7 Best questions about choreography in Primary school

Are you preparing to dive into the world of teaching about dance choreography in your Primary classroom? When children create their own dances they learn about communication, problem solving and aesthetic skills. But perhaps, most importantly, they learn new ways to be innovative and creative.

Over the years I have been asked many questions about creating choreographic activities for Primary students. Most of them link to structuring these activities and how to support children in taking creative risks to become more innovative and confident with movement.

Choreography in Primary School
In this article, we’re going to explore the answers to some of these questions about how children learn about choreography in Primary/Elementary schools. So, whether you’re a seasoned dance education teacher looking for a little something extra in your lessons, or a curious educator ready to step into dance in the curriculum, here’s some information that may be helpful.

Choreography in Primary school

Children making dance use a range of stimuli to communicate ideas through movement. Student choreography draws on their lived experience and knowledge of other learning areas that include other art forms.

Choreography in the Primary classroom develops children’s movement vocabulary as a part of the creative process.  They improvise, explore, select and reject ideas, and structure movement that tells stories, communicates values, beliefs and ideas about their world.

Most asked questions about choreography

These questions about choreography look at how we invite children to make dances. They are not looking at how we perform our dances, although this too can be part of the making process.

1. What is the structure of a lesson for choreography in Primary school?

There are many ways to invite children to make dances. Depending on the age of the children, how experienced they are at using a creative making process and what you would like them to explore in through the process of choreographing their dance.

Warm up

As with all dance activities in your classroom you will use a Warm Up that orientates the mind and the body to ideas you will cover in your lesson and what kinds of learning outcomes you are planning for. You should present the children with a ‘movement problem’ that sets out the limitations or parameters for the dance.

An example of a movement problem could be creating a dance in response to an artwork, story or piece of music, or dramatize a beach scene and then develop a series of movements from this dramatization to create a dance.                Deidre Russel- Bowie

Dance Exploration

This will be followed by an exploration/improvisation/experiment of movement that can be led by the teacher or done independently by the children. This is the part of the lesson where children use their knowledge of the elements of dance to solve the movement problem.

The exploration of movement can take place as a solo, in pairs or small or large groups or a combination of these. There may be some parts of the choreography where children create their own movement and other parts of the dance when they collaborate with other children.

Whatever combination you decide will depend on your choreographic question or what you set up as your movement problem. It will also depend on whether they are making small dances or a larger work that could have a performance outcome.

choreography in Primary Schools

Choreographic Development

This phase is followed by a development of the choreographic ideas when the children make decisions about what they will include in their dance. This could include structuring the dance, choosing music, or using the Dance Elements or choreographic devices to manipulate their movements.

Each choreographic lesson should finish with a reflection that can look like an artist’s discussion, a sharing with the class, or a written artist’s journal. Be aware that many children may not be confident to show their work after one lesson. Support these children by encouraging different ways of sharing their creative effort until they are ready to perform their own choreography in front of their peers.

For Dance Teaching Ideas Premium Members there are some ideas for dance journalling that include a list of questions that can help structure the children’s reflections. You’ll find these in the Year 5 & 6 section of the Members pages although they can be adapted for other year levels.

2. What is a motif in choreography and do Primary children need to learn about it?

A motif is a single movement phrase that expresses the style or intent of the dance. Put simply, it is how we use the Elements of Dance to reveal the central idea of the dance.

When watching professional dance choreography, we can see repeated movements build and change. Through this process the movements are recognizable yet different, creating a movement theme.

Choreography in Primary school
We often don’t talk with children about motif as a part of dance structure until Year 6.  In Primary dance, the focus is firmly on developing children’s knowledge of ways to create and giving them the vocabulary to talk about their dances. This knowledge is gained from understanding how the Elements of Dance and choreographic devices are used to make meaning.

Motifs are organizing devices that give the artist’s imagination a start, and so ’motivate’ the work. They drive it forward and guide its progress.         Susanne K Langer

However, movement motifs are core parts of dance choreography. They are important for showing character, moods, themes, and ideas. These identifiable movements help to hold the dance together.

3. How can you show the climax of the narrative in a dance?

Creating a climax in a piece of choreography is another way we can structure a dance. It can provide a link between the different parts of the dance and may signifