Community dancing is such a wonderful activity for all ages! I have seen the question pop up in many homeschool groups about suggestions for resources to teach folk dances so I want to share some of my favorites from teaching music and dance to elementary students in public school and our homeschool groups! If you have the opportunity to find a group already in place to attend and learn dances and observe how they teach you will have a better understanding of how to approach this in a group setting! You may feel like at the beginning like you are herding a bunch of cats but that's ok!!! Practice and consistency will improve the process!
First, I want to just say how blessed I am that I have been fortunate to have training under the most talented folk dance and movement specialists. I feel like my education and experience has been in the "golden" age through first hand workshops by the following professionals.
New England Dancing Masters - these are my first suggestion to anyone wanting to purchase folk dance material. Peter and Mary Alice Amidon are the real deal! All the dances embedded in this post can be found in their resources at their store linked here.
Phyllis Weikart - The work that the late Mrs. Weikart for teaching dances from all over the world is unparalleled! I found a free resource on archive.org to reference! Her "Teaching Movement and Dance" volumes are available in many music education specialty stores online.
Sonna Longden - I love Sonna's beautiful soul and feel so fortunate to have attended her sessions in music conferences where she and her husband shared their passion for world folk-dances! You can view her publications on her website!
Ann Green Gilbert - I have not had official training with the Creative Dance Center, but my certification in Orff-Schulwerk has allowed me to train under teachers that have been trained by Gilbert's association! Although it is not specifically "folk dance" I think the work that they have done in education and research ought to be mentioned!
No matter what age you're starting with, make sure you teach the terminology for the movements you will use! If you are starting out brand new, here's where I would start:
PARTNER - choose a partner! There are games you could do to make this fun and set a standard for choosing partners (mainly so no one feels left out!) I always say we should use our manners when asking (consider other's feelings, don't turn your back on someone that is moving toward you, smile and use eye contact!) Another way to choose partners that I learned from Peter Amidon will allow you to refrain from the boy/girl issues that can come up in dances! Give everyone a name of either "mountain" or "valley!" Have the mountains make a circle and face out. Then, all the valleys will come and stand in front of a mountain! Voila! You have your partner!
CIRCLE or SET - folk dances will either be in a circle formation or a set formation (usually.....we won't start with square dances - which are just small circles anyway!) I like to start my young kids on circle games but when teaching actual folk dances, I usually start with the set formation. To make a set formation, the partners will face each other in a line. Depending on the song you might have to have 4-8 groups of partners. In the set formation you will also have a TOP and a BOTTOM. The top of the set is the couple that is at the end of the line, usually they are the closest to the music! The bottom of the set is the end of the line.
MOVEMENTS - Clockwise, counterclockwise, forward, back, left, right, etc. are all important to know! When teaching folk dance make sure the kids understand how they should move and in which direction! Another important movement terminology I like to use in my classrooms is "locomotor" or "non-locomotor" This means the students will need to know if they have to move their feet or stand still! We play a lot of movement games that focus on the exploration of the body and movement through Braindance by Anne Green Gilbert.
In addition to the basic movements mentioned above, each dance you teach may have other terms like "cast-off" or "do-si-do!" It's important to teach these terms as you teach the dance so the students will be able to hear and follow the "calls!" (CALLS - the movements that the leader will call out to prepare the dancers for the next section of the dance.)
To start with kids, I love Bobolinka because you can actually make up words to teach terminology within the song. The calls in this recording have "forward and back" "two hands around/two hand turn" "up and down" "make an alley" "through the alley" and "move on up to start again!" What this teaches is how to keep the formation in a set and that every time the top partners go through the alley to the bottom of the set, everyone needs to take one step up toward the top to start the dance again!!! You can do this dance with as many people as you want! (New England Dancing Masters)
This is the first "cast off" dance I teach to kids. We love to call the cast off the "peel the banana" move! The other calls in this dance to teach the kids are "sashay" (top couple moves up the set and down the set holding both hands), "elbow swing" (the alternate left and right) and they have already learned how to go under the "alley" or "bridge" and they also practice moving up one couple to the top of the set in order to repeat the dance. (New England Dancing Masters)
NOBLE DUKE OF YORK
Similar to Alabama Gal, the Noble Duke of York has the sashay, cast off, but it is now introducing the "Do-si-do" which is a turn around your partner while still facing the same direction. (New England Dancing Masters)
This is an easy circle dance to start with for students to practice moving in one formation clockwise and counterclockwise!(New England Dancing Masters)
OLD BRASS WAGON
This is a great dance to practice moving from partner formation to large circle formation! (New England Dancing Masters)
This isn't in any formation, but a super fun mixer dance to practice choosing partners! It's always a favorite when the kids get to have a "request" day and choose their favorite dances! (New England Dancing Masters)
CHIMES OF DUNKIRK
The beginning dances had singing to go along to help with the form and now students can listen to the cues in the music for each section of movements. The new term to teach is "one hand turn."(New England Dancing Masters)
This is such a fun dance and kids will be familiar with the form after the Noble Duke of York but you will need to teach them how to do the elbow swing through the set!(New England Dancing Masters)
SWEETS OF MAY
This dance has each line of the set taking turns circling around and back before the top couple casts off to form the arch.(New England Dancing Masters)
CIRCLE WALTZ MIXER
Peter Amidon wrote an article here with tips to teach the Circle Waltz Mixer. This is a great change from the set formation in the previous dances! (New England Dancing Masters)
SASHAY THE DONUT
I put this one last because it will need the most practice and possibly even an area where you can have a circle marked off on the floor!(New England Dancing Masters)
If you have a favorite folk dance post it in the comments for us to enjoy! Fjaskern, Little Shoemaker, Waves of Tory, and 7 Jumps are also some great dances to look up if you need more ideas! If you don't have a group, get one together and practice teaching these dances! Take it step by step with the kids and model, model, model! When I introduced a new dance to my students, I would model with my partner first, and then have the kids practice. We NEVER added the music until we could go through the entire form of the dance by counting beats, singing along with the calls, etc.