(I introduced the great American scholar, Leslie Fiedler, in Part I of these essays on children’s music.  My comments are informed by concepts introduced in a graduate course Leslie taught on children’s literature.)

A girl sings a jump rope rhyme.  She pronounces the name Sa-LO-my, so it half-rhymes with “baloney.”

Salome was a dancer
She danced before the king
And every time she danced
She wiggled everything
“Stop!” said the king,
“You can’t do that in here:
“Baloney!” said Salome,
And kicked the chandelier.

So here is a rhyme about Salome, daughter of a hottie named Herodias who was married to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea.  Salome performed such a beguiling dance for Herod that he offered her any gift she would ask.  The wicked Herodias urged Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist, and we know how that story ended, even though Salome recanted the request.*

The Bible does not give us much information about Salome, which has opened the door for other story tellers to make her their own.  Oscar Wilde made Salome the provocateur who perversely kisses the bloody lips of the severed head of John.  Richard Strauss has Salome demand John’s head because he refused her lustful advances.  Rita Hayworth does a spectacular dance of the seven veils in the 1953 movie, portraying Salome is a sensuous dimwit who is entirely a victim of circumstance.  Now, little girls are jump roping to a story about Salome’s blithe and impudent dance.

Leslie Fiedler said that the idea of childhood has changed considerably over the ages.  Childhood, as we commonly think of it in the Modern World is a recently invented phenomenon.  It was not so long ago that the position in society of pre-adolescent children was little more than that of a pet or a slave.  They would be sent to work in factories, girls were married to much older men, and all children could be beaten at will.  But Leslie argued that, despite the protections that now safeguard the well-being of children, they are still, when necessary, capable of functioning in an adult environment, and can learn to deal with so-called adult issues.  They can accept guidance and offer their own unique perspectives in coping with such misfortunes as death, poverty, and divorce.

Leslie’s point was that children are capable of a deeper understanding and more sophisticated insight than the kitten and flower universe to which we commonly try to sequester them.  This is validated by television programs which, Leslie maintained, are almost all nothing more than children’s stories.  Children watch and process tragic news stories, violent crime shows, and polysemic sitcoms.  The reason groups concerned about children’s welfare demand programming expressly for children is because they know children absorb it all.  They apprehend, or imitate, or at least remember, adult dialog and adult images on television.  Similarly, as I mentioned in Part I of these essays, this sophistication is reflected in the literature that children choose and love.  Thus, it should not be surprising to hear little children jump roping to a story about an immodest and insolent dancer named Salome.

Traditional, “Salome,” Public Domain.  Performed by Washington, D.C. Schoolchildren (Recorded 1976 at Smithsonian Institution Festival of American Folklife, Washington, D. C. (1976)).  From Old Mother Hippletoe: Rural and Urban Children’s Songs, New World Records: Recording Anthology of American Music, Inc., NW 291 (1978).  Album design – Elaine Sherer Cox; Cover Art – “Story Hour” by Mabel McKibbin Farmer.

Bible, Mark 6:21-29; Matthew 14:6-11, NIV Translation.