Sunday, November 9, 2014

Switching Places Ring Games (Part 1-Description & Other Comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on switching places ring games. This post provides a general description of those games and other comments about these types of ring (circle) games as well as descriptions of other ways that the center person is identified in recreational singing games.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II provides text and video examples of two contemporary "switching places" circle games: "Little Sally Walker" (Walking Down The Street) and "Ride That Pony". The Addendum to that post features a video of a Ghanaian switching place ring game.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and recreational purposes.

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Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

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"Switching places" games is a term that I coined for a sub-set of ring (circle) games. These games can be considered a variant form of "show me your motion" games. In "show me your motion games" the person in the center of the ring does a brief dance or other movement and the rest of the players who form the circle try to exactly imitate that motion or simply watch that performance. However, in switching places games, as the lyrics direct her (or, less often him) to do, the center person stands in front of one person forming the circle, and does a dance or performs a movement (such as jumping jacks, or poses dramatically and then "freezes"). The center person might arbirarily select the person who she or he stands in front of or that "partner" might be selected on purpose.

After the center person does her dance/movement, her partner does the exact same dance/movement. During these performances, the rest of the people forming the ring continue to sing and clap (and in some renditions also stomp their feet) to the beat. However, they don't attempt to do the actions performed by the center person and her partner. In some renditions of those games, the game immediately begins again with the partner as the new center person. In other renditions, the center person and her partner switch places two times before that partner becomes the new center person and the game begins again.

Sometimes large groups have two (or more) center persons at the same time. Each one stands in front of another person in the ring, and plays the game as the instructions above describe. I think that this is a modification that is used because adults directing the play experience (and the group members themselves) want to have as many people in the group participating in thee game as possible in the short amount of time that may be alloted for these games.

I believe that both of those singing games originated among African Americans because of the structure of their text (lyrics) and because of their performance activities.

Here are dates for some examples that I've found thus far:
1950s - the old "Little Sally Walker" Ring Game
The earliest example that I've found of "switching places" to choose a new center person is an example of [the old] "Little Sally Walker" that was sent to my [regrettably now inaccessible) website. Here's part of that performance description:
"Little Sally Walker, an African-American version of a children’s game song (as played by Anna Robinson in the mid 1950's; who is now in her 60's).

...Still standing in front of whoever Sally may stop in front of "Sally" continues doing the same dance or movement of her hips that she did previously.

5th- On the words you love the best Sally is standing still and facing the girl she stopped in front of, now the game is over; the former “Sally” rejoins the ring, and the new Sally immediately enters the center of the ring and the game begins again. When both boys and girls play this game together the game takes on a little more interest.
-Anna R.,, 5/8/2008
The full text of this example and its complete performance directions can be found at "African American Singing Games & Movement Rhymes (A-L)"

Two Contemporary "Switching Places" Circle Games
The games "Little Sally Walker" (Walking Down The Street)* and "Ride That Pony" are the only examples of switching places games that I have identified thus far. I believe both of those games, and their switching places activities are relatively new. Here are dates that I've found thus far for oldest examples of these games:

Early Collection Dates For "Little Sally Walker" (Walking Down The Street)
1999 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (collected by Azizi Powell)
The oldest example of "Little Sally Walker" (Walking Down The Street) that I've found is one that I observed being played by African American girls (under age 12 years) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1999):

Little Sally Walker was walkin down the street.
She didn’t know what to do so she stood in front of me.
I said ooh girl do your thing.
Do your thing, Stop!
I said ooh girl do your thing.
Do your thing, Stop!
-African American girls (about 7-9 years old), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (North View Heights Public Housing Program), 1999; collected by Azizi Powell, 1999
A full description of its performance activity can be found in cocojams2: African American Singing Games & Movement Rhymes (A-L) link that is given above.

2001 - summer camp game, as mentioned by LNL in a 2004 comment posted to a Mudcat (online folk music forum) discussion thread: "Children's Street Songs"
LNL wrote that she first came across "Little Sally Walker (Walking Down The Street) and "Ride That Pony" when she was a camp counselor "three years ago" (resulting in 2001 as the year she saw those games). LNL described "Little Sally Walker (Walking Down The Street" as "Little Sally Walker" being reincarnated." Here's that example:

"Little Sally Walker,/walking down the street.
She didn't know what to do, so/she jumped in front of me and said:
'Hey, girl, shake that thing,/shake that thing like it ain't no thing.
Come on, girl, shake that thing,/shake that thing like it ain't no thing."

