LITERATURE  »  OF PLAY AND PLAYFULNESS


       The play party is one of America's most important contributions to the world of folk dances and folk games. It is rooted in the customs of the old countries from which the early settlers came. Defined simply, a play party is a kind of country dance done to a singing accompaniment. The songs and figures of our early play parties harken back to Scottish, English, Irish and German folk traditions.
       Springing out of the rugged frontier life of the European pioneers trekking across what was to become the United States, play parties provided the focus for many a community gathering. They were uniquely suited to the simplicity and straightforwardness of rural life, needing no orchestra, no equipment. They provided an occasion for togetherness and celebration in a frolicsome setting. The whole community, young and old, drew together through this kind of social interaction.
       Light-hearted fellowship and recreation was a much-needed tonic, yet religion frequently stood in the way. Quakers, Disciples, Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians might differ as to creed, but they were united in their belief that dance was a wicked sport and the fiddle an instrument of the devil. The 'singing games' of the young people, however, seemed innocent enough, being time-honored and unsophisticated. So it came that these charming dances, carefully referred to as 'play parties,' brightened life on the American frontier.
       The play party has many qualities which makes it widely appealing. It can be adapted to any setting, the music being furnished by the participants. The melodies are easily learned, the actions are simple and engaging. In an evening of mixed recreation, the play party is a friendly companion to games, songs or dances; after all, it has unpretentiously incorporated all three in itself.

- From Handy Play Party Book, Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc. Burnsville, N. C.


       At a certain time, some things that we learn become so integrated, so much a part of ourselves, that it is difficult to think of them as something that we "learned." This is especially true of both the philosophy and the recreation materials that have been a part of ECRS since the earliest days. Each time that I returned to the school—in Cobbleskill, N. Y., where Ariel Lovelace introduced us to spirituals in a way that I had not experienced before, where Rosabelle MacDonald gave us new ways of seeing, feeling and hearing art, and where the Norrises and Maida Schwiebert and others increased our knowledge of what an important part of being human it is to play---I added to this integration.
       For many years after, through different jobs and changes in my life, I would connect again with ECRS. Always it is the same and always there is something new and special to be shared - a game, a dance, a song - and most important, to find that the spirit that brings us together to learn and to enjoy is always there. Individuals come and go, and they are both missed and dearly remembered, still a part of all that we do.

- Martha Moss



LEADING PLAY PARTIES

       Play parties and singing games offer a variety of dance patterns. The songs, if not already familiar, such as "Jingle Bells" and "Working On The Railroad" are quickly learned because of the abundant repetition of words and melody. The dance patterns are uncomplicated, often indicated by the words of the song, and the foot work required is already part of most people's vocabulary - walk, run, skip, slide.
       Once learned, these dance-games can be organized by the players themselves. Needing no equipment, they can he enjoyed in any setting.
       Since the emphasis is on the game, the shy singers will forget to worry about the quality of their singing and the reluctant dancers will join in gladly. The frequent change of partners combined with the ease of execution probably make play parties the most relaxed and informal form of musical recreation.
       In introducing a play party or singing game, the first step is to get the players into the required formation. A short segment should be taught at a time (song and action simultaneously) with emphasis given to the action. The song can be improved on later. The leader should join in the game, and may need to "carry" the song until the group becomes more familiar with it.

- From "Put More Music Into Play" by Shelley Gordon, contained in In Celebration of Play by Paul F. Wilkinson (ed.), Croom Helm Ltd, London, 1980.

This was one of Ed Moyer's favorites - and Jim Norris's. I can still see those two enjoying the Play Party together, nearly immersed in the rhythm and fun.

- Woody Corfman


2. Take your partner and we'll all run away.
We'll all run away, we'll all run away.
Take your partner and we'll all run away.
And balance to your places.

3. First young gent all around in town, etc.

4. Take your partners and all run away, etc.

5. Next young lady all around in town, etc.

Formation:
The players form in a single circle facing inward, alternating men and women. The man is at the right of his partner, and all stand just far enough apart to easily join hands, but not close enough to be crowded in swinging.

