Saturday, March 25, 2023

Pop Goes the Folk Dance Guest Blog Post by Melissa Flores

 Today we have a guest blog post from the awesome Melissa Fuller Flores.  Be sure to check her out on instagram! 

MANY thanks to Melissa for sharing her advice and dance adaptations using Pop Music with folk dancing! 

You’ve probably seen this quote: “Be the teacher you needed when you were younger.” That has been my driving force ever since a student of mine, early on in my teaching career, asked, “How come the music that we hear in music class is different from what we hear outside music class?” A pit sank in my stomach. It made me think about my own school music experience as a kid, and I realized that not only was I missing something in my classroom, but that something from my own experience growing up was the same. I know as a Filipino-American in the 90s/2000s I would have had a greater sense of belonging and connection in what we were learning if we would have danced or sung anything from the Philippines. Or even just listened to Oops I Did It Again, anything Spice Girls, something with a boy band!

The easiest way I felt that I could incorporate this relatability for my students quickly was by pairing it with folk dances that my students already knew from their own culture. Which brings us to today! 

🎶Break it Down Now Y’all🎶 (Choosing Dances/ Pop Songs)

How do I know if a folk dance is an appropriate level for my students? You know your students best. For kids newer to folk dancing, I choose dances that keep the same partner throughout the dance and song. Sometimes I adapt a folk dance to where the dance is pretty much the same, but without changing a partner. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a good rule of thumb for all dance choices is that ritual dances, or dances of ritual origin, are always off limits to perform or practice in our classrooms.) 

How will I know when my students are ready for me to add the pop songs to the folk dance? Before adding a pop song to a folk dance I make sure that the students have had loads of past experience with the dance; even to where I don’t need to call directions! Because when you do add a pop song, there can be tricky situations that can come up. And if the students have a deeper depth of knowledge about how the dance works, they will be able to adapt and improvise better.

How do you decide what songs to use? Sometimes I take the lead of what songs my students are singing from movies or youtube, what is popular on the Hot 100, and most of all: what is Kidz Bop recording? Sometimes I start with Kidz Bop and seek out the original recording to check and hear if the original recording is good to have in your classroom. If a student suggests a song and you feel like it is questionable, ask a student who is in high school or college to have a listen and tell you if there are any hidden meanings in the lyrics.

Does tempo matter? Songs that are closer in tempo to the traditional music allow for a more seamless transition for students who are starting out layering folk dances with pop songs. But when the tempo really differs from the traditional music tempo, it opens up a chance to see more collaboration, creativity, and adaptability from your students. 

I have my song/dance, how do I choose which song/dance would go well with it? Check if they are in the same time signature and they have similar forms*. (See the next section about form).
To check if they line up I honestly just sit down, listen to the pop song while using my fingers to dance out the moves along with the directions, and visualize how it could line up. I recommend doing this while sitting somewhere comfy and not while driving and/or in traffic…seriously learn from my mistakes y’all! Another trick is to find a YouTube video of people dancing the folk dance, put it on mute, and start the music and see how it overlays.  

🎶It's Tricky... Tr-tr-tr-tricky🎶 (Possible Tough Spots)

Form*: Not all song lyrics and sections match up perfectly with the original folk dances. Sometimes it is off by 8 or 16 beats. When this occurs, have students repeat sections of the folk dance until the next section. If it doesn't line up, check to see if these next two tricky spots apply.

Introductions: I typically wait for the first verse of the song before we start dancing. Not only for syncing purposes, but also so the students can get the tempo and feel. Also, I like for the kids to really enjoy the song before we start dancing away. 

Bridges: Leading into the bridge I call, “Make it up!” During this time we either just pause and wait, or more times than not improvise dance moves and vibe with the music. Then when the next verse comes up, I call, "1, 2, ready go!". Make sure to set safe expectations before the song even starts. I’ve made the mistake of forgetting to do this, so you can imagine all of the almost accidents that came from the different breakdancing, gymnastics flipping, or karate moves that ensued… learn from my mistakes, y’all!

*Keep in mind that sometimes pop song/folk dance adaptations just don't work. If it feels wonky, find a different song or folk dance that might work better or add/adapt steps to make it work.

🎶Da-da-doo-doot-n, Just dance!🎶

Heel Toe Polka with Sunroof by Nicky Youre Dazy



  • Start moving on “Sunroof” (0:14) and it lines up perfectly until the end of the song fades out.

Kings and Queens Dance with Kings and Queens by Kidz Bop



  • Clap to the beat in the intro and start dancing at the verse (0:15).
  • Dance as is shown in this video, but add extra 8 beats of dancing in place after the king and queen walk down the middle so that the beginning of the dance lines up with the chorus (0:45).
  • Keep going through the dance as done before until the outro at (2:08), students will free dance in place until the end.  

Chimes of Dunkirk Dance with Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Stevie Wonder



  • This song is slower than the original instrumental music, but it also creates opportunity for moving with swagger and within the genre.
  • Students start moving at the start of the lyrics (0:09). When it’s time to sashay (0:31) 3 pairs of students will start to sashay or groove down Soul Train style every 8 beats.                                                                                                                          
  • Keep dancing as done before and the end of the song will finish as the 3rd pair sashays/grooves down.

🎶In the End🎶

When I first added pop songs to my folk dances I had no idea the positive ripple effect it would have, not only for my students’ sense of belonging but also as it related to my childhood experience. I can say I am the teacher that I wish I could have had; answering the question I had and my student asked, “How come the music that we hear in music class is different from what we hear outside music class?” And it all started with a pop song. 

As a first-generation Filipino-American and military child, Melissa Fuller Flores grew up showcasing Filipino folk dances on Air Force bases. The foundations of how to move to music primed and prepared her for a Bachelor’s in music education at the University of Alabama, and a Master’s in clarinet performance at the University of North Texas. Though it was difficult to leave her students in Houston after 6 years, Melissa currently teaches in just outside of Iowa City, Iowa. There, she continues to provide students with musical experiences that cultivate self-expression and help them thrive as positive, productive, and culturally mindful world citizens. When she isn’t teaching, Melissa enjoys presenting, creating, cooking, and being a couch potato watching her favorite shows.

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