How to Spice up Your Homeschooling – Try English Country Dancing!
Including fun, whole-body activities along with academics is crucial to maximizing engagement and learning. This English Country Dancing DVD is a resource that I GUARANTEE your children will enjoy so much they will not even realize that they are learning.
English Country Dancing
A few years ago a homeschool graduate Garrett Stowe, whose family are long time user of Train up a Child Publishing curricula, sent me a wonderfully professional instructional DVD he produced to teach others how to participate in the entertaining group activity: English Country Dancing.
I was so impressed!
I was thrilled to preview the DVD and found it not only to be professionally recorded, but a solid historical resource suitable for all homeschoolers, no matter which homeschooling philosophy or curricula you use. In addition to step-by-step directions for and demonstrations of six well-loved historical dances, English Country Dancing includes accompanying period music and lovely artwork depicting the enchanting fashions of this era. Furthermore, the DVD offers additional historical narrative describing Victorian dancing etiquette – even revealing how proper single ladies used their fans to demurely communicate with potential suitors! Fascinating!
Here are some more details about English Country Dancing from its creator:
Garrett, what inspired you to create this DVD?
Garrett: With my first introduction to the Civil War era dancing, I realized that this was a wonderful way to bring the family and community together for good, “old-fashioned” fun! Unfortunately, there were not many people who knew the dances, and every time we hosted a dance, we ended up spending half our time teaching the new dancers. After several frustrating dances, my (very creative) mother suggested that I combine my enjoyment of the dances and my interest in cinematography to create an instructional DVD that would allow people to learn the dances at home.
Then when you held a dance, you could spend their time dancing instead of just teaching! Makes sense!
Side note: Even though Garrett and friends enjoyed this type of dancing and thought of it primarily just as fun, I suspect his (also very wise) mother saw this entertaining activity as an extension of their history studies, don’t you think?
What historical topics do you cover in the DVD?
The history of the Victorian/Civil War era is incredibly rich and entire documentaries have been dedicated to understanding their society. In our DVD [we] attempted to capture the beautiful etiquette, manners, and fashion of the day; especially where it pertained to dancing. Some of their customs can be somewhat humorous but many still have application today.
Why did you decide to title your DVD English Country Dancing? Weren’t these dances done in the United States as well?
Garrett: The title English Country Dancing often confuses people and understandably so; after all, many of the dances we cover were also enjoyed in the United States. We had a hard time deciding on a title that accounted for all the origins of the dances included in the DVD. We had dances originating from Celidah Dancing, English Country Dancing, Scottish Country Dancing and even American Folk Dancing. But, at the root of all these dances was the underlying emphasis on timing and precise movements that so typified English Country Dancing. So, for simplicity’s sake, we grouped all the dances under [that title].
How old are these dances and from where did they come?
Garrett: Supposedly, the Virginia Reel has been in existence for almost 400 years. Although not all the dances in the DVD are quite so long lived, most originated in the mid-nineteenth century and were most popular in Europe and America through the Victorian/Civil War Era. Some of the dances were peasant dances from Ireland (like the Cumberland Reel), others were dances of the aristocracy (such as the Gothic Dance or Soldier’s Joy), but all [played] a central part in every community gathering. There were even dances for children to join in on; my favorite is the Patticake polka … even my three year old sister can dance it like an expert! Today, the dances are enjoyed by everyone with a love for history and a taste for family fun.
Where did you find period costumes to wear for the production?
Garrett: The period costumes used for the dances were almost entirely hand made by the dancers. All the ladies sewed their own gowns and many of the men wore costumes made by sisters or friends.
Using English Country Dancing with your History Studies
Incorporating this entertaining activity into your history studies is easy. Here are several ways:
1. Just watch it! This enjoyable and informative DVD is a delightful break from the normal routine.
2. Use English Country Dancing to introduce studies of this time period. Have your student take notes on the historical portions of the DVD and use ideas from it for further research and writing on any of the following topics:
- Queen Victoria
- the Victorian Era (the time Queen Victoria reigned in England – from 1819 to 1901)
- Victorian Morality
- The American Civil War
- Civil War past-times
- More about Fan Language
- The Language of Flowers
3. Have your students study and practice the dances of the DVD as they complete their reading and writing on this time period. Have them use the DVD to help plan a celebratory unit-culminating event with a few other homeschooling families. Make costumes, check out some authentic music from your public library and recruit some other dancers. Serve ice cream to your guests after the dancing. (After all, ice cream was on the scene during this time and considered quite the delicacy.)