Action:
As the song begins, one woman, previously chosen as the 'first young lady,' dances out alone into the open space and around in a little circle to the left, taking steps of such length that twelve of them will return her to her place in the line. This occupies the first three lines of the song.

On the last line of the verse, all the players including this "young lady," take two steps forward and two steps back: the famous 'balance' step, —'And balance to your places.'

As the refrain of the song begins, on the word 'Swing,' each man swings his left hand across in front of his body and joins left hands with the woman on his right ('corner'), at the same time stepping out and around with his left foot. The two thus swing counter-clockwise completely around.

As each one comes around at the end of this turn, partners meet, join right hands and perform a complete turn clockwise with the four steps of the next line: 'With a waltz and swing, with a waltz and swing.'

Corner partners join hands and again perform the counter-clockwise turn, ending the third line of the refrain with every player back in place. Then again all do the 'balance': two steps toward the center and two steps back, the backward steps taken without turning.

At the words 'Take your partner,' each man takes his partner by the right arm with his left hand, usually placing his arm between her arm and her body and clasping her wrist or hand with his hand. The couple then swings around at right angles to their position, so that the man is on the outside of the circle and the woman is on the inside.

In this position the double circle promenades around counter-clockwise during the singing of the first three lines of this verse. During the last line of the verse they again perform the 'balance' steps.

Again the refrain is sung, with just the same triple swing as before, which completes the unit. The game then starts all over with the 'First young gent' as solo dancer. He is the partner of the 'First young lady.' It is easy to see how the game continues with next young lady, etc.

- L.L. McDowell, Smithville, TN.
Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book. Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.


Formation: Single Circle

First stanza ("Shoo fly, don't bother....")
1. Hands joined, all take four steps forward
2. Take four steps backward to place
3. Repeat forward four steps
4. Take four steps backward to place

Second stanza ("I do, I do, I do....")
Keep hands joined to turn the circle inside out. A couple on opposite side of circle makes an arch for a couple opposite them to lead the circle under the arch. Couple making arch turn under own arm.

First stanza
Taking four steps backward toward center of circle and four steps out. (Repeat)

Second stanza
Lead couple back up under arch made by opposite couple to turn circle right side out.

Ed loved play parties, and led them with gusto. Without preliminaries, we were into it, doing it, moving, singing, getting the directions from the words of the song. Holding a hand on either side, Ed moved into ice center with "Shoofly, don't bother me," and the circle moved right with him, four steps in and four steps out.

- Hal Kantor


Formation:
Join hands in a single circle. Three or four extra players are in the center.

Action:
(1) March to the left while singing.
(2) Each one in the center selects two partners.
(3) The player who selected the two partners swings one (both hands joined) and leaves the other. Partners who have just swung rejoin the circle. Players remaining in the center are ready to begin the game again, this time being the ones who choose two others.

-Fred M. Smith. From Bonair, Iowa.
Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book, Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.


Action:
Couples in a circle, men with backs to center of circle, partners facing. With joined hands, proceed to man's left for 4 step/close steps in time to: "Na-po-leon was a mighty warrior." On "tra-la-la...," six slide steps to man's right. Repeat above for next two lines.

On last three lines, couples in shoulder/waist position do 8 step-hops in small circle, ending in beginning formation. Each person takes one step to own left, for a new partner.


       Play parties are a unique blend of steps, movement and self-made music. Play parties need to be experienced.
       Bob Siftar's mother told stories from her childhood in Austria-Hungary of walking to church barefooted---to preserve her only pair of shoes for church—and waiting for the Pastor to arrive. After a while, spontaneous singing would begin, there were giggles as hands were shyly clasped, and action would be joined to the singing. Singers and songs would change and other steps would be developed or remembered. Sometimes there were circles without partners, sometimes four persons facing each other, sometimes long lines, with partners opposite each other.
       Does this sound familiar? It was called playing—like a party, with exuberant freedom, beginning with children and adolescents. Occasionally older persons would join in; a seven step dance was shared by Bob's grandfather, who learned it as a child. In the early 1930's this was often sung and danced by immigrants. The seven-step dances, and there are many of them, have been traced back to Old Testament times.
       Southern play parties, many of which are shared at ECRS were preserved and added to by persons living in the rural South. This is a valuable dance form which requires no music except the singing of the dancers. Play parties are group play.
- Bob and Dotti Siftar


2. You don't know how, how, (3 times). Alabama girl.
3. I've showed you how, how (3 times). Alabama girl.
4. Ain't I rock candy, (3 times). Alabama girl.

