Dancing With A Star: Extension Activities for George Washington
Beginning in Kindergarten, students are taught about George Washington. This information frequently falls into two categories: his military career and his role as the first president of the United States. As the extension elementary activities for George Washington will reveal, there was another side to George Washington. He loved parties and dancing.
Grade Levels: Third and Fourth Grades
Students will be able to understand how George Washington earned his revered reputation.
Students will be able to explain why dancing was important in 18th century colonial America.
Students will be able to explain why George Washington used parties and dancing during his military and political careers.
Vocabulary Words to Teach:
surveyor – a person who determines and delineates the form, extent, and position of a tract of land by taking linear and angular measurements
minuet – a slow graceful dance in 3/4 time characterized by forward balancing, bowing, and toe pointing
cotillion – an elaborate dance with frequent changing of partners carried out under the leadership of one couple at formal balls
complaisance – a disposition to please or comply
Discussion and Teaching
Prior to beginning extension elementary activities for George Washington, review with the students that George Washington was born February 22, 1732 and died December 14, 1799. He accomplished a great deal during his sixty-seven years. His role in fighting for, creating, and leading the United States of America in its earliest days earned him the title "Father of our Country." (It is important to tell the students that many books have been written about George Washington. Some of these books have been directed at children and contain questionable information, e.g. the cherry tree story.)
George Washington's father died when he was eleven and he lived at one point with his mother, then with other relatives, and finally with his half brother, Lawrence. (Pause here and ask the students how they think Washington felt about being moved around so often.)
Unlike his half brothers who were educated in England, Washington was mainly homeschooled, focusing on arithmetic, surveying, and the classics. Yet, from the age of eleven, he trained himself to be deliberate, careful, and disciplined. It is said that when he needed a skill, he learned by trial and error. (Pause here and ask the meaning of "homeschooled" and "trial and error.")
Washington has been called the "early do-it-yourself American." He was very concerned about his reputation from an early age. At age 16 he copied Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. This piece was first composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and contained 110 rules to live by. These rules proclaimed self-respect for others and in turn gave the gift of self-respect and heightened self-esteem for oneself. Later, in the military, these rules would prove invaluable as the ability to be complaisance was crucial. (Pause here and discuss complaisance. How do people use it today?)
He began his career as a surveyor. This skill was important, because land was constantly being settled. He had not been born in the gentry class, but he worked hard and bought land which moved him up the social class ladder. Later, when he married Martha Dandridge Custic, a wealthy young widow, this added to his prestige. (Pause here and explain how womens' wealth in the eighteenth century was regarded.)
He rose to prominence as a military and political leader from 1775-1799. During this twenty-four year period he was commander of the colonial forces in the Revolutionary War and commander of the Continental Army. Also, he played a major role in writing the Constitution of the United States. This prompted a need for a leader. He was urged to be a monarch, but he refused and became president.
In eighteenth century colonial America, dancing was one of the few activities that brought men and women together. There, they could publicly display themselves and their families and secure friendships that could help with business or political dealings. Washington relished these affairs and used them for most of his career. Americans wanted to prove that they, too, had culture. They adopted the minuet and the cotillion as popular dances. (Pause here and discuss why the Americans might have felt inferior to the Europeans. Ask if they think that this attitude influenced Washington's behavior.)
George Washington was reputedly an excellent dancer. He enjoyed the minuet and the cotillion. He was so good that after 1775, he was expected to open the dancing at nearly every ball and assembly he attended. (Pause here and discuss the popular television show "Dancing With the Stars." Ask the students if they think Washington would have gone on a show like that. Have them explain their reasons for why he would or would not.)
Have the students open the website that lists the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Have them choose five of the rules that they think would work for them. Later, discuss and vote on five rules for the class. Easy summaries of the rules are posted on the left side of the rules. Students can write what the rules mean today.
George Washington was very careful about his appearance and powdered his sandy hair and wore a wig. Have students make wigs and model them for the lower elementary students, particularly Kindergarteners. Encourage the girls to decorate their wigs with clips, flowers, bows, etc.
Collaborate with the music and physical education teachers and teach the children Washington's favorite dances, the minuet and the cotillion (The cotillion is a direct ancestor to the square dance.). Make it competitive so that the best couple can be assigned the role of George Washington. Have the class do a presentation for the lower elementary grades. Have the students view YouTube for a visual image of the dance routine. Discuss the concept of choreography and its importance to be a good dancer.
Tell the students that Mason Locke Weems started the story about George Washington and the cherry tree. Have them go to the website, https://famousamericans.net/masonlockeweems/. Ask them to explain the phrase, "want of veracity." Ask the students to speculate why Weems started the story. Ask the students to speculate as to other reasons people tend to make up stories.
Francois Furstenberg, In the Name of the Father, The Penguin Press, New York, 2006.
George Washington and the Dance, https://www.colonialmusic.org/Resource/GW&Dance.htm
La Royale: Cotillion Dancing, https://www.history.org/history/teaching/laroyale.cfm
How to Dance a Minuet, htttp://www.colonialmusic.org/Resource/howtoMIN.htm
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 1985