and have the older partner promenade on the inside.

Tell all the inside (left hand) partners they are “posts” and all the outside (right hand) partners they are “twirlers”.

All look at partner and say “goodbye”.

Posts stay in place and keep their feet planted during the “twirl” figure.

Carefully teach the first “twirl” each “Post” 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.

Again, we are grateful for your enthusiastic participation. Good luck in your dancing with your students.


Peter and Mary Alice Amidon