All over the world, there are wonderful traditions where people take simple items like dancing bells, shells or seeds and make them into bracelets, waist belts or anklets. Then, as they dance, they create part of the rhythm just by moving.
Have you ever thought of the body as a musical instrument?
In the British Isles, springtime or special times of year are often celebrated with Morris dancing, a unique type of English folk dance that dates back at least to the 1400s. Dancers dress in colorful costumes, wearing elaborate sets of dancing bells below their knees. They perform choreographed moves in pairs, often with sticks, swords or handkerchiefs. As they dance, you can hear the jingling of the knee pads and the sound of their sticks as they tap. Here’s one video that shows dancers with knee pads and Morris sticks in their hands.
Since young children love to move and dance, making a simplified version of this traditional “knee-pad” instrument can be a fun way to welcome a new season, to exercise, and to explore world cultures. Here are the supplies you need for a homemade version of Morris dancing bells:
Supplies for Morris Dancing Bells
- Two short lengths of elastic of any width (about 10″ – 14” long)
- A handful of jingle bells
- Any number of extra buttons, beads or similar jangles
- Assorted ribbons, yarns, and embroidery thread
- Needle and thread
Start by cutting two pieces of elastic and making sure they can comfortably stretch around a child’s leg, and sit it just under the knee. Leave a bit of extra length for the elastic to overlap. This will be where you will sew or pin it in place.
Place your elastic straight onto your work area. Since most elastic is white, you can use markers to color and decorate it before you add ribbons and bangles.
Create the hanging jingles by threading a jingle bell on a small ribbon or piece or embroidery thread. Tie it to the end and then add any other buttons, beads or jangles. When you’ve reached the desired length, tie it in place onto your elastic. Add as many of these as you like.
Add some ribbons or yarn to the leggings. Sew or tie them into place. They may not add to the sound of your instrument, but they will move as you dance and add to the overall beauty of what you’ve created.
Last, sew or safety pin your morris bells to the right size for fitting around the leg of your child. Make sure the elastic is tight enough to stay in place, but not too tight to restrict movement or circulation.
Dancing With Bells!
You can use this craft to explore the music of Morris dancing or any music of the British Isles. If you watch Morris dancing videos on YouTube, you’ll love the happy upbeat melodies heard during the dance. You’ll also notice how every Morris group has its own unique clothing and style of dance. Some Morris dancers wear garments made of strips of rags. Some are all men. Others are all women. Some are mixed groups. But one thing is certain. Everyone is having fun as they celebrate with their friends.
And so can you!
Here’s one more example to get you inspired to move and dance and celebrate Spring:
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