Carrying on the Tradition

“Tomorrow shall be my dancing day.”

On days when we get to dance, this traditional carol plays in my head, and I feel happy deep inside. This was definitely a dancing weekend. Friday night was our regular contra dance, with one of my favorite bands, River Ridge String Band, and out-of-town callers from Cape Girardeau, John and Kathy Coffman, who called some interesting dances that John had written. They are also beekeepers, so several of the dances had bee themes. We had a good crowd of people, including several newcomers, which is always fun. They seemed to enjoy themselves. After the dance, about a dozen people went to Flatbranch Brewery for socializing.

Saturday night Jim drove north of town to Centralia with a couple members of the Nine Mile Band (another favorite) to play for a community dance at a church. I stayed home and fooled around the house.

Sunday we both attended a children’s dance at Lee Expressive Arts School, which I enjoyed a great deal, partly because it brought back such good memories of when my older son went to school there in first and second grade. In fact, his second-grade teacher was at the school yesterday and asked about him. It is a strange thought that the little boy I can picture so clearly walking beside me on the way to and from school, talking to me about what happened in class that day, getting angry about some injustice on the playground, is now a captain in the Army.

Photo of children's traditional circle dance.

Traditional Circle Dance at Lee School

The school was not a magnet school back then, but it did have a large number of international students. Since the school was in the University district, most families did not have much money, but they did value education and had great ambition for themselves and their children. Many of the parents were studying engineering or medicine at the time and would some day make a lot of money, but in those days, their children were on reduced-price lunches.

Now that the school is dedicated to expressive arts, the halls are filled with amazing works of art. As you walk in the school, there are two large trees made of paper, and near the entrance is a display of amazing storyteller dolls that the children made out of clay and painted.

photo of clay storyteller dolls made by schoolchildren

Storyteller Dolls Created by Students at Lee School

One of the kindergarten teachers started hosting the dances a couple years ago. Since then the physical education teacher has also gotten interested in traditional dance and has taught a few dances to the children during regular PE classes. The dances are usually held three or four times during the school year, on Sunday afternoons and are open to the public. This was the second dance this year, and the dances were geared toward second and third graders this time, though other ages were welcome.

Our friend Krishna, who is just learning to call dances, did a great job selecting the dances and then teaching them to the children and calling them as they danced. Originally she had asked Jim to be her back-up caller, in case she didn’t feel comfortable calling for the whole dance (from 2:00 to 3:30), but she did fine. That left Jim free to play banjo on stage with the band.

Krishna started out with a dance that I thought would be too hard for the children—the Patty-Cake Polka—but they caught on right away. She called about six dances altogether, including some circle formations and some longways sets. One of the longways sets was called The Grumpy March, which was very cute. The children start out standing across from each other in longways sets. Then the caller has them grump across to the other side of the set, as though they are mad at their partners and just had a fight. Then when they get to the other side of the set, they march away from each other, some going up the hall and some going down the hall. Then they turn and come skipping back along the lines, until they see their partners, and do a two-hand swing, smiling and happy to see each other again. Then the dance starts over with grumping across to the other side.

All the dances were a big success, and the children and their teachers and parents had a great time. Krishna also called one play-party game, Can’t Jump Josie, during which the band did not play; she thought it would be good for the children to have a dance that they could do on their own, with just their voices for music, when they get home with their friends.

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than making music and singing and dancing with children.

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