In many parts of the world children will be celebrating Halloween this weekend. I always loved the Halloween tradition when I lived in the United States, which is strange as I can’t even look at a horror film.
It seemed to be a tradition that was about meeting with your neighbours for some fun and being inventive about your costuming and your ‘tricks or treats’. This fun holiday inspires many visual arts, writing and even Mathematics activities in the classroom.
Halloween dances are fun, not too frightening and are easy to find on YouTube.
Origins of Halloween
Halloween is one of the world’s oldest holidays and is currently held on the 31st October. Coming from ancient pagan Celtic traditions, historians trace it back to Samhain Festival which celebrated the harvest.
It seems that fire was an important part of these early rituals with bonfires being lit to ward off evil spirits. The Hill of Ward in central Ireland was the centre of these fires with a huge bonfire lit by the priests. The embers from this fire were distributed to households across the country. These customs were said to discourage a heavy winter and to help the sun to shine for longer periods of time.
Because it was held at harvest time when food was plentiful before the coming of Winter, it was a time of feasting. They also believed that Samhain Day was a time when the door to other worlds would open and let in ghosts and spirits.
Our tradition of being in costume may have come from the tradition of people hiding themselves in animal skins to hide from evil spirits. However the origins of wearing spooky costumes came from a Irish prank to scare the unsuspecting neighbours.
Many of the rituals dealt with the supernatural and the acknowledgement of the dead is still a part of many other cultures including the Jewish Yom Kippur and Mexican, Latin America and Spain celebrate Dia de los Muertos.
Our modern celebrations seem to be a mixture of the Catholic All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. When Catholicism came to the British Isles rather than ban all pagan festivals they tried to combine with many of the Christian ones to help bring communities together.
The word Halloween is thought to have come from All Hallows’ Eve which was a time for Christians to pray for people who had died but were yet to reach heaven. This may explain some of the games and traditions we still follow today which were part of All Hallows’ celebrations. Bobbing for apples was a fortune telling game played on All Hallows’ Eve.
The first Halloween parties in American were ‘play parties’ where people would sing and dance and tell fortunes and share stories about the dead. It was more about community and neighbours meeting than ghostly pranks.
This idea of storytelling and community is central to a school dance celebration of Halloween. If you are having children choreograph a dance, you could focus on this aspect rather than a lot of the more scary parts of Halloween.
If you are making a Halloween dance or doing a dance activity you need to check that it is acceptable to your school’s community. There are religious and cultural aspects of this celebration that may be offensive to some people.
You also need to make the activities non threatening and fun, rather than scary. Many children will have dreams about scary things at this time of year and addressing it by making the dance activities fun and informative will reduce the likelihood of any of these issues.
There are many ways to tell stories through choreography and Halloween has great stories.
Try getting the children, in groups, to make up stories about the first Halloween in America or how it was celebrated in the Celtic tradition. They may need to research this first or you could provide some background information contained in this article.
Alternatively, they could make a dance that showed the contrast between Halloween in the beginning and now. Using contrast as a form they could devise a series of movements that focus on different Elements of Dance as a starting point.
5 Halloween dance favourites
Here are some of my favourite Halloween dances you could teach to your students.
This is a repetitive dance that has the same movement for the chorus and the verse of the music. This element makes it a little like a social dance. Putting in an improvised section can help make it more fun for the students.
This is a song that would be appropriate for younger students and could be choreographed as a song and dance. The dance could be done in a circle and include simple actions which may include inclining the head from side to side, shaking hands with the person on each side, two thumbs pointing to the chest, climbing a vine, eight claps.
This is a simple dance for four people that, although repetitive, has changing floor patterns. You could introduce it as a social dance but then have the children change the steps to travel in different directions or make different group formations.
If you want your students to choreograph something, this music mix is fun and runs for 40 mins. It would be helpful to have playing while they are exploring movement. It includes Monster Mash, Thriller, Time Warp (kid appropriate version), Purple People Eater, I Want Candy, Ghostbusters among others.
Made for younger children with a ‘sing after me and follow me’ format this would be great for a Brain Break. It doesn’t travel anywhere and could be done next to a desk.
These are just a few of the many alternatives for Halloween celebrations. Understanding the cultural history and how it has affected our modern-day celebrations is an important part of covering this topic at school. Storytelling through dance is a great way to get students choreographing and Halloween is a time for stories. Just not too scary please!