Virginia VMEA Post Conference Notes


Virginia MEA Conference Plan • Thursday, Friday, November 21, 22, 2013

Hot Springs, Virginia – Peter & Mary Cay

Many thanks to West Music for sponsoring these workshops, and to Melissa Blum for organizing and handling all the logistics of our trip.

In addition to their work as dance leaders and publishers, Mary Cay Brass and Peter Amidon are also deeply involved in choral music.  They are the music directors of “Hallowell”, southern Vermont’s a cappella SATB hospice choir.  Mary Cay leads two large community choruses, and is the collector and publisher of Balkan Bridgesa collection of traditional village songs from the former Yugoslavia that are great for young singers.  Peter is publishing two collections of his and Mary Alice Amidon’s SATB choral arrangements and compositions, Fifty-five Anthems for the Small Church Choir“, and Twenty-five Anthems for Interfaith and Community Choirsin December and January respectively.

Here are notes on the dances and singing games we did in our three workshops over the last two days:


          *            *            *



Never Fail Dances and Singing Games for Children

Thursday, November 21,


Circassian Circle

In NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” and “Listen to the Mockingbird” collection.   You can use any jig or reel for this; Peter used “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.

 Old Brass Wagon

In NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” and “Down in the Valley” collections. This can be an a cappella singing game, or, with the CD (or live music) a great early dance to instrumental music.  Once the students are familiar with all the figures, you can say: “Now just do whatever Mary Alice says,” and put on the CD.

Chimes of Dunkirk

In NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” and “Chimes of Dunkirk”. Use the “Chimes” music on the CD. A perfect early longways set dance for young children.  This is great for a community dance; have children dance with their parents.  Note that the “Chimes” cut on the 2010 revision of the “Chimes” collection has a little extra music at the end of each time through to give the dancers more time to sashay down the middle, move up one place, and prepare for the next time through the dance.

 Alabama Gal

In NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” and “Chimes of Dunkirk”. Teach this as an a cappella singing game before trying with the CD which, as you found out,  goes pretty fast.  Children are wild about this dance/singing game!


In NEDM’s “Alabama Gal” and “Sashay the Donut”. A great dance for all ages! We are not sure of the origins of this dance: one source suggested it was a novelty dance based on a Russian pop song from the 60’s.  ‘Ras, dva, tri’ is Russian for ‘ready, set, go!’

 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 “Alabama Gal” and “Sashay the Donut”.  We used the “On the Danforth” cut that is on both the “Alabama Gal” CD and NEDM’s “Other Side of the Tracks” CD.  There is another “On the Danforth” cut, same tune but with a slightly different feel than this one.  You might also use “Slow G” from the “Sashay the Donut”  CD for this dance.

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).

            *            *            *



Thursday, November 21,

8:00 -9:00 pm

Blaydon Races

In NEDM’s “Chimes of Dunkirk”.  We used “Blaydon Races” from the 2010 “Chimes” CD (which is not on the original CD), but you can do this dance to any jig medley.

Le Brandy

In NEDM’s “Listen to the Mockingbird”.  We used “Quebeqois Reels” from “Sashay the Donut” CD.  This is a wonderfully playful traditional French Canadian dance that we do with 3rd grade and up.

 Sicilian vowel

In NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut”.  We used “Golden Keyboard” from NEDM’s “Any Jig or Reel” CD. 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.

Sashay the Donut

In NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut”.  We used the “Irish Jig Medley”. We had groups of 7-8 couples in a circle.  You can also do this with larger groups, just let the cascading sashay go across the phrasing of the music and pick up the beginning of the sequence at the nearest 8 or 16 beat phrase.

 Larry’s Mixer

In NEDM’s “Listen to the Mockingbird” collection.  We used “Cheris” from NEDM’s “Other Side of the Tracks” CD which is the band “Assembly”, a quartet that includes  Peter and Mary Alice Amidon’s 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 Reel” CD.  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.

         *            *            *



Singing Games, Action Songs, and Fingerplays for Young Children

Friday November 22,

10:30 -11:30 am


The Sun Is In My Heart in the handout

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”. We find this to be calming and comforting both for us and the children.  We like to do it regular, miniature, big, and silent.

A Little Seed in the handout

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”. We love “the little wait…” in this fingerplay/song.  Your harmonies were absolutely delicious.

Five Little Bunnies

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”. One of our all-time-favorite finger plays.

 Sleeping Bunnies

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  YOU might get tired of doing this, but your preschool children will ask for it every week.  Mary Cay introduced this with a story.

 Standing Like a Tree

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  Another calming, centering singing game.

Form the Corn

In NEDM”s “I’m Growing Up”.  We call this “scatter formation” where you can do the dance, without partners, standing anywhere in the room.  It is a great singing game to do on the spot between other activities.

Strolling in the Park

In NEDM’s “I’m Growin Up”.  Mary Cay did strolling, flying, swimming, crawling, sleeping and finally strolling again.

Come Along Everybody

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  Mary Cay introduced this by doing the cumulative motions of the dance without the music.

Sally Go Round the Sun

In NEDM’s “Jump Jim Joe”. Peter started teaching this by having everyone say “Whoop!” while jumping and “Sally” when landing.

Sally Go Round the Sunshine

In NEDM’s “Jump Jim Joe”.  The African-American version of the above English children’s singing game.  We use it as a way to help students learn how to move when dancing: a regular walking step but with a little swing to it.

Kindergarten Reel

In NEDM’s “Listen to the Mockingbird”.  This is a wonderful first longways dance for young children.  You might first have them do “Bobolinka” (in NEDM’s “Jump Jim Joe”).  We have never put the cut we used on any of our CDs, so we are making it

      available to you here
.  If you have a problem downloading the mp3 send me an email –  – and I will email you the mp3 directly.

I Have Ten Little Fingers

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  Try this at Halloween.

My Poor Hand is Shaking

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  This singing game reminds me of how my brother’s knee would always bounce up and down when we were kids in church with our parents.

Here We Go Riding Our Ponies

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”. Children practice handshakes and eye contact in this instantly engaging singing game.

Tree Song

In NEDM’s “Down in the Valley”. Peter introduced this with a story.  You can do this a cappella or with the recording.

  Shake Them Simmons Down

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  A wonderfully simple first circle partner dance for young children.  Another similar simple circle game is “Old Brass Wagon” in NEDM’s “Down in the Valley” (which we did in Thursday’s “Alabama Gal” workshop).

Knees Up Mother Brown

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up”.  Mary Cay did this to the music on the CD, and finished by leading everyone in a parade.

I’m Growing Up

In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” and on the Amidon’s CD and accompanying book of children’s songs: “Song in My Heart”.  Mary Alice wrote this song to go along with a kindergarten class’s theme of the different stages of life.  She made up the motions which you are welcome to use, or work with your students to make up your own.  We know of a school that used this as a Kindergarten graduation song.

          *            *            *

We wish you the best in your dancing and singing with your students.

Peter Amidon;

Mary Cay Brass;