Gerald Haigh mugs up on the chug with an eclectic dance pack
Children love country dances. Thirty-five years ago, when I taught in a Birmingham primary school, city-wide gatherings of children would came together to perform, for thousands of parents, the country dances and Maypole dances they had learned in school.
Now, after a long period of partial eclipse, traditional dancing is coming back, driven as much as anything by the dance requirements of the PE national curriculum. And to support those teachers who want to explore British and some other dances, comes a comprehensive distance learning pack from the guardians of the heritage, the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
The pack - an 84-page manual and three cassette tapes - has been made possible by the support of the English Sports Council. It is an excellent resource. Author Diana Jewitt, training manager of the society, shows deep understanding of the way children learn and of their potential difficulties.
She carefully avoids, for example, forcing children to distinguish quickly between left and right, (after all, some adults in ballroom dancing classes have to label their shoes) and she has a host of suggestions about the language of instruction and the rhythm of speech. She has in mind, too, children with special needs. All of this clearly comes from an unrivalled wealth of study and teaching experience.
The 20 dances include some I remember from school - "The Dashing White Sergeant", and "Sir Roger de Coverley". And the pack includes such dances as "Aunt Hessie" from South Africa and "The Chug", a fairly modern dance from the United States that some of us know as "Yes Sir, That's My Baby".
The diagrams are clear, and supported by lucid instructions and photos. The music is excellently played by Pandemonium, who give a modern cutting edge to the sound. Ms Jewitt acts as caller, and provides instructions.
The book has, as well as dance instructions, several pages about the music, with single line scores provided. It also contains tips for making music with home-made instruments.
At the end, and looking a little like an afterthought, is a short section on western line dancing. Frankly, it would be impossible to learn line dancing from these instructions, and any teacher who wants to do it will in any case find plenty of local contacts. (Ask any class: "Whose parents go line dancing?" and count the hands).
Finally, be warned the resource is just what it says it is - a distance learning pack. You cannot pick it up just before school and use it for teaching later that day. The teacher must study it, learn the dances, and become confident. Perhaps the best way to use it would be to gather a group of interested teachers and tackle it together. Chances are that one teacher will dimly recall some of the basic steps. This could be enormous fun, and a stress-busting way to end a primary school day.
The society will, within the next month or two, produce a video to support the pack. The price is not yet fixed, but the society will answer enquiries when it has details.
Diana Jewitt runs workshops for groups of teachers and teacher training institutions, at a fee that covers expenses. Details and the pack are available from her at The English Folk and Dance Society, Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, London NW1 7AY. Tel: 0171 485 2206