4 Easy Folk Dances To Teach

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Are you looking at getting into folk dancing but you’re overwhelmed with where to start with your students? 

We’ve all been there, but you don’t have to start from square one every time. Learn from myself and others who do folk dancing regularly. 

The best place to start is with easy folk dances to teach. 

Easy folk dances for teaching include ones with few moves that line up with the phrasing of the song or music. Easy folk dances use moves that focus on partners that stay the same the whole time rather than changing throughout. 4 of my favorite easy folk dances are: 

  • Noble Duke Of York
  • Los Machetes
  • Old Brass Wagon
  • Basic Appalachian Circle Dance

Read ahead for the moves to these folk dances as well as some of my favorite folk dance resources. 

What Makes A Folk Dance Easy To Teach?

You’re going to want to go beyond my list of easy folk dances, but how do you decide which folk dances are good for beginners? 

This section helps with that. Here, we’ll go through the elements of a folk dance that make it easier to teach. 

Folk Dance Set

A folk dance set is the shape and format you get set up in for the dance. There are many types out there, but if you’re looking for an easier one to start with, pick one of these sets: 

  • Single circle set
  • Longways set*
  • Scatter set**

*Longways, also known as longwise, is basically two long lines where you face your partner across from you. 

**Scatter set is when you stand facing your partner anywhere in the room. 

Number Of Moves

The number of moves will obviously have a big impact on the difficulty of the folk dance. This isn’t always the case if the moves are long and complicated. 

I would stick with less than 4 moves if the kids are young beginners and less than 6 moves if they’re a little older. 

Students with more experience folk dancing can do a lot more regardless of their age level, but these guidelines should serve you well in the beginning. 

Note: In the directions below, I’ve broken some moves down into smaller pieces, so it feels like there’s more. Example: In and out for 8 = in for 4, out for 4. 

Simple Moves

3 simple moves will be easier to teach than 1 complicated one. Stick with simple moves, and you should be able to get through them with few problems. 

Here are some simple moves with brief descriptions: 

Circle Right (Left) – Students in circle formation move either right or left. If students aren’t holding hands, they face the direction they travel. 

When they hold hands, they face the middle and step sideways.

Move In (and Out) – Holding hands or not, students take small steps to the middle and then small steps out. Most folk dances will put a small twist on this move, so watch for details in the directions. 

Right hand ‘round (also left and two/both) – Partners high five their right hands and stick those hands together. Then, they move around in a small circle with their hand(s) while their hand(s) are still together. 

Do si do – The do si do is one of the most understood moves in folk dancing. Most people think it’s where you link elbows and skip around in a circle. 

A do si do is where you circle around your partner without turning around. Some traditions have you cross your arms while you do so while others prefer you to keep your hands at your side.

Moves Focus On Single Partner

Some of the most fun folk dances have you switching partners throughout. But this isn’t what you want to with easy folk dances. 

Stick with folk dances that don’t use partners at all, or you can use one partner easily. More than that gets a little tricky. 

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4 Easy Folk Dances To Teach

In this section, I’ll go over my 4 favorite folk dances for use with beginners. These games provide a good introduction to the ideas of folk dancing and meet the requirements from above. 

Noble Duke Of York

Grade Level: Kindergarten – Second Grade

Dance Set: Circle or longways (two lines)

Source: Traditional and adapted by me; notation found here.

Directions: 

Circle Set: Easy

  1. Students move in for 3 and clap on 4. 
  2. Students move out for 3 and clap on 4. 
  3. Students spin one time for 7 beats and clap on 8. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3. 
  5. All turn to the right and skip around the room following the teacher or other leader for 32 beats. (Make sure to return to the circle by the end) 

Longways: Easy-Medium

  1. Students move in for 3 and clap partner’s hands on 4. 
  2. Students move out for 3 and clap own hands on 4. 
  3. Students right hand turn with partners one time for 7 and return to spots clapping on 8. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.
  5. Head partners take hands and sashay down the aisle to the end for 8. 
  6. Repeat step 5 three more times with the next head partners.  

Other Notes: The claps line up perfectly with the rests during the opening section. I start with the circle set at the end of Kindergarten usually, and then begin First grade with the longways one. 

Los Machetes

Grade Level: 3rd-5th grades

Dance Set: Circle Set

Source: Los Machetes is a Mexican folk dance I first learned from a workshop by one of my mentors, Joan Long. She got this from Sanna Longden’s More Folk Dance Music For Kids And Teachers

Since then, Sanna Longden has released the directions for the games for free on her website. The music can be bought from her CD, found on YouTube or purchased from Apple Music. 

Directions: 

  1. Circle right for 16 beats while clapping above your head
  2. Circle left for 16 beats while clapping above your head
  3. Face the middle, move in for 4 while clapping from the ground to the air
  4. Move out for 4 while clapping from the air to the ground
  5. Danger time moves: Clap, clap hands under right leg, clap, clap hands under left leg, clap, clap hands behind back, clap, clap
  6. Repeat step 5
  7. Step sideways right to the half note beat for 4 while circling right hand in the air
  8. Step sideways left to the half note beat for 4 while circling left hand in the air
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 

Other Notes: The directions I chose to put in are an easier version of the moves you can use for groups new to folk dancing.

After you do this with clapping, you can include rhythm sticks for all moves instead.  

Old Brass Wagon

Grade Level: 2nd-4th grades

Dance Set: Circle Set with partners side by side

Source: Traditional; notation at Beth’s Notes

Directions: 

The directions are easy to follow as you just sing what you’re doing. Students stop their move on “You’re the one my darlin’.” 

  1. Circle left 
  2. Circle right
  3. Right hand ‘round
  4. Left hand ‘round
  5. Two hands ‘round
  6. Do si do

Other Notes: This dance can really use any moves. I often use this dance as a way to introduce new moves gradually over time. 

Another activity you could do with more advanced students would be to have them make up the moves for the game.

Basic Appalachian Circle Dance 

Grade Level: K-1 grades 

Dance Set: Circle Set

Source: Kennedy Center for directions; Black-eyed Daisy for music 

Directions: 

  1. Take hands and circle left for 8
  2. Circle right for 8
  3. Drop hands, clap and stomp feet to the beat for 8
  4. Take hands, move in 3 and holler (say “whoop!”) on 4
  5. Move out for 3 and holler on 4
  6. Repeat all steps

Other Notes: This is a very basic circle dance, but the moves are so simple younger grades will get it easily. 

I like this folk dance for introducing the idea of organized movement to recorded music rather than the music we sing ourselves. 

Favorite Folk Dance Resources

In this section, I’ll go into a few of my favorite folk dance resources for beginners. These books and resources often go beyond the beginner level, but if you keep the criteria for easy folk dances from above in mind, you’ll have no problem finding out which ones are easier to teach. 

Affiliate links ahead. This means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. However, I personally believe and use all of these resources, so don’t worry; I’m not trying to sell you on anything. 

Chimes Of Dunkirk – This book (and anything by New England Dancing Masters) is filled with great folk dances and activities for all difficulties. 

Teaching Movement And Dance – This book series by Phyllis Weikart is filled with all sorts of movement activities and folk dances. Even better, this book gives you a sequence for developing movement knowledge. 

Cultures And Styling In Folk Dance – This book written together by Sanna Longden and Phyllis Weikart is packed with folk dance examples and analysis of movement trends by culture and dance type. 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed learning about these 4 easy folk dances to teach. Folk dancing is a great way to engage learning about musical form and connect to cultures from around the world. 

But it can be tough to get into unless you know where to start. Now, you have a place to start. 

Have fun dancing! 

Any questions? Drop a comment below. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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