Catholic Activity: Rhyming and Dancing
Children learn to rhyme easily, with ingenious humor and terrible puns and a galloping appetite for Nonsense Rhymes, Gilbert and Sullivan, "The Hunting of the Snark." In the process they come upon intriguing ways with words and meter and the subtle art of turning a phrase.
"Somebody make up a rhyme."
A very small somebody says right away: "Mrs. Horse is very coarse." And a big somebody adds: "Not only coarse but also hoarse." Groans.
What a joy to discover that you possess a wit and can stuff it into a small space of seven or eight measures and make it come out in rhyme! Round-robin rhymes for the whole family are lots of fun and make dish-wiping and yard-raking and cellar-cleaning go much faster, especially with a foolish story at the end which has everyone laughing to tears. Impromptu rhymes can be far more palatable correction for things like table manners than plain old scoldings.
Poor old Peter is a horrible eater.
He'd be such a joy if he'd eat like a boy.
Appreciating rhymes helps greatly in disposing of the vulgar verses heard in school-yards and brought home for family edification: "Too bad. God gives people the talent to rhyme and they have to go spoil it."
Children should dance, too. And their mothers. About fathers? I have seen the father in our house walk in on the mother in our house as she was dancing a Spanish fandango and flee as though the devil were after him. Not that our fandangos are that terrible. I have been assured by the children that they are very fandango, and as the children constitute my only audience for the performance, what they think is all that counts. But the important thing about mothers' dancing is that when children see them dance, they will dance, too, whether fandangos or ballet or waltzes or just enacting what the music is saying. That is how children should dance: to spill out the kind of joy music stirs up in them, to tell stories, to invent. It is a real deprivation for children to grow up believing that the few unimaginative variations of what we call social dancing are the sum-total of dancing. People have always danced, to show their praise and their joy, to express their sorrow and tell their stories; small children especially want to dance, and should be encouraged to do so.
Mary, the sister of Aaron, danced with the women as a thanksgiving to the Lord for freeing the Jews from Egypt. "Let us sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously magnified, the horse and his rider he hath thrown into the sea." In the last Psalm, David calls on all the talent in the temple to praise the Lord, among them the dancers. "Praise him with timbrel and dance, praise him with strings and pipe."
Many of the liturgical forms, processions, parts of the Mass, the lovely wing-like movement of the arms of a priest when he gives a blessing, had their beginnings in dignified dance forms. And many of our most common play activities are dance. A little girl said, breathlessly: "I was skipping rope to the Alleluia." It was Easter. Is there a more joyous way to sing Alleluia than while skipping rope?
Our children like to compose dances to Peter and the Wolf because there are more than enough roles for everyone. We have discovered among our records music that fits Le Jongleur du Notre Dame; so we have danced to that. Another album has a passage that is like Mary Magdalene walking alone in the garden Easter morning; so we have invented things for that. A friend (a real dancer) once danced for me a beautiful Crusader to some Bach so now and then the children try Crusaders to Bach, too. They like to dramatize in a dance-like way the Peter Pan music (with newspaper pirate hats and swords in sashes) and the Pinocchio music (with invisible long noses), and especially the Tyl Eulenspiegel music. Peter put a pair of boxer dungarees on his head and said, "This is a Tyl Orange-beagle hat" because the Eichenberg illustrations in the book show Tyl with a hat like that. One day I heard him explain, "This is a St. John Bosco hat oh no, I mean Tyl Orange-beagle." (St. John Bosco also walked the tightrope as a boy; very easy to see how one could become confused.)
All children love Spanish music because they can use their heels and fingers, and tambourines and castanets (real or invented). Christmas carols make lovely dances, sweet and reverent, with someone cradling the Christ Child and the others bowing in a procession before Him (St. Teresa of Avila once danced with the Christ Child in her arms). They love to improvise to music that tells stories, like The Moldau, En Saga, Valse Triste, and they like to dance to all kinds of folk music, but especially American, since they are learning square dances in school. Dancing to the music from Hansel and Gretel calls for singing, too, like "Brother, come and dance with me," and "Susie, little Susie, pray what is the news?" "The geese are running barefoot because they've no shoes." The favorite of the Humperdinck lyrics for singing and acting is "When at night I go to sleep," with the fourteen angels.
Children do not have to go to dancing school in order to dance. Children dance. Yet, today when they are exposed to so much vulgar dancing on TV and in the movies, it is almost impossible to explain about dancing that it is good, but that this dancing, or that, is bad. It was not intended when God made people who could dance that only a few should do it to show off before the many. He made us to give praise to Him with our whole bodies, and dancing is one of the ways. If children are encouraged to dance among themselves, artlessly and without any intent to perform, they will learn with their bodies and their minds how movements can express joy and praise and they begin to have a criterion to measure which kinds of dance are pure and which are not.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961