KINGSTON — They joined hands and skipped around, struck the floor with heels and toes and at one point pantomimed a finger-wagging scolding to an imaginary boy named Johnny.
That last bit was part of a Polish folk dance, and the 12 members of the Good Shepherd Academy Dance Club who showed up for a recent after-school dance session seemed to especially enjoy chanting the lyrics that accompanied it:
“Karolinka, pretty maid, pretty maid, picked some flowers in the glade, in the glade. Johnny showed up with a laugh, broke her basket right in half. No, no, no! No, no no! Pay for it and out you go!”
Taught by their music teacher, Raphael Micca, the youngsters also practiced a lively, hoedown-style square dance, a stately court dance that looked like a “Downton Abbey” celebration and an Irish dance called Bridge of Athlone that involved taking turns ducking through a tunnel of the other kids’ arms.
When it was time for the Virginia Reel, dancers worked their way through two lines, giving each person a twirl just as generations have done before them.
“This dates back to England in the 1500s, and it was popular in Colonial America,” Micca told his protegees. “They did it at Christmas parties and it gave them a chance to say hello, or goodnight and Merry Christmas to everybody.”
With all this turning-by-the-elbow, Micca warned the students, they might get dizzy. But, he said, “The dizziness is part of the fun.”
The Good Shepherd Academy Dance Club has been going strong since the Colorful China troupe of dancers and singers brought a touch of Asian artistry to the Kingston school in October.
Micca had asked for volunteers to learn some American-style dances to show the visitors, and after that cultural-exchange effort, some of the children wanted to keep on dancing.
“This is the core group,” he said, adding any other students are welcome to join them on Mondays after school.
So, why do these kids enjoy dancing so much?
“You get to see your friends every week,” 10-year-old Heidi Williams said.
“We get to do a lot of dances from different cultures,” said Jordyn Dutko, 11.
“Mr. Micca is a good teacher,” 11-year-old Jessica Phares added.
By the way, what is gym class like at Good Shepherd?
“We run around,” said Avery Cole, 11.
“We play basketball and kickball,” said Abigail Mackesy, 12
What’s more fun, gym class or dance club?
“I prefer the dancing,” said 10-year-old Cally Williams, who is not related to Heidi.
“I like them equally,” said 11-year-old Delaney Butler.
When a reporter asked the group if dancing was like a sport, all 12 raised their hands to say yes.
“It requires a lot of time and practice,” 12-year-old Jack Riley explained.
Some club members said they’ve been sharing what they’ve learned.
Sister and brother Mae, 9, and Chas Mathis Baliatico, 11, are teaching two younger siblings, and Hunter Wesolowski, 12, is teaching a younger cousin.
Lily Wickizer has a 4-year-old sister with whom she wants to share the steps. “She doesn’t always listen,” Lily said with a perplexed smile.
Some of the dance club members said they’d like to perform, and Micca expects they’ll soon visit local nursing homes to do just that. But, he said, being in the club is more about participating and interacting with each other than being on a stage.
“So many connections today are superficial and electronic,” he said, pointing out the dancers are forging a more natural bond of friendship.
“If you had told me, even five years ago, that I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “When I took a dance class at school, I was petrified.”
During a more recent intensive music course in West Chester, Micca said he became intrigued with the folk dancing the teacher emphasized.
Deciding he “needed to know more” he subsequently enrolled in a week-long course in West Virginia, sponsored by the Country Dance and Song Society.
“As I drove up to the place, I thought, what am I getting myself into? But it was a really transformative week,” Micca said, describing a moment when about 100 dancers joined hands in a line that twisted and turned so each person could “pass all these smiling faces.”
Micca recreated a small-scale version of that scene at the end of a recent dance club session, inviting the Good Shepherd dancers to join hands and follow him in a graceful, flowing line that formed concentric circles.
“Round and round we go,” they sang as they danced. “We hold each other’s hands and weave our lives in a circle. Our love is strong and the dance goes on.”
“I love that message,” Micca said afterward. “And I want them to see the beauty and fun of dancing in a wholesome way.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT