Students perform a folk dance and learn about locomotor and non-locomotor movements.
- Length: 1 class period
- Grades: 4-5
- Students will learn about the dance element of space by creating movement that lets them experience shape, level, and pathway.
- Students will learn and perform locomotor and non-locomotor movements.
- Students will perform the folk dance “Little Johnny Brown” with a comfort level that lets them improvise movement.
For middle school:
Students will be able to describe the composition and elements of dance in this folk dance.
Little Johnny Brown
Found On: Dancing Threads
Vocabulary, Materials, and Handouts
beat, elements of dance, direction, folk dance, improvisation, level, locomotor movement, non-locomotor movement, pathway
TV/VCR or DVD player, drums or percussion instrument for keeping beat, eight or more two-foot squares of bright material, large open space
Instructional Strategies and Activities
The dance “Little Johnny Brown” from the KET series Dancing Threads introduces students to traditional African-American folk dance. “Little Johnny Brown” is a dance game. Generations of black Americans transported from Africa enjoyed playing “Little Johnny Brown” as a courtship dance, as a vehicle for teaching values, and as a source of lively fun.
About Dancing Threads
Dancing Threads: Community Dances from Africa to Zuni is an instructional series of four half-hour programs featuring outstanding African-American, Native American, and Appalachian performers teaching traditional dances and games. The activities featured are all community dances involving patterns of singing, dancing, poetry, mimicry, and play-acting.
View the video excerpt before showing it to the students. Clear away the desks and make some open space in the room. Have students form a circle. Because it’s important to help everyone feel comfortable moving, have everyone work together as a group first.
About the Dance
“Little Johnny Brown” is a circle dance. For African Americans in slavery days, it was a courtship ritual, a vehicle for teaching values such as honesty, and a source of self-expression. The dance/game and the story have been handed down through generations of African Americans living on the sea islands off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia.
Have students walk normally around the circle (or room). Next have them walk high up on their toes and then walk lower to the ground. Then let them move any way they want to (except regular walking). This sequence lets them know that there is no one “right” way to move during the dance; they need to use their ideas. Have them try these variations:
- Do the movement at a different level.
- Do the movement in a different direction.
- Choose another way to move and repeat the level and direction changes.
Tell students to think of an animal and move the way it would. There is no need to stay in the circle. Let each student tell you what animal he or she is imitating. Students can even demonstrate the movement if it feels comfortable. Next, ask them to do the following exercises:
- Fly like a bird.
- Fly the same way with a partner.
- Create a new way to fly.
Divide students into pairs, designating one student in each pair as #1 and one as #2. Have all the #1s make up a movement. Give them an action verb suggestion like “swing” or “turn,” or suggest something using arms or head or legs. Have the #2s copy the movement. Then reverse the process, with the #2s making up the movements and the #1s copying it.
Let students sit and catch their breath. Explain a little about folk dance (see the teacher’s guide for Dancing Threads below). Then tell the students they are going to learn an African folk dance. Introduce the background and history of “Little Johnny Brown,” then show the dance excerpt from Dancing Threads.
Have the students learn the words to “Little Johnny Brown” by echoing each line after you. You can alter the structure of the dance to fit your circumstances (i.e., chant the song instead of using a guitar, or have more than four people in the circle). Have all the students do the dance together the first time, using the pieces of cloth as “blankets.” Review the “flying” the class did earlier and ask, “How can we change that to be more like a buzzard?” As a class, discuss what “lope” means. After everyone feels comfortable (especially with “show off y’motion”), repeat the dance in smaller groups, again imitating the video.
Lead a group discussion about the dance. Ask students the following questions:
- What pathways did we use? (circles)
- Did we change level? (yes, with “lay your blanket down”)
- Did we have locomotor and non-locomotor movements? (yes, loping/laying down the blanket)
Watch the video segment that discusses the history and purpose of “Little Johnny Brown.” Discuss these points:
- What are the purposes of dance in general? (worship, entertainment, social, recreation, artistic)
- What was the purpose of this folk dance and most folk dances? (Refer to the Dancing Threads teacher’s guide for more information on this point of discussion.)
Divide the class into two groups and have students perform the dance. Choose one or more students to keep a beat using drums or other percussive instruments.
Open Response Assessment
Prompt: (For middle school students.) We have just watched and performed the dance “Little Johnny Brown.”
Directions: Identify the dance style (folk, ballet, tap, jazz, etc.) and the origin of the dance. Briefly describe how to do the dance. Give at least three examples of how this dance used the elements of dance (space, time, and force) and locomotor/non-locomotor movements.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student identifies the dance as a folk dance and shows extensive understanding of the connection with slavery in America. Student makes insightful use of supporting examples and relevant details to explain how the dance uses different kinds of movement and the elements of dance to communicate ideas.||Student identifies the dance as a folk dance and shows broad understanding of the connection with slavery in America. Student makes effective use of supporting examples and relevant details to explain how the dance uses different kinds of movement and the elements of dance to communicate ideas.||Student identifies the dance as a folk dance and shows basic understanding of the connection with slavery in America. Student makes some correct use of supporting examples and relevant details to explain how the dance uses different kinds of movement and the elements of dance to communicate ideas.|| Student identifies the dance as a folk dance and shows limited and/or incorrect understanding of the connection with slavery in America.
Student is ineffective in the use of supporting examples and relevant details to explain how the dance uses different kinds of movement and the elements of dance to communicate ideas.
|Student does not identify the dance as a folk dance and does not give examples of movement in the dance.|
Performance Event: You are going to perform the folk dance “Little Johnny Brown.”
Directions: Sing or chant the song as you dance, keeping the beat. Accurately follow the directions for the dance such as “lope like a buzzard” and “lay your blanket down.” Maintain good concentration and show effort, enthusiasm, and respect for the dance and the other dancers.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student follows all the directions for the dance. Student is consistently effective in interpreting and communicating the ideas portrayed in the song. Student exhibits strong effort, skill, and teamwork participation.||Student performs the required steps and follows directions for the dance. Student is effective most of the time in interpreting and communicating the ideas portrayed in the song. Student exhibits good effort, skill, and teamwork participation.||Student basically performs the required steps and follows directions for the dance. Student is effective some of the time in interpreting and communicating the ideas portrayed in the song. Student exhibits basic effort, skill, and teamwork participation.||Student does minimal performance and follows few or none of the directions for the dance. Student is ineffective in interpreting and communicating the ideas portrayed in the song. Student exhibits little effort, skill, and teamwork participation.||Student does not perform the dance.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
- Downloadable teacher’s guide for Dancing Threads (PDF format)
- The video of the entire “Little Johnny Brown” program (Program 2 from Dancing Threads).