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Dance in Celebration of Life!
Marion Gorman, 10/25/2010

Editor's Note from Susan: I was delighted to receive this fun article about encouraging families to enjoy folk dancing (and improvised dancing!). Some of you may know that my husband Howard is an old-time fiddler and square dance caller, and we've been calling square dances for homeschoolers for many years. We just recently led a delightful evening of square dancing for a large choir of homeschool students in Lancaster County, while we're on our current testing trip. And just a couple weeks ago we called a square dance in a homeschooling family's dairy barn in western PA, with at least 6 squares going. The enthusiasm of these groups is always such fun to see-- kids of all ages jumping in, parents taking part, teens enjoying wholesome socializing, and more. I've also been delighted to see a growing number of homeschoolers taking part in 4H square dancing contests, often taking part at the annual Farm Show held in Harrisburg. Enjoy Marion's to integrating dance into your family's life-- and know that this is definitely a great form of *exercise* for all ages, too, besides being a wonderful way to celebrate special life events.

            Gather a group of children, turn on selected music, and observe the reaction. We are created to respond to music. Dance is simply a structured way of using a natural reaction as a means of expression. What an enjoyable way to communicate! Folk dancing is a way to celebrate, express ourselves, learn of our heritage, exercise, and have fun.

Dance in Biblical Times

From the beginning of time, dance was recorded in the Bible. Psalms 149:3 says, “Let them praise His name with the dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:4 allots, “a time to mourn and a time to dance.” When the Prodigal Son returned home, the celebration included dancing. Dance was part of the formal Christian service and liturgy until the 12th century A.D., when theologians felt it was too distracting and worldly.

Origins and Purpose

The origins of these timeless folk dances are mostly unknown.  They have been passed down through the generations. The full spectrum of human emotion and experience has been celebrated with dance. While some are dances of joyous celebration, others are somber. Jointly, they give a cultural profile of the people, their history, and national life. The tempo, costume, and performance are as varied and unique as the people who dance them.  Ethnic dances remain the same and transfer the culture of a people to the present and future generations. Folk dances are ethnic in origin, but undergo change and are used more socially.

Physical Education

            In the first half of the 20th century, folk dancing became part of the school curriculum as educators recognized its value.  Dance contributes to learning motor skills, and improving strength, agility, balance and coordination. Similar to sports teams, members learn to co-operate with others, accept responsibility for their part in a group situation, and learn a code of social behavior.

Historical Value 

            Folk dancing is a wonderful way to learn the history, traditions, way of life, and legends of other countries against the backdrop of costumes, art, music, and language. Our generation often has more than one ethnic family background, which provides an opportunity to expand the cultural experience. Christians can celebrate their spiritual heritage through the dances and festivals of the Jewish people.

Family Project

            People dance alone or together. There are dances for couples or any number of larger groups of people. For this reason, the family is a great place to introduce simple  dances. Together the family can explore the countries of their heritage. Performances by professional dance groups and museums tracing the history of dance make wonderful family outings.


Text books found in the library provide simple folk dances from all around the world, complete with music and instructions. The Internet can supply information on American folk dances for larger groups that include square dancing, the Hokey Pokey, the Bunny Hop and line dancing. One site used the Hokey Pokey to teach shapes, colors, and numbers. Professional groups can be found in the research section of the library.

Create your own

            The opportunity to be creative lends itself well in the folk dancing arena. Using the basic instructions and dance steps, an original dance can tell a story or entertain.  If the song has words, it can be acted out. 

I enjoyed creating a simple dance. Our family gathers to celebrate life so I started with the simple, familiar “Happy Birthday Song.”  Consider the available space when creating the steps to your dance. These simple dances can expand to family gatherings for entertainment or develop into programs for the enjoyment and education of others.

The How-to Basics

            The basic dance steps are familiar moves from our everyday experience and are as follows:

  • Walk (putting weight on the toe first)
  • Run (the same as walk with a faster tempo; feet will both be off the floor for an instant)
  • Leap a distance or in place (greater lift than a walk)
  • Jump (bending the knees; toes are last to leave and first to land on floor)
  • Hop (springing on one foot and landing on the same foot. If you change feet, step between)
  • Skip (first with step, hop with right foot, then step, hop with left foot  
  • Slide (a gliding step followed by a quick closing step)
  • Gallop (similar to slide but more vigorous, with knees lifted high)

Have fun learning the steps by playing “Follow the Leader.” Experience confirms the importance of mastering the words, music, and rhythm of the song before adding steps. Keep the activity simple by clapping to the natural rhythm of the song. In most dances, a single step is made to each musical beat (clap of the hands.) At first, clapping to the rhythm while adding steps is helpful. After learning the steps, add different hand motions, or engage others in the group by holding hands or separating into partners.

Folk dancing can be enjoyed by every age and used to communicate on all levels. Begin simple and learn about the many paths your family can follow in celebration with dance.


The symbol for the steps will be the first in the parenthesis .

Hop-ho, Slide-sl, Jump-ju, Walk-wa

The symbol for which foot to use will be the second in the parenthesis.

Right-R, Left-L, Both-B

The symbol for the direction to go will be the third in the parenthesis.

Right®, Left ¬, Forward ­, Backward ¯, In place X, Circle O

    (ho-R-X)      (sl-L-?) (sl-R-?)  (sl-R-?)  ( sl-L-?)

Hap       - py        Birth      - day          to           you

    (ho-L-X)       (sl-R-®) (sl-L-®) (sl-R-®) (sl-L-®)

 Hap      - py        Birth     - day           to           you

     (sl-R-?)        (sl-L-?)  (sl-R ¯) (sl-L ¯)   (ju-B-X)  (ju-B-X)

 Hap     - py        Birth    - day    God            Bless       you

     (wa-R-O)      (wa-L-O) (wa-R-O) (wa-L-O) (Bow and point)

 Hap       - py        Birth        - day        t   o                you

Bring feet together, bow slightly and point to Birthday person


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