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The Use of Music and Dance in Teaching U.S. History

Music and Dance Links // Folk Music Webring

One of the most successful techniques I have discovered in teaching history has been the use of music and dance. As an instructor in several community colleges, I have found it to be successful with all types of student populations. The only problem with it is that it takes a bit of nerve on the part of the teacher.

My experience and that of several fellow instructors who have used music and dance has been that at first it may go pretty slow. Getting students to volunteer to get up in front of the class takes some effort. However, after trying it several semesters, we have found that more and more students show interest. I have concluded that this must have more to do with presentation than the students. After trying different songs and dances, teachers can find out what appeals to their students.

One issue, although I have not had this happen, will be religious beliefs that do not allow dancing in particular. Because of this, teachers must first evaluate how much of a problem this will be in their school. Second, if you decide to go ahead with using music and dance, there must be an alternative activity for those who either cannot participate or will not participate. My newest strategy to deal with this is the development of a "Song and Dance Analysis Worksheet." Actually, I was also trying to discourage some participation which may sound strange, but as word of the activities spread through the school, I discovered that students know what is coming and have no inhibitions. The activities have gotten so popular that I have too many students wanting to be involved. I thought some might prefer the Worksheets, an idea I "borrowed" from the National Archives exercises. So far, however, the "Worksheets" have not discouraged many students, and my main problem is still space for everyone and the noise. Students may get pretty noisy, but it's out of excitement.

I have experimented with how to grade this over the years. I assure you, they will not do these exercises unless they get something for the effort. At first, I used these activities as bonus point exercises. That proved to be undesirable when I began to use more and more music and dance activities. It tended to inflate grades. In addition, those who could not or would not participate were at a disadvantage.

More recently, I have developed an "Exercise" grade as part of the required grades each semester. This includes the singing and dancing, but it also includes such things as reading aloud in class, textbook exercises, creative opportunities such as drawings, short research projects and similar options. This seems to working quite well. Degree of difficulty of each option is as equal as I can make it. The students who do not participate in the singing and dancing seem content. At any rate, no one has complained about it yet.

After I first published this article, I received a couple of e-mail messages asking how I fit the music and dance into the overall coursework and how I developed critical thinking skills along with the music and dance. First, I want to assure everyone that music and dance is just a small part of what we do in class. These exercises are always part of a larger study. Since my students have to write lots of essays each semester, the music and dance is a part of these assignments. I have added some comments in the overall outline of music and dance that I use to clarify this.

I found most of the music I use at a local library. A few were found in antique stores. Students have provided a couple of songs while more recent recordings by folk singers often have renditions of old songs. In this article, I have included links to appropriate MIDI files. After years of trial and error, here are the songs and dances I currently have in my plans for U.S. History:

Since I teach college, this ends the first semester of U.S. history. The second semester goes like this:

If you have suggestions or comments, e-mail us at the address at the bottom of this page. I am in the process of putting my complete History Handouts onlines. This includes other activities aside from music such as poetry readings, excerpts to read in class from letters, journals, and interesting short readings from resources other than their textbook. Eventually, I hope to have a complete outline of the history courses offered at El Centro College that will include links, exercises, handouts, and any other relevant information to assist you in your teaching goals. Thanks for visiting our pages and please feel free to e-mail El Centro College's History Department.


Music and Dance Links
Texas Music and Dance Page // Music Around the World
Dance Around the World
Music History 102 // The History of the Power of Dance
The Waltz
MIDI for Ballroom Dancing // The Acdemy of Digital Music: Classical
Dancetv.com // Western Social Dance
Dance Instruction Manuals, 1600-1920 // The Dance Card Museum
Folk Dance - Los Viejos Directions
Sources for Indian Music
Etiquette for the Ball Room // Victorian Dancing Etiquette
Sing It Again! // HPD's Nursery Rhymes & Music Page
KIDiddles: Song Lyrics
American Folklife Center: Endangered Music Project Recordings
American Folksongs // Stephen Foster Collection // Song Database - Multicultural Pavilion
Folk Music Web Ring // Music Search
My Culture Online Page - Music, Dance, Museums, Architecture, Art, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.
Texas Music and Dance
Dance Glossary
Harry's Blues Lyrics Online // The Mudcat Cafe
Lyrics World // Ultimate '80s Songs
BBHQ: Music Room Lyrics
Dance Online // Voice of Dance // Dance Magazine
I Hear America Singing
Mixed Pickles - Outline of Early 20th Century Dance
Mixed Pickles - Outline of 19th Century Dance
American Music Archives // Lyrics
Mudcat Cafe: A Magazine Devoted to Blues and Folk Music
Folk Music of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and America
Patriotic Songs (American) // Socialist Songs
Folk Music, Communism, and the Red Scare // Songs and Chants to Picket By

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