LNL also wrote that campers played the game "Ride That Pony". The words to that game are found in Part II of this series.

LNL's post implied that both of those games were new to her. But I'm not sure if those games were new to those campers. LNL also indicated that those two games were favorites of the campers and that staff often had to stop their performances from getting "too involved".

Unfortunately, LNL didn't mention how the camp was played, where the camp was. Nor did she give any demographical information about the campers. However, given that the majority of Mudcat bloggers are from the United States, and given that LNL also wrote that "We also did the fairly innocuous "Wisconsin Milk" song, and a ton of other call-and-responses that don't quite qualify as street games", a likely conclusion is that the camp was located in the United States.

That forum's archiving feature show that LNL only posted five times on Mudcat- all between February 1, 2004 and March 9, 2004. So the possibilities of retrieving demographical information from that blogger are quite slim. That said, I use "around 2001" as the oldest example that I've found for the "Ride That Pony" singing game.

2003 -A rhyme that includes "Little Sally Walker (Walking Down The Street" is included in the 2003 American movie "Soul Of Rock"

The poster of that YouTube video rachelarmstrong (January 24, 2008) included the words to that rhyme on the video clip screen shot. The words she gave are:

Soul Sister Number Nine
Sock it to me one more time
Say Ungawa we got the power
Say Ungawa we got the power

Little Sally Walker's walking down the street
She didn't know what to do so she jumped in front of me

She said "go on girl, do your thing do your thing
go on, girl do your thing, do your thing. Stop!!

As a (friendly) amendment to that transcription, I hear the two chanters saying "Say Unn Ungawa. We got the powa. Say Unn Ungawa. We got the powa."

"Ride That Pony"
2001-The oldest example of "Ride That Pony" that I've found is in the 2oo4 Mudcat comment by LNL (link given above). That comment mentions campers playing that game three years ago.

Selecting a person from the ring, dancing in front of that person, and then switching places with that person appears to me to be a new strategy for selecting a new center person for ring (circle) singing games. Other ways of selecting the next center person are (from what I think are the oldest methods to the newest):
1. The center person purposely choose a partner from the ring, and escort that partner to the center of the ring. The two dance. The center person then rejoins the others in the ring. Her (or his partner) becomes the new center person and the game immediately begins from the beginning.

2. Towards the end of the song, the center person purposely moves in front of a person in the ring or remains in the center of the ring and purposely points to a person in the ring. The center person then rejoins the others in the ring and the person she (or he) moved in front of or pointed to becomes the new center person.

3. Towards the end of the song, the center person closes both eyes (and, often, also puts one hand over her eyes) and then turns around in the center of the circle with one arm extended pointing to those forming the ring. When the song ends, the person who the center person is pointing to becomes the new cnter person. The former center person rejoins the ring, and the game begins again.

4. [Note: This method of playing ring games may have been first used around the same time as #2 and/or #3.

A designated person (who might be a player in the game or might be someone else directing the playing), assigns numbers to the players. The group forms a circle, and sings a song that is centered around or includes randomly calling out a number. When a person's number is called, she or he enters the ring and does a dance. At the end of the song, that person rejoins the group, and the song begins from the beginning.

For the record, the only way that I played circle games during my childhood (in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s) was using the #2 strategy.

Unlike many ring games that are currently played in the United States, "switchng places" ring games are not only played by very young children but have also been adopted by older children, teenagers, and (usually young) adults. Furthermore, unlike many ring games, males appear to play these switching games much more readily and eenthusiastically than they play other singing or chanting games, with the exception of hand slapping games such as "Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky" and "Stella Ella Ola".

For children, the lightly competitive hand slapping games and the non-competitive "switching places" games may often be adult initiated (for instance, as part of an elementary school's school's music class). However, those games sometimes appear to be initiated by the children themselves.

For children, teens, and adults, those hand slaping games and the switching places games are played as "ice breakers" (getting to know people activities), as stress relieving activities, and "just for fun" by members of sports teams, cheerleaders, summer campers, performing arts groups, and school and university students.

"Ride That Pony"'s movements are indicated by that song's lyrics. But what makes "Little Sally Walker" (Walking Down The Street) fun to play and fun to watch is the different dances or moves that different center people do. As is the case with older "show me your motion" games, in "Little Sally Walker" (Walking Down The Street) each center person is supposed to perform a dance or movement that is different from those that were performed by any center person who camee before her (or him). That said, I've also come across videos of both of those games in which every center person does the same dance. Those videos are much less interesting to watch.

Additional text examples and video examples of those two games are found in Part II of this series.

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