After two years of dance class, my elder daughter decided this year to switch over to Yoga. Meanwhile, her sister is a budding musical theater fan, one who takes to preschool sing-and-dancealongs as easily as she does craft projects. Neither comes from particularly athletic genepools - my wife and I were chorus and theater geeks, not track and field stars -- and given their natural tendencies, they're not about to turn into the kind of kid who rules the schoolyard. But the common thread is clear, I think: both have a strong affinity for being in motion.
The practice of movement is healthy for kids. Studies show that kids who experience rhythm often enough are better able to recognize and work with patterns later in life; there is, it turns out, a direct correlation between Math SAT scores and the study of dance and musicmaking at a young age. I also think that kids who learn to move in time with music learn to know their bodies better, in ways which can make it easier to think of exercise as natural, and to have respect for other connections of mind and body.
I'm proud of my kids for their love of movement, and nurture it as I can. They love bluegrass music, and can be caught kicking up their heels in their carseats when it plays, so I always make sure to keep some ready wherever we go. I chase them, as good Daddies do, and try to teach them to dance as long as I've got the energy to do so. We walk to the dam spillway, and fish; I show them how casting, too, has its body rhythms, and how those rhythms might match the drift of the bobber as the water pulls our hooks downstream, and how the slow jerk and rest of the spinner can make the hook dance under the water.
Mommy's approach to bedtime is to help the kids settle into slow mode, using warm bath and storytime and lullabies as a mechanism for sleepiness, but I'm a big fan of exhaustion: when it's Daddy's turn to put them to bed, we crank up the danceable tunes, and have a good and gleeful bodyrhythm session around and around the coffeetable.
Previously, of course, we've covered both high-octane and sleepytime sorts of music in our Covered in Kidfolk series, but our focus back then was on tempo and emotional tone; since then, my kids have grown just enough to be able to better attend to the explicit messages of lyric and rhythm together. Today, then, a few tunes, the vast majority of them from the public domain, which explicitly encourage movement of various sorts, from running and walking to swinging, riding, and jumping that our kids might better consider moving their bodies as a vital part of their abilities, and know the various ways that such movement can be accomplished.
- Run Molly Run: Sweet Honey in the Rock (trad.)
This great a capella gospel folk take on an old folksong comes from Grammy-winning African American female roots cooperative Sweet Honey in the Rock; though it's been on plenty of compilations, the song was first released way back in 1994 on I Got Shoes. A slow start to a set of movement songs, but call it a warm up.
- Dave Alvin: Walk Right In (orig. Gus Cannon; pop. The Rooftop Singers)
Not technically a kidsong, but something I learned as a kid, and subsequently one of those movement songs I will forever associate with childhood. This relatively stately cover by Dave Alvin comes from his 2000 Grammy-winning folk recording Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land.
- Colin Meloy: Dance to Your Daddy (trad.)
A dark waltz from Colin Meloy's 2006 tour-only EP of Shirley Collins "covers", most of which were originally traditional britfolk. The tinkly xylophone here seems to encourage slow, stately twirling in my own children, as if they were ballerinas atop a music box.
- Elizabeth Mitchell: Skip to My Lou (trad.)
- John McCutcheon: Skip to My Lou (ibid.)
Two very differently-paced takes on what might just be the most famous skipping song in the kiddie canon. Cover Lay Down favorite Elizabeth Mitchell's typically delicate, lighthearted take comes from her breakthrough kids album You Are My Sunshine. Meanwhile, the John McCutcheon is the version that I used to swing my elderchild around to, back when it was just the two of us. McCutcheon is so old-school, his website address is actually folkmusic.com.
- Sonny Terry : Pick a Bale O' Cotton (trad.)
Folk-style harmonica wizard Sonny Terry gave this old "jump down turn-around" fieldfolk worksong an authentically old-school makeover with jangly guitar, harmonica, a percussive shaker, and a couple of harmony vocalists straight out of the thirties. Found on Music for Little People collection Big Blues: Blues Music For Kids, which runs a great gamut, and is a steal at $7.99.
- Erin McKeown: Thanks for the Boogie Ride (Buck/Mitchell)
Given the tight-buttoned era from which retro swingfolk artist Erin McKeown pulled the source material for her pre-1950s covers album Sing You Sinners, there's surely some sort of innuendo buried in this track, if you look deep enough. But on the surface, it's about boogying, and riding, a high-energy celebration of travel and ride-sharing perfect for kids on the go.
- Michelle Shocked w/ Taj Mahal: Jump Jim Crow (trad.)
Though it has roots in the early blackface minstrel shows of the early eighteen hundreds, like the other older songs on Michelle Shocked's 1992 release Arkansas Traveler, this jangly song manages to recapture the song as true-blue folk while stripping out much of the racism, and recontextualizing the rest as historically truthful.
- Plain White T's: When I See An Elephant Fly (orig. Disney)
Speaking of crows, this song is famous from Dumbo, where it was performed by a set of racist stereotypes that just wouldn't fly in today's world. Disneyfied acoustic popgroup the Plain White T's would be perfectly legitimate folk, if the suits behind them didn't insist on presenting them as a kind of pre-plugged radiopop act.
- New Lost City Ramblers: Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss (trad.)
Another song about flying, since my kids asked for that form of movement song first and repeatedly when I mentioned I was posting this entry. Old-timey folkband the New Lost City Ramblers creates a great bluegrassy energy here; in our house, this means full-speed sprint-dancing and plenty of glee, so watch out for the furniture.
- Dan Zanes feat. Loudon Wainwright III: All Around the Kitchen (trad.)
A movement song that coaxes kids to dance along, first collected by John and Alan Lomax in the thirties, and now one of my favorite tracks on the aptly-titled 2003 release Family Dance from ex-Del Fuegos founder and Covered in Kidfolk series favorite Dan Zanes, who has remade himself as the forefather of cool for kids and families over the last decade.
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