This Program Is Bananas: Baby-Wearing Dance Edition

Yes that is my alligator baby in a safari hat, thank you for noticing.

When I went to ALSC’s 2018 Institute, I was lucky enough to catch the amazing “Grown-Ups Are People Too” presentation by Anythink Library’s Julie Crabb (@StorytimeCrabb on twitter). Julie presented a programming idea that blew my mind and immediately made me say: Yes. I have to do this. As soon as humanly possible.

That amazing idea was Baby-Wearing Dance, a program that went on to be a huge hit for my library.

What is Baby-Wearing Dance?

It’s very much what it sounds like. Patrons strap their little ones into their Mobi Wraps, Baby Bjorn, or any other kind of comfortable carrier, and then they learn some choreographed line dances together with their kiddo along for the ride. Check out the video below for an example of the for-profit group that made this concept go viral, Groovaroo:

Why is this a great library program?

In Julie’s talk, one of the things she emphasized is how important it is to include elements in your programs that appeal to your grown-up caregivers, not just the little ones we might think of as our target audience. Grown-ups are the ones driving to the library, after all, so we can motivate them to come through our doors by providing family programs that connect with adult interests as well as kiddo interests.

A gentle dance program like Baby-Wearing Dance was a great fit for my library, because it combined the fun, active class-style a lot of my caregivers love for themselves, with music and snuggle time that is great for their little ones. We even got a few toddlers and preschoolers who danced along with us – great motor skill activities!

Do note, however, that you want to emphasize safety with this program. You want to be sure that babies are positioned safely in the slings at all times, that their heads and necks are supported, and that your grown-ups aren’t over-exerting themselves or pushing themselves to do certain moves, especially if they’re recovering from a birth, a c-section, or any other injury! I made sure to emphasize often that this was not an exercise class, but a gentle, music-and-movement focused bonding experience for babies and caregivers, and that safety and comfort were our number one priorities.

My patrons are ready for anything.

How did this program actually work?

I did this program during our storytime break in December, when we don’t have as much regularly scheduled programming and the library and caregivers alike have a bit more flexibility.

The program lasted an hour, broken down like this:

10:00-10:05 – Welcome people, and explain what we’ll be doing, including some safety notes:

Our program today will last an hour. We’ll learn one dance in the first half, and one dance in the second half, with a water and rest break in the middle. Please be sure to take care of yourself and your child: if you need a break, take a break! If your kiddo wants to get down, let them down in the back where they can dance and explore. You can modify any of our dance moves to make them work for you – you don’t have to jump, raise your arms, or anything vigorous if it’s not right for you. Please be careful to support your child’s head and neck as we dance if they are under six months, or still strengthening their neck muscles. Lastly, let’s all check to make sure our babies are comfortable in their slings. We don’t want any twisted legs or pinched skin while we dance!

10:05-10:10 – Gentle stretching, like rolling your shoulders, turning from side to side, and warming up by practicing simple steps like step-touching from side-to-side, and grapevining.

10:10-10:30 – Slowly teach your first dance step by step, with lots of repetition and encouragement. Plan a routine that’s very easy, and then cut back to make it even easier. You want someone with absolutely no dance experience to be able to play along.

10:30-10:40 – Water break!

10:40-11:00 – I had time to teach a second dance here, since my group was enthusiastic and enjoying themselves. You could also do a “performance” of the first dance, to let your caregivers show off their new skills. End with a few minutes to cool down and let those kiddos be free!

11:00-noon – After all the patrons have left, cool off, drink water, and pat yourself on the back while you air dry (I sweat like crazy! Wearing a baby-carrier is no joke!)

It’s not a Chelsey program unless I’m gesticulating wildly.

So how did it go?

It was fantastic! I had about 30 baby + caregiver pairs – including some dads, grandmas and grandpas, which I just loved. Multigenerational programming for the win! Not everyone was a dance master, but everyone had fun, did their best, and I had plenty of folks asking me if this was going to be a regular program.

And believe it or not, not a single baby had a meltdown. We had a couple of walkers who expressed their need to be free and explore, but once they were on the ground they were happy to roam in the back, out of the way of our dancers, or try and dance along themselves!

That’s great, Chelsey, but I cannot dance!

Here’s the thing: neither can I. Not really. Julie taught us part of a simple routine at the Institute, that involved moves like stepping to the left, to the right, walking forward and back, doing a little grapevine, all in time to the music. I based my dances off of what she had taught us and built the rest by watching Youtube videos of other baby-wearing dancing. Imitation is the sincerest form of stealing!

My first dance was to the Supremes “Baby Love” (gotta love a good baby pun) and it was extremely simple, the same four or five steps repeating as the song repeats over and over.

The second was to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and it included some grapevining and some “free dancing,” where everyone could bust their favorite moves.

Think of it like singing at storytime. I know I don’t have a great voice – I’m flat, I screw up the words, sometimes I’m just completely out of key. But the grown-ups don’t mind. They’re not really there to hear me sing, they’re there to bond with their babies and learn some songs to sing at home. The same is true here. The grown-ups are not there to see your amazing dance moves. They’re there to spend some time holding their baby close while they sway and step to the music.

That said, I’m not gonna lie and say this program didn’t take some serious planning time – it did! I’ve never choreographed anything before, so I spent a good amount of time at home and in the library watching Youtube dance routines, and practicing my own over and over while muttering “one, two, three, four” under my breath. My coworkers thought I was nuts! I became notorious for trapping people and asking them to let me teach them my dance for practice. But it was so, so worth it. That program brought a lot of young moms and dads to the library for the first time, and they’re still coming nine months later!

This year, I’m trying to bring art, joy, and bravery into all aspects of my life, including my work at the library. This program was all three, and the best thing about it was, I honestly believe it spread that art, joy, and bravery to my patrons as well (even when I tripped over my own feet!).

And a huge thank you goes out to Julie Crabb! I loved your talk and my patrons love your program!


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