Formation:
To play this game, the men stand in a single line and the women in another, facing each other and about six feet apart, partners opposite. The head of the set is the end of the lines to the left of the men.

Action:
(1) All the players sing. At the first word of the song the head couple steps out and dances down between the lines toward the foot of the set. This advance down between the lines occupies eight steps. During the singing of the remaining two lines of the verse, this couple retraces their steps to the head of lines, reversing position without releasing each other's hands.
(2) Reel: On the last word of the verse, the couple, having reached the head of the lines, release each other's hands and pass each other to the opposite side. The man joins left hands with the woman, who is now head of her line, and the woman joins left hands with the man who is now head of his line. This joining of hands comes exactly on the first accented syllable of the second verse of the song, and is also exactly at the same time that the left foot strikes the floor in a forward swing that turns this new couple entirely around counter-clockwise in four steps, to just one line of the song. They then release, leaving the new member of each couple back in line, and the original couple joins right hands exactly on the first accented beat of the next line, performing another complete turn in the opposite direction, clockwise. Then the left hands are presented to the next in line, and so on until the foot of the set is reached, when the two take their places in their respective lines at the foot of the set. The couple left at the head becomes the leading couple for a fresh performance of the whole game. Not more than eight couples should be used in a set.

- Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book. Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.

Somewhere along the line, someone told Ed that he wasn't carrying the tune accurately. He became self-conscious about this and started prefacing the activity with: "The tune goes something like this..." In the last few years, the preface got shorter and less apologetic, and the activity look over once again.

- Hal Kantor


Formation:
Single circle of couples facing in. Girls are on the right of their partners.

Action:
(1) All join hands and circle to the left with a walking step, (16 counts) 'Great big house...'
(2) All drop hands. Ladies go toward center 4 steps, join hands, and simulate dipping water: stoop toward the floor and lift up, (8 counts) 'Old mill stream...'
(3) Men go toward center four steps, reach over the joined hands of ladies, and join hands in front of them. Men raise their joined hands over the heads and backs of ladies. Ladies swing joined hands over the heads and backs of men forming a basket circle, (8 counts) 'Put one arm...'
(4) Break circle. Each man swings the lady on his right twice around leaving her on his right, (8 counts) 'Fare thee well...'
(5) Each man swings the lady on his left twice around, leaving her on his right. In this manner he progresses to a new partner each time, (8 counts)
The actions is repeated as desired.

- From Neva Mae Tom, Columbus, Ohio
Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book, Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.


Formation:
Players take partners and stand in a single circle, facing the center. One player in the circle, without a partner, is the first "thief".

Action:
To the music, the thief slides sideways across the circle and steals a partner from someone in the circle. Taking both hands of the new partner, the thief slides back across the circle to his or her original place. The player whose partner was stolen immediately slides sideways across the circle and takes some other player's partner, and they both slide back to place. This continues without interruption, the player whose partner has been stolen, in each case, immediately sliding sideways to secure another. In this game, the player must not be allowed to lag.

RED RIVER VALLEY
(done to tune of same title)

Formation:
Every man has a lady on either side. Each set of three faces another set of three around the circle.

Song:
Verse 1
1. Now you lead right down thru the valley.
2. And you circle to the left and to the right;
3. Now you swing that girl in the valley.
4. And you swing with your Red River Girl.

Verse 2
(1 and 2 the same as first verse)
3. Now the girls make a star in the valley.
4. And the boys do-sa-do to the right.

Verse 3
(I and 2 the same as first verse)
3. Now you lose your girl in the valley.
4. And you lose your Red River Gal.

Action:
Verse 1
(1) Each set, with hands or elbows joined, walk diagonally forward to the left, pass the opposite set, then walk diagonally forward to the right to face a new set.
(2) Join hands with the other set in circles of six, walk 4 steps left and 4 steps back to the right.
(3) Each man turns to swing his own right hand lady (with an elbow, two hand, or regular square dance swing) while the other lady stands in place and claps.
(4) Each man swings his own left hand lady (while the other one claps).

