The method I used, which went well with the children, was to divide the lesson into 3 sections most of the time. One part would involve learning a new dance figure, such as siding or figure-8. In another part I would teach an entire new dance, often involving the new figure they had just learned the week before. And in the other portion, we'd do previously learned dances (mostly by request from the children).
Some of the girls had taken ballet lessons. This proved to be more of a problem than an advantage, as I had to put quite a bit of effort into preventing them from substituting ballet steps for folk & country dance steps.
In the beginning I had wanted to include the parents in the dancing, as a family atmosphere was fostered at the Resource Center. But it turned out the parents thought the dancing was too hard. One parent went so far as to question my teaching ability because she thought the dance instructions were too difficult --- in spite of the fact that none of her children had any trouble at all mastering the dances I taught!
On the last day of the Resource Center for the year, we had a small performance. I picked the dances which looked best, and we worked very hard on them to perfect them.
Some of the children were, naturally, worried about messing up. I advised them that if that should happen, the one thing they have to do is keep on going as though nothing had gone wrong, and nobody in the audience will know that they made a mistake. I told them the story of a terrible dance instructor I had seen once at an Irish dance performance at a mall. Even to me, the young dancers appeared very good. But after the dance, the teacher announced how good it was that, even when the girls made mistakes, they kept right on dancing without stopping. If she hadn't said that, nobody would ever have known they had made any mistakes! I assured the children that I would never say anything so stupid. If they made mistakes, nobody would ever know. But as it turned out, everybody remembered every figure perfectly, without even needing any cuing from me. The audience was most impressed that the children could remember so much.
There were children of the same age in the audience. One of the boys, a 10-year-old, objected to performing in front of other boys, afraid they would make fun of him. But it turned out that the children in the audience were as impressed by their performance as the adults were.
The biggest discovery I found in the course of the year was, in general, how much more quickly and easily children are able to learn even the most complex folk and country dances than adults are. It is good for children to be learning these dances, so they can be preserved and so country dancing doesn't become increasingly plain and frivolous over time. And it shows that dances should never be simplified for children! If anybody needs dances to be simplified for them, it's adults. Children can handle the complex and challenging dances.
The Resource Center puts out its own newsletter nearly every month during the school year. Sometimes, children would describe in their own words how to do dances we've learned. Here are two of their descriptions:
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