Any physical activity in a primary school requires planning to ensure student safety and dance in the classroom is no different. Successful primary dance activities are thought through to support learning that is physically and emotionally safe.
Whilst the physical space is important in safe dance practice, how we design dance activities in primary schools are equally as important to student wellbeing.
It is important for your students to make every dance learning experience a creative and positive one.
1. Set up a safe dance environment
Begin by identifying any potentially hazardous objects in the space you are using. Many primary school dance classes do not have a designated studio or hall space. If you’re pushing back desks and chairs in your classroom you need to make the children aware of what they need to stay away from. When we dance it is easy to over balance therefore keep a safe space zone between the dancers and any furniture or dangerous objects.
Next get the dancers to remove their shoes to avoid stepping on fingers, injuring innovative dance shape makers with hard school shoe heels and obstructing free movement of the feet. If you do have a school hall or studio, removing slippery socks may be important to have children feel more secure in their movements when they have a solid shape.
You will also avoid the dare devil dance floor slider who seems to pop up in everyone’s class at some stage. These students will generally encourage their friends to join in the floor sliding activities and may end in general mayhem or, worse, still tears.
To the best of your ability try to ensure that the room is well ventilated, particularly in warmer climates, as the active body needs a chance to cool down. In cold climates, you may need to take into consideration starting with the room being warm and making it cooler as the dancers’ bodies warmup. Appropriate clothing, that is easy to move in, modest when the child is moving and that can be taken off in layers to adapt to individual levels of engagement and activity are a great idea. Which brings us to emotional safety in the dance classroom.
2. Make an emotionally safe dance space
As important as physical safety is emotional safety. The students require a classroom environment that supports acceptance of ideas, artistic risk taking, safety in the artistic process, trust of the teacher and each other.
Feeling that they are not being judged as they develop their ideas is an important incubator of creative thinking.
Factors that may contribute to this environment is what the children and the teacher wear when participating in movement activities. Comfortable clothing that allows for free movement, whilst support school appropriate uniform policy is necessary for children to really be happy exploring movement. Most schools have a uniform or sports uniform that allows children to play and participate in sporting activities and these are also appropriate for dance class.
Collaborative creative work is the ultimate in teamwork and it has the same inherent difficulties as any other group task. Preplanning and scaffolding of the task will really help to support students in successful group dance tasks. Having students work in pairs to begin prepares them to engage in group work.
Keep the activities short to begin with so students can gain confidence by completing movement problems successfully. Collaborative activities call for detailed guidelines, so try to introduce the theme, issue or problem early in the class to develop prerequisite skills that will support their group work.
Using student ideas, supported by clear and logical explanations of why it is a good idea promotes active student learning. Ensure that the class environment encourages co creation between the teacher and the students and that all dancers have a chance to be heard.
This may require structured activities that encourage even the quietest child in class to voice an opinion or idea. Look for ways to allow contributions from all class members by designing specific activities that give each child an individual job within the activity.
An enthusiastic teacher is important in demonstrating to the students what you value. If you are unsure and unenthused then the students will mirror your attitude. Be clear about what you want to teach them and why it is important.
The teacher will always have influence on how the students value the Arts. Praising on-task behaviour and building confidence in their own decisions over time by suspending judgement. This supports students editing, refining, reflecting and evaluating their own and others artistic products.
3. Use a safe dance lesson structure
Each lesson should include a warmup, the body of the lesson and a cool/calm down. The warmup prepares their mind and their body for the activities in the class and allows the teacher to see that all the students are at a similar starting place for understanding.
The warmup can include Icebreaker activities, a physical body isolation warmup or a ‘think quick’ team building style of activity. All warmups should get the blood flowing through the body, mobilise and raise awareness of a range of body parts and engage the students with the themes or topics that you will cover in the lesson. Have a look here for an example of some fun icebreakers.
Try to think about the kinds of activities you will be doing and focus on those body parts in the warmup. For example, if you are going to be doing a lot of moving in and out of the floor you will need to warm up the quads and the shoulder joints in preparation for taking weight through the arm.
Always start slowly and pick up the pace as students start to increase their pulse rate.
As with any lesson you plan it is important to scaffold the class so that it moves from simple to more complex. This means that the dancers become more confident as they progress through the class and their body will want to move in more complex and demanding ways. This confidence supports them in exploring new ideas and movement in the safest possible way.
4. No tricks please!
Potentially unsafe dance movements and why you shouldn’t do them is currently the focus of much discussion in the dance world. The lines between dance and gymnastics are often difficult to distinguish, as dancers push the boundaries of their physical endurance. Performed by professional dancers, who have trained incrementally over a lifetime, these movements are exciting and enticing for young dancers to try to duplicate.
Unfortunately, the primary dance classroom is not the place to experiment with these kinds of difficult and highly skilled dance movements. The teacher often has many students to supervise and is, in many cases, not trained adequately to unfold the techniques required to do some of the more acrobatic and gymnastic movements requiring strength, agility and a advanced working knowledge of the body.
Some children will be already learning advanced movements outside of school hours, either at dance classes, gymnastics or other physical pursuits. They will be keen to demonstrate to the teacher what they can do however you must caution them against doing these movements in class and encourage movement that is linked to intent and creativity rather than duplication.
The focus in your primary dance classroom should always be on creativity, supported by a knowledge of the elements of dance and fostering individual confidence and knowledge of the arts.
5. Be clear about the rules of the dance space.
They may be a little different from your normal classroom. When children take their shoes off, they experience a sense of freedom…which is why, as a dance teacher, we want them to take their shoes off. Ensure that they are aware of how to interact with others safely: be respectful of their own body and others in the dance space.
Sometimes poor behaviour by students towards others is a sign that they may be uncomfortable when trying something new. Making students feel supported and physically and emotionally comfortable is your best behaviour management strategy.
These are just a few ideas about safe dance for the primary dance classroom. For greater detail along with warmup and icebreaker ideas look at the dance teaching resources that do the dance lesson planning for you!
New Dance education teaching resources to use in your primary school dance classroom …COMING SOON IN 2021