Verse 2
(1 and 2 the same in each verse)
(3) The four girls in each set of 6 step forward to join right hands in a star and walk quickly around and into place with 8 steps.
(4) The two men pass each other by the right shoulder and back into place with eight steps.

Verse 3
(3) The two right hand ladies change places, as the men gently shove them off.
(4)The two left hand ladies change places.

The men now have new partners to begin again.


Formation:
Any number of couples form a circle. All join hands, facing in.

Action:
(1) All walk to left 16 steps.
(2) All walk to right 16 steps.
(3) Four steps to center, four steps back: repeat.
(4) Do-si-do twice around your partner.
(5) Do-si-do twice around your corner.
(6) Promenade with the same corner, who now becomes your new partner.

- Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book. Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.


       I started at ECRS about 1970, so I had seen and participated in "Shake Them 'Simmons Down" many times. Eddie knew that I knew it, and in a Play Parties class at Frost Valley he asked me if I wanted to teach it. I refused, because I was scared, and he proceeded to teach it, looking through his pockets for pieces of paper as if he had forgotten it, and while he was teaching it, it occurred to me that I could do it. I could do it better than he was doing it. I thought at the time that he didn't know it, and I think I learned really to understand Eddie's style of teaching just about two years ago, here in California.
- Betty Goldberg Glasser

I have an image of Eddie in Gustav's Skoal, singing out, scooting nonchalantly to someone else's spot, one eye on how the group is doing and a warm twinkle in the other to greet his stolen partner.

- Miriam Kantor


Formation:
Players form sets of eight, allowing 7 or 8 feet of space for each set. One or more free players may stand outside each set and attempt to steal* partners.

Action:
Players all sing. Head and foot couples (1 and 3) advance three steps toward each other, make a quick bob of the head (on the word 'Gustaf') walk backward 3 steps to place and bring feet together (measures 1-4). Side couples (2 and 4) do the same (measures 5-8). Repeat entire sequence (measures 1-8 again).

The Chorus ('tra, la, la...') is sung in quicker time. Head couples advance and exchange partners. At the same time, side couples (2 and 4) join hands to make an arch. 1st man and 3rd woman join hands and turn away from the center to go under arch made by couple 4, while 1st woman and 3rd man turn and go under arch made by couple 2. They release hands and clap (on the first beat of measure 13), skip quickly back to original place and join both hands with original partner. Leaning away from each other, both couples swing vigorously around in place (measures 9-16).

The same action is then repeated by side couples, who advance, change partners and go under arches made by couples 1 and 3 (measures 9-16).

*A person without a partner may "steal" by standing in the home place of a dancing person who is in the process of going under an arch and coming back to swing. The "thief" steps in and swings with one of the returning dancers, and the other one must then step out and become a stealer in the next round.


4. When Captain Jinks comes home at night.
The gentleman passes to the right.

5. Swing your partner so polite.
For that's the style in the army.

6. Promenade all around the hall.
Around the hall, around the hall.
Promenade all around the hall.
For that's the style in the army.

Formation:
Couples in a single circle, facing in, women to right of partners.

Action:
(1) Clap hands.
(2) All bow to partners.
(3) Join hands in complete circle and march to the center and back twice.
(4) Gentleman crosses in front of his own partner and takes partner of man on his right.
(5) Swing lady once around and keep her for new partner.
(6) Promenade counter-clockwise until song is finished. Then start over.


Additional Chorus: 'Many a guy did I let by...' or 'Many a feller, I kicked down the cellar...,' etc.

Formation:
Players join hands in a single circle. One or more couples form a 'needle's eye' by joining right hands in an arch under which the line may pass.

Action:
In time to the music, the circle of players moves to the left (clockwise). The person forming the inside half of the arch chooses someone from the line by lowering hands in front of the desired partner. He or she then joins right hands with the one chosen to make a new arch. The retiring partner closes up the gap in the line, by passing under the new arch and joining the line. Meanwhile the chooser has stepped through the gap to the outside and the one chosen is the inner half of the arch.

