A play-party is a dance or game accompanied by acapella singing and/or clapping hands. Popular in places where dance bands were rare (on the American frontier), barred by religious concerns (down South), or impractical (with children, or at sea). In general, dancing is in circles, not lines, as in the contradance, or squares (as in the quadrille or square dancing), physical contact is (generally) limited to hands and linked arms only, and the steps are set, not varying (as in the waltz or tango). Some play-parties are merely (adapted) children's games, some entirely new (Lou-be-Lou, for instance, was a Shaker dance), and some like (very simplified) versions of popular ballroom dances. Whether young or old, they're usually a lot of wild activity and fun!

Play-parties were at their height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and some play-parties are still with us, "Skip to my Lou", "Pig in the Parlor"...others are less well known, but fun to recall "Jingle at the Window", "Punchinello", and some have passed entirely from view "Captain Jinks", "Old Man Tucker" for example. In the 1930's, inspired by Karl Orff's and Bela Bartok's schools of musical pedagogy, many of them were included into Silver-Burdett songbooks, and other manuals.

Looking many of them up, I was saddened to see the lyrics to some thoroughly bowdlerized into dullness in the modern era, as "adult" songs are turned to nursery-school fodder: "Turn the Glasses Over", a fine seagoing song, has the evocative Dutch/English line "Drink up all the brandywine..and turn the glasses over" which is now about lemonade. Of course, "99 Bottles" isn't about beer anymore...A shame, since so many new songs could be play-partied -- I'd love to be spun down the line for the Violent Femmes "Add it Up"!

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