Greetings, from Kentucky! We just finished a lesson introducing the mountain dulcimer, Jean Ritchie, and a Kentucky folk dance, "Old Betty Larkin." The dulcimer is Kentucky's state instrument, so I always make sure to expose my students to our Kentucky heritage at least a couple times throughout the school year. "Old Betty Larkin" is a game song that any age will enjoy. I teach this lesson to 2nd-5th grade every year and it is a favorite the kids remember from year to year.
The song is in D dorian, but the kids usually pick up on the melody very quickly. (It's actually refreshing to get out of the world of C Major pentatonic!) I usually accompany the song on my dulcimer just playing a drone throughout the song without worrying about the melody string because I have zero skills or training in actually playing the dulcimer. There are chord changes you could choose to play if you were accompanying the song on piano, guitar, or even Orff instruments. (I've always wanted to make an Orff arrangement for this song but haven't gotten around to it yet!)
We repeat the song several times. Usually we try to give everyone a turn, but sometimes we just run out of time. If you have an even number of students, we have 2 people in the middle to be Betty/Billy. I just remind them to go to opposite sides of the circle to start the weaving so that they don't end up stealing 2 people from the same couple. This is a time saver to allow more kids to have a turn. The older kids could handle 3 in the middle if you are adventurous!
Here are a few questions I usually ask the kids to include dance vocabulary in the lesson:
In verse 1, who was locomotor? Everyone except Betty/Billy
In verse 2, who was locomotor? Only Betty/Billy
In verse 3, who was locomotor? Only the new Betty/Billy
In verse 1, what kind of pathway did you travel? Curved
In verse 2, what kind of pathway did Betty/Billy travel? Zigzag
In verse 3, what kind of pathway did the new Betty/Billy travel? Straight (to go to the center)
Which verse(s) had a double circle formation? Verse 1
Which verse(s) had a single circle formation? Verse 2 & 3
In verse 1, did our circle move clockwise or counter-clockwise? (counter-clockwise)
I always encourage students to use the dance posters for help answering these questions. If you missed my post talking about these fabulous dance posters, click this link.
After the video, I usually ask the kids to compare and contrast her version of the song to our version. Jean skips the verse that says "Needle in a haystack" but also includes another verse that says "You take mine, I'll take another." Jean's version can also be found in her book "Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians." "Old Betty Larkin" is on page 15 and can be viewed in the preview on amazon.com. The book is $15.91 on Amazon.
I'm sure your students will enjoy this game song. If you have any other activities or suggestions to accompany this lesson, please share your ideas!