DANCE WORKSHOP. Radio 3. Thursdays 3.40-4.00am. From April 23. Age range: 9-10
Jon O'Connor encourages teachers to join children in learning folk dances.
In times when millennium hype substitutes increasingly for culture, folk dance and music remind us of less cynical days.
Tradition offers some nourishing enrichment to an increasingly dry curriculum diet. The BBC offers two new folk packages which describe the tradition of dance, as part of the PE curriculum, in terms of entitlement and accessibility.
The three Folk Dance television programmes introduce a selection of simple country dances and a bit of Morris dancing. Teachers are advised to watch short chunks of film and then try out the dances with their class. The film and commentary help to introduce seemingly complex dance patterns.
Stomping, cheery music is provided on video and accom-panying audio cassette by John Kirkpatrick's All Stars, who are anything but Posh and Scary.
The Folk Dance package serves as a taster for some of the BBC's other folk dance selections on audio tape. The teacher's notes include basic explanations for non-specialists about the difference between the reel and the jig, for example."A jig is a rumpety-tumpety, bouncy tune. A reel is a smoother tune that pushes you along." So now you know.
Once you get the hang of some simple dances, you might well move on to Dance Workshop. This set of six radio programmes is part of the BBC Steps programme and builds on work from established series such as Let's Move! and Time to Move. Children are encouraged to enjoy creating their own moves together as they pick up a working folk dance vocabulary. The pack includes two cassettes and a particularly good set of teacher's notes.
Many dances have an interesting history which represent a real cross-cultural hotch-potch. The circle dance, for example, is a blend of tradition that takes in Israel, eastern Europe and a few hints of ancient unity rituals and symbolism. There are startling historic allusions within the origins of folk dance music, some refer back to the Holocaust or to the internecine strife of Armenia, for instance.
Musical references that children will recognise more readily include the themes from Third Rock from the Sun, Star Trek and Jungle Book. The line dance, however, is a contradiction in terms - a new tradition. The dances sound like genuine old-timers but are based on moves that goldrush miners never made, strutting stuff that cowboys wouldn't have been seen dead in their boots with.
Yes, I'm afraid the line dance is actually a modern invention using 32 bar repeating patterns with simple variations. Simple? Well, not to me, but the effort to join in certainly invites some good-quality giggles and old-fashioned fun.
The programmes are greatly invigorated by using professional dance studio tutors who have made the move from club scene to school hall. Lots of primary teachers are now rediscovering the perfect social geometry of circle, line and square dances. There's an inherent discipline and structure to the relationship between dancers, music and movement that is irresistible.
You can see playground groovers all over the home counties throwing themselves into the honky-tonk stomp or the cowgirl twist. The thing that puts some of us off is having two left feet - it's tough if the dance teacher can't dance. The only answer is to learn with the children.
'Dance Workshop' teacher's notes pound;3; school radio tapes pound;2 and audio cassettes on English folk dance pound;27.99 and Scottish and Irish traditional dance pound;27.99;'Folk Dance' teacher's notes pound;3; 'Folk Dance' video pack (including video, audio cassette and notes) pound;29.99; audio cassette only, pound;7.50. All available from BBC Educational Publishing, Freepost LS2311, Wetherby, West Yorks LS23 6YY. Tel: 01937 541001