Smoothness is accomplished by three simultaneous operations:

(1) Inner partner joins right hands with new partner, and quickly turns her into his place while he becomes outer partner.
(2) The old retiring partner steps under the newly formed arch and closes the gap by joining hands with the line.
(3) The circle resumes movement with almost no delay.

- Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book. Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.


2. You are too young, you are not fit, (3 times) You cannot leave your mother yet.

3. You're old enough, you're just about right, (3 times) I asked your mother last Saturday night.

Formation:
A circle of partners faced for marching, men on inside, women on their right.

Action:
(1) During singing of first verse, promenade in circle, counter-clockwise.
(2) At beginning of second verse players drop hands, and inside circle reverses direction and the file of women continues marching counter-clockwise while men march clockwise.
(3) On the words 'You're just about right' in verse 3, all take new partners, and joining both hands, swing around in place. Resume promenade position and repeat from beginning, with new partners.

- Mrs. Morgan Hansel, R. 5, Delaware, Ohio
Reprinted from Handy Play Party Book, Copyright 1982, World Around Songs, Inc.


Action:
Players stand in circle clapping the beat, spaced slightly apart from each other. The leader walks around the outside of the circle. At "Back, back, zero" s/he stands back to back with one of the players. At "side, side, zero" s/he stands beside that player. At "front, front, zero" s/he stands facing that player. At "tap your lovin' zero" s/he taps that player on the shoulders. The game is repeated with the chosen player as leader.

- From the book of the same name.
Street chants & games collected by Maureen Kenney.


       Ed introduced me to play parties, those charming dances and dance games done to music which is sung by the participants. He emphasized that the movements are sufficiently simple so that we can enjoy each other's companionship. I find play parties useful with many kinds of groups. In large groups, the singing of familiar words and catchy melodies involves even the people who are sitting on the sidelines, watching the action.
- Lillian Schayer


Formation:
Double circle, partners side by side and arm in arm, girl on the right.

Action:
(1) All walk counter-clockwise around the circle.
(2) All join hands to form one large, single circle, girls on partners' right and still walking counter-clockwise.
(3) Partner face each other and clasp right hands, singing "B." All pass to next person giving left hand, singing "I." Continue to a third person with the right hand, singing "N." Then onto fourth person with the left hand, singing "G." Instead of the right hand to the fifth person, sing "O" and give your new partner a hug or a swing.

Repeat from beginning with new partner.


       During a summer spent working at the College Settlement Farm Camp in Willow Grove, Pa., I was first caught up in the joy of play parties. One evening a small group from the Philadelphia Play Coop came to camp. A piano was moved out to the lawn, and we all joined hands for "I Want To Be A Farmer," and then "Shake Them Simmons Down." and "Sent My Brown Jug Downtown." This was more than 40 years ago and I can still remember that great piano banging out the rhythm while everybody played.
       The following winter, I spent a lot of time at Philadelphia Play Coop and learned many dances, at a time when dances were mostly from Europe - English, German, Swiss, French, Danish, Polish, and the muscle-testing dances from the Ukraine. Along with these we did "Green Coffee." "Ol' Bald Eagle." and others. The ladies in the Italian Mothers' Club met monthly at the Settlement House. These women, mothers and grandmothers, laughed, shrieked and giggled like little girls as we bumped and sang in "Ach Ya." About half understood the words, but we all loved the action.
       I used singing games with a preschool group in a day care center on the Lower East Side of New York and later the same year with a preschool group in East Los Angeles. This was in a housing project built primarily for Mexican-American migrant workers. One purpose of the preschool program was to acquaint the children of these workers with the English they would have to know and use when they started kindergarten. Children are far less self-conscious about what they are saying when it is part of rhythmic song and action like "Looby Loo." "Shoo Fly." and "Noble Duke of York. I found this to hold true years later when I taught English to school children in rural Costa Rica, where "Bingo" and "Looby Loo." (everyone likes the idea of a Saturday night bath) were still popular favorites.
       One of the reasons I like Play Parties so well is that they can be done anywhere there is enough room, inside or out, and enough people to sing and play. That's all the equipment that is needed.
- Martha Moss


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