The Manners Dance

The informant is a 50 year old, mother of 3 living in New Jersey. I witnessed this piece of folklore at her house, in the kitchen. The piece is a dance performed by the informant whenever her children use good manners.

The lyrics are simply “the manners dance, the manners dance, mommy loves good manners” and accompanied by a jig, of sorts. There is a lot of arm shanking and hip swinging. As the kids got older though, a jumping air guitar move was added. The dance would be performed whenever one of the informant’s kids, or the friends they had over, would spontaneously use good manners. It caught on to the point that whenever the kid’s friends would be over, they would get mad at the informant if she did not do the manners dance. The informant started performing this dance when her kids were age 2 or 3 and consistently did it until they were 11 or 12. Although the kids are now 14 and 15, the dance will still spontaneously occur, though not with the same frequency. The informant stated “I would get excited when they used good manners, and it evolved to dancing. Now I have to beg for good manners.”

My analysis: I know of parents who do different versions of a “manners dance” in order to entice their children to listen.  Respect and manners are two things important in Western culture, but so is getting rewarded for doing good.  The fact that the children expect a reward when using good manners, rather than do it because it is what is expected, is the aspect of the manners dance that I find most interesting. The necessity of a manners dance in the first place is a thought provoking concept.