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Folk Dance Studies

Folk Dance Studies

27 March 2014

How to introduce this flexible style of National Dance in your school

Following on from the last issue, we are encouraging teachers to introduce National Dance into their schools by using the Folk Dance Studies. They are ideal for mixed classes, mixed abilities and all age ranges from children to adults. They can be taken at schools, Folk Dance clubs, dance studios, adult classes or any similar group and are very reasonably priced.

The structure of the awards is as follows:

• Bronze: Country 1; Country 2; Country 3
• Silver: Country 1; Country 2; Country 3; Country 4
• Gold: Country 1; Country 2; Country 3; Country 4; Country 5
• Gold Star Level 1: Country 1; Country 2; Country 3; Country 4; Country 5; Country 6
• Gold Star Level 2: Country 1; Country 2; Country 3; Country 4; Country 5; Country 6
• Gold Star Level 3: Country 1; Country 2; Country 3; Country 4; Country 5; Country 6

In each level of the Awards the different countries are known as units and each unit is one assessment test.

The assessment tests are entered in groups of 6 or 8 and last 20 minutes. The teacher decides the country to be presented and chooses the dances suitable for the ability of the candidates. There is no set syllabus. If desired, dances may be taken from any part of the Graded or Vocational Syllabi, or traditional dances from any other source can be used.

The total dancing time should be between 8 and 10 minutes. The number of dances chosen may vary depending on the length of each dance. Three or four traditional dances are usually seen. The music is pre-recorded and the music operator should not be the teacher. The teacher is not present during the assessment.

The countries chosen for each unit must be different. A country studied in Bronze should not be repeated for Silver, Gold or Gold Star.

At each level one non-European country may be presented but the other units must be from Europe.

Each dancer presents a project to the assessor. These can include dressed dolls, collages, pieces of embroidery, illustrated maps, drawings, cookery or folk artefacts such as painted eggs, corn dollies etc. If the candidate is interested in music, they can play a folk melody on a traditional instrument or piano. A folk song can be sung individually or as a group. The projects can also be a group display created by the children, based on the country studied.

In the first unit of Bronze, each candidate receives from the ISTD their own personal booklet in which to record the countries danced and the projects made. These should be taken in to the assessor on the day of the test.

After each unit, the candidate receives a certificate, which is then affixed in the booklet. On completion of the required number of countries (or units), each candidate will receive their award.

All candidates must commence at Bronze level.

An example of a unit:

• Country: England
• Dances: Pat-a-Cake Polka; Virginia Reel; Circassian Circle
• Project: A project based on some aspect of England eg traditional customs

The Folk Dance studies have proved very successful, especially in busy schools that may not have time on their packed timetables for National classes. Many teachers have used them for special summer schools; one of the most successful is run by Mrs Helen Gray and her daughter Hilary. She has kindly sent us the following write up and photos.

National Dance Summer School for Children

My National Dance Summer Schools have been running for 20 years and are the highlight of the school year. There are always lots of Ballet/Musical Theatre summer schools around but I wanted something different to offer and saw it as an opportunity to involve my lifelong passion for Folk Dance. I wanted the summer school to have something for everyone – not just the dancer, but also those who love doing art, crafts, drama, music, cooking by tying them all together with an experience and understanding of a European country. My daughter, Hilary, who began as a student at summer school, went on to become a qualified National teacher; her skills and talents – artist, designer, dancer and accordion player – have, without doubt, made every summer school so wonderful.

Each summer school consists of three or four age groups and I choose a country with dances suitable for each one; from there I create a week of activity, comprising a workbook, folk tales, folk songs, recipes to cook and games and puzzles to do. The children make something to take home – a traditional item, a planted bulb or flower or a Christmas tree ornament. The older classes create a play from one of the folk tales and this is always one of the most exciting events of the week! All age groups will sing a song in the language of the country and often accompany themselves on their own instruments. The favourite and most eagerly anticipated activity for all groups is the cooking.

Amongst all this flurry of activity, all groups also prepare at least three Folk dances for the Folk Dance study exam, which takes place on the last day of the week, so it is a very busy week. I source these dances through my own National research, from travel, courses and Folk festivals.

The ISTD’s Folk Dance study programme was perfect for this. We worked out that it was possible to achieve Gold Medal through 12 years of summer school, and many of my students have done this, studying 12 European countries in depth along the way. Unlike the National grades, Folk Dance Studies are taken in larger numbers, which gives the dancers the opportunity to appreciate the wonderful patterns that folk dances create, and experience the joy of the group flowing and moving as one. The ‘Yellow Book’ that we provide is a precious record of a young person’s development, from baby back-to-front letters to fluent prose over the years, and is a very much prized possession. I love reading these each year. The Yellow Book is so precious because it cannot be replaced and one parent said to me that if the house caught fire the one thing she would rush to save would be the Yellow Book!

In the beginning my workbooks were all drawn, traced, photocopied and assembled by hand. Thanks to my wonderful graphic designer daughter we now have all the workbooks beautifully published on computer – one click of a mouse and the full work book arrives in seconds. Hilary and I have written the books ourselves and are proud of our collection. The children look forward to their workbooks and ask to take them home in the week to do more work in the evenings! They vary in level, from very simple for young children, to challenging and advanced for the older students. They cover every aspect of a European country – history, geography, customs, traditions, costumes, music, a couple of recipes and some fabulous word searches, puzzles and games created by Hilary. Each book finishes in the same way, with a pair of dress-up dolls to cut out, and a selection of traditional costumes to be coloured and fitted onto them.

Summer school is totally inclusive – the joy of Folk Dance is that it enables groups of people to dance together, each supporting the other, and previous dance experience is not always essential. This means that ages can be put together rather than ‘grades’, and friends and relations can be invited to come, which often happens – last year we had two cousins from South Africa join us for the week. We also have visitors from other schools, who can attend with their teacher’s permission, and many long lasting friendships have developed this way.

Although every summer school is a joy, the highlight for me had to be in 1999, when Margaret Dixon-Phillip and Robert Harrold attended to conduct the exams and to present me with the ISTD’s Haxell Cup for my services to National Dance – an unforgettable day.

Helen Gray 

Photo (above): Spanish Dance

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