The Schuhplattler: a German Folk Dance

About the Schuhplattler

The Schuhplattler is an energetic and demanding Bavarian dance which is also popular in Austria and the German speaking parts of northern Italy. It will engage and enlighten your students about the culture, while also incorporating the enjoyment and accessibility of body percussion found in the Schulwerk.  How appropriate for aspects of this German folk dance to be found in an elemental approach to teaching. The performers stomp, clap and strike the soles of their shoe (schuhe), thighs and knees with their hands held flat (platt). It was originally a partner dance in which the the females spin and twirl while males performed interludes of complex stomping, slapping, kicking and acrobatic moves designed to impress their partners and the audience. Later, many clubs were formed which included only male dancers whose spectacular movements were carefully choreographed.  Today, children’s groups (often associated with clubs for adults)  perform on  their own with great exuberance and fun while maintaining great precision.

Authentic Examples of Schuhplattler Dancers in the German State of Bavaria, and in the United States

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Schuhplattler Dancers in Bavaria and US

Making it Accessible to Students:

It is a challenging folk dance, and I do not encourage trying to teach it to your students in one day.  I usually have a “folk dancing day,” where the dance is the primary focus of the lesson, or it is simple enough to teach within part of a day’s lesson from start to finish.  Often, I use these dances to begin a cultural unit or as a final activity.  Not the Schuhplattler.  Attempting to teach the complicated steps in one day would probably overwhelm the students and lead to frustration on everyone’s part.

 

When I first sought out a German folk dance to teach my students (other than a partnered dance like the Polka), I watched several videos of German Plattler dances and thought, “How can I teach such a complex thing to my students?  Wait… how can I teach myself how to do this?”  I found that videos can get very fancy, and even the “tutorials” did not seem to be very user-friendly.  I spent a lot of time analyzing and breaking the dance down into smaller sections, and slowing it down.  Then it occurred to me that if I were to teach a few steps at the beginning of each lesson, and alternate this with another activity, over time we could learn it and surprise ourselves with success! In the same unit for instance, we learned a German folk song, sang it in canon and transferred it to barred instruments.

The Schuhplattler is often a 3/4 dance like the the waltz, and is sometimes performed in 4/4 time like a march or a polka. This particular dance is in 3/4. In teaching it to my students, I break the body percussion part it into these sections:

Intro

6+3                                                                          

6+6

6+hop

The beginning 6 steps of each of these lines (except the intro) are the same.  The tutorials describe it as Intro, 9, 12, 6 – but I found if the students know that the first 6 steps are always the same, it becomes a lot less intimidating. At first, the dance seems difficult. Showing the students the entire intro section might get a reaction such as, “You want us to do what?”  By the end of the morning however, they’ll be flying with excitement and success.

I did this folk dance with my 4th and 5th graders with success.  I cannot say where I stopped each day because the progress of each class is different.  You know your students, and know where the stopping point should be each day.  The dance took me about 4 days to teach, with the last lesson mostly focused on the Schuhplattler.  Each day I spent about 25 minutes working on the steps.

Tips for teaching the dance:

  • Break each section into smaller units – this includes the 6-step section. Do not teach the intro as a “non-stop go,” but also break that up for your students, with three to four movements at a time, always reinforcing before the next tricky step.
  • Work the transitions. Supplement the number counting with directive words to help give your students cues like “switch,” “front,” “back,” etc.
  • If students have trouble with balance, advise them to tighten/engage their core as if they are about to receive a punch in the gut. As one of my prima little dancers said to help the rest of her class, “keep your belly button centered between your legs.”  This means students cannot look down at their feet and legs.  Sometimes it is helpful to hold the students’ shoulders at least once so they get the sensation of what it is like to stay upright.
  • Students check their progress in the video

    Bring the knees up high. Knees should meet the hands half-way.

  • I found that by facing a block of students, the teaching works better than in a circle. This helps to keep ‘rights’ and ‘lefts’ clear. Have the class rotate their facing in the classroom as they practice.  With each practice of a new sequence, I would move my position, north, east, south and west, giving me a better chance to see the students’ progress, and a chance for everyone to get front row views – especially if your classes are as big as my own. It also allows students to practice repetitively without it feeling so mundane.  (If you find a better formation to teach this, please let me know in the comments!)
  • Give tips and reminders regarding which foot we start with, so everyone is unified. It may help to give cues by waving fingers and giving cues with your head for those students who are in the back.
  • Always begin the next lesson with a review of the previous steps learned.
  • When learning a new section, (either by watching a video or from your modelling) ask them to point out what they notice on which counts. This will help them mentally prepare for where particular movements go in the dance. This can be more beneficial than just modelling and echoing.  We like to do “I notice” statements as a regular practice.

 

The Score

For my fellow colleagues who like to see music, I notated it to the best of my ability. Left – L, Right – R.

 

 

The Teaching Demonstration Video: I am performing each section once with the words I used with my students.  I am acting as a mirror to indicate the students’ correct Rights and Lefts (this is something I could not find online).  You can play and replay as needed.

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Schuhplattler Tutorial

The Music:  I found this delightful accordion accompaniment for the Schuhplattler.  At the end of my video, you will see me perform the motions to the A section only.  It is great to hear a traditional German instrument accompanying the students’ successful steps.  They love finally putting the dance with the music!  The music’s form is Intro, ABABA.

Students in Action!

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A New Challenge – the Schuhplattler!

Make it Elemental!

The stamping/patting body percussion comprises the A part of the dance.  The recording from the  Youtube video that I provide is in  ABABA form.  A = stamping/patting section.  For the B section, I like to give the students the chance to add their creativity.  I have explored this in two ways:

Time to create!

1) Teach the students the 1 2 3 1 2 3 steps of the waltz/polka and encourage them to move around the space, while trying out different pathways, changing of places, or whatever else they can think of.

 

2) Treat this as a body percussion improvisation/composition section.  Students create their own 6-12 count “platter” moves and take a solo!  (aka – ‘we have body percussion improvisations’).  To help with this, show the students videos of other Plattlers (sometimes called German slap dances) to help them organize ideas.  Check out this youtube video for some authentic inspiration!

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Haushamer (Schuhplattler)

I would love to hear any other ideas you have with this B section.

Technology Tip: If you like to use YouTube videos to help educate your students, try entering the URLs into www.viewpure.com.   It will take the well-loved video from YouTube, make it guaranteed commercial free, comment free, and it will not continue onto the next video if you don’t stop it at the end.  I have provided the YouTube URLs so you can look at the original source.

 

About Clarissa Ward, Creator of the Shuhplattler Lesson

This is Clarissa Ward’s ninth year teaching music and movement in her classrooms.  She currently teaches grades K-5 in Bel Air, MD in the Harford County Public Schools system.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Music Education from University of Arizona, and a Masters’ Degree in Music Education from George Mason University, where she completed her Orff Schulwerk Certification.  Currently, Clarissa is a candidate for National Board Certification and hopes that this process will make her a more reflective teacher.  She was active as a board member of ACEMM, serving for three years as Secretary, and has continued to participate in the work of ACEMM.  Through her work with ACEMM as well as participation in AOSA, she has loved connecting with teachers throughout the United States to build and learn new teaching ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “A New Challenge – the Schuhplattler!

  1. Wonderful lesson, Clarissa! I can totally see teachers making connections to South African ‘gum boot’ dances and African American step-dances.

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