Cultural and Historical MeaningStudents perform a folk dance and discuss its cultural and historical meanings.
- Length: 1 class period
- Students will be able to perform the dance/game “Little Johnny Brown.”
- Students will be able to keep the beat while moving (grades 3-5).
- Students will know the origins of the dance.
- Students will know the symbolism of the circle, the blanket, and the buzzard-lope.
Little Johnny Brown
Found On: Dances from Many Cultures
Video Length: 00:09:00
Vocabularybeat, recreational dance, shape, time
TV/VCR or DVD player, blanket (piece of fabric about two feet square), instructions and information on history and meaning of Little Johnny Brown
Optional: audiotape of Little Johnny Brown song made from the videotape
- The Story of Little Johnny Brown
- How To Do the Dance Little Johnny Brown
- The Meaning of the Circle
- Exit Slip for Little Johnny Brown
- Exit Slip Answers
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Students may make their own blankets by tie-dyeing, block-printing, or weaving, so that each will have his or her own blanket. At least four blankets are needed to do the dance, but one per child is preferable. If there is no time or opportunity for students to create blankets, you can use inexpensive purchased handkerchiefs.
Tell the story of “Little Johnny Brown” or give out the handout about the story. In African-American communities (as in many cultures), stories, songs, and dances were used to teach values important to the community. This is a recreational dance, for the purpose of having fun, but it also teaches important lessons.
Teach the “Little Johnny Brown” dance/game. Make an audiotape from the video if you like.
Have students improvise movement to “Little Johnny Brown,” making sure to use their arms, legs, heads, and shoulders. Form a circle and have students take turns being the leader who dances in the center of the circle while everyone else copies the movement. Discuss the importance of the circle and give out the handout on the meaning of the circle.
Have four students improvise movement in the center while everyone in the circle claps to the beat of the song, so that students can feel the atmosphere of support: Whatever movements they do, they are doing just fine. There is no right or wrong, but they should try new things. Point out the dance elements employed in performing this dance: moving to the beat (time), moving in a circle (shape), etc.
Teach the “Little Johnny Brown” dance. Remind students that the open blanket represents honesty and the circle represents community support. The buzzard-lope in the circle shows the community honoring the person by dancing in a circle to take him or her for a proper burial though he/she died in the field.
Have everyone practice doing the dance together. You can dance the “Show me y’motion” part while students copy. Practice doing the dance to the beat of the song.
Watch the discussion on the videotape in which Paula Larke explains the history and symbolism of the dance to Anndrena Belcher.
Ask students to tell some things they have learned. Point out the references to the origin of the dance and to the blanket, the circle, and the buzzard-lope.
Review the dance and perform it, beginning with four individuals who will dance with confidence right from the start.
Distribute Exit Slips for assessment of historical and cultural knowledge.
Follow-Up Possibilities for Students
- African dance often includes mimicry of animals or of everyday work activities. Have students develop dances using either of these elements.
- This dance/game teaches community values. Ask students to discuss the dances they do and the values they express.
Support • Connections • Resources
- Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs, and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage by Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1972.
- Downloadable teachers guide for Dancing Threads (PDF format)
Performance Event: Now we will perform the dance Little Johnny Brown. Be sure to dance and sing with full energy and do your movements to the beat of the song. Fill out the Exit Slip about the history and meaning of the dance.
- Remember the whole dance and song and perform it with lots of energy.
- Remember to keep the beat of the song while you dance.
- Be sure you know when this dance was first danced and who danced it.
- Also, remember the meanings of the blanket, the circle, and the buzzard-lope.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student remembers the entire dance and song. Student performs the dance and song with full energy throughout and keeps the beat while dancing. On Exit Slip, student states the origin of the dance; the cultural group who developed it; and the symbolism of the circle, the blanket, and the buzzard-lope.||Student remembers most of the song and dance and performs with confidence through most of the dance. Student keeps the beat most of the time. On Exit Slip, student states the origin of the dance, the cultural group who developed it, and the symbolism of two of the three items.||Student remembers some of the dance and song. Student performs in a matter-of-fact way and keeps the beat some of the time. On Exit Slip, student states either the origin of the dance or the cultural group who developed it and the symbolism of two of the three items.||Student remembers a little of the song and dance. Student performs with little energy and rarely keeps the beat. On Exit Slip, student is unsure about the origin of the dance and the cultural group who developed it and states the symbolism of one of the three items.||Student does not remember the dance and song and/or does not perform the dance. Student incorrectly answers or does not answer the questions on the Exit Slip.|
- 2.25: In the products they make and the performances they present, students show that they understand how time, place, and society influence the arts and humanities such as languages, literature, and history.
Program of Studies:
- AH-(P)(4)(5)-HA-U-3: Students will understand that the arts play a major role in the creation and defining of cultures and building of civilizations.
- AH-(P)(4)(5)-HA-S-Da1: Students will (begin to associate) (associate) (associate) dances they observe or perform with specific cultures (West African); (describe in simple terms) (describe in simple terms) (describe) how dances reflect the cultures.
- AH-(P)(4)(5)-PCA-U-1: Students will understand that the arts fulfill a variety of purposes in society.
- AH-(P)(4)-PCA-S-Da1: Students will (begin to develop an awareness of the) (identify) purposes for which dance is created.
- AH-5-PCA-S-Da2: Students will create new, observe, choose, and perform dance to fulfill a variety of specific purposes.
- AH-(P)(4)(5)-PCA-S-Da2: Students will observe and perform dance created to fulfill a variety of purposes.
- AH-(P)(4)(5)-PA-S-Da1: Students will be actively involved in creating and performing dance (5: incorporating the elements of dance: space, time, and force) alone and with others.
- AH-(4)(5)-PA-S-Da2: Students will perform traditional folk dances, square dances, and ethnic dances. (West African/African-American)
Core Content for Assessment:
- AH-EP-2.2.1: Students will identify dances of the following culture: West African.
- AH-EP-3.2.1: Students will experience dance created for a variety of purposes.
- AH-EP-4.2.3: Students will perform traditional folk dances, square dances, and social dances of ethnic groups (West African, African-American).
- AH-(04) 05-2.2.1: Students will identify how dance has been a part of cultures and periods throughout history. (West African)
- AH-(04) 05-3.2.1: Students will identify how dance fulfills a variety of purposes.
- AH-(04) 05-4.2.3: Students will perform traditional folk dances, square dances, and ethnic dances. (West African/African-American)