Wednesday afternoon I gave a presentation with my 8 third graders at the US Consulate in Chengdu on the very important folk art of square dancing (I’ll add pictures of the actual event when I get them). There were about 30 eager Chinese university students and a handful of Chengdu residents with extra time on their hands in attendance. The lecture was part of a series of weekly talks offered by the US Consulate on the culture of the United States. People attend these afternoons to practice their English or to become more familiar with America, or to just have something to do (Grandpa in the audience smiled the whole time, but I’m pretty sure he had no idea what I was saying).
The talk was a lot of fun to put together. My students had studied square dancing as part of their unit on rhythm and beat in the beginning of the year. They performed once before during our UN Day celebration and I figured it would be great to do an encore and give something back to the community of Chengdu all at once.
The presentation went well. The students were very enthusiastic and despite all odds (my friends who work at the consulate didn’t think I would be successful), I got the Chinese students to get up and learn some of the square dancing (in the end my students were the most unsure about that)!
What was interesting to discover through the process of researching my presentation is how many parallels you can draw between the development (and decline) of folk art in the States and in China. Folk art aside even, looking at the affects of urbanization on rural life, something that changed square dancing drastically, is something that is very real for many Chinese today.
I wasn’t about to start commenting on the state of Chinese development at a lecture where I was supposed to be talking about the United States. It also wouldn’t fare well to start comparing the turn of the 20th century with present day China, so I kept my focus where it should be on “allemande left and go back home.”
The other thing I quickly discovered was how terrible of a topic this was for someone where English was their second language. Most English speakers today would probably struggle with the caller’s language in a square dance. For example, here’s what I read at the beginning of the talk (my kids giggled the whole time because I used my “square dancing voice”):
Roll promenade a shady lady.
Gents roll back, but only by one,
Promenade, you’re gonna have a little fun.
It ain’t no sin to swing and sway,
An’ you pickle up a doodle in the middle of the day.
When that devil comes a-courtin’,
He’ll catch all eight, with a right hand half,
Back by the left, go once by the calf.
Turn the corner by the right, make a wrong-way thar,
And ya’ pickle up a doodle in the middle of the star.
How much did you get?
Overall, I would go back next semester and do another one, but maybe one that uses a little less crazy English as well as less research on my part. Maybe I’ll do one on the bagel culture of the Northeast…I think I could talk for an hour on that subject.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the US Consulate here in Chengdu, happy anniversary! Phil is at the big celebration event as we speak. Even though I was not invited (I guess square dancing experts aren’t that important), I like to think I already did my part in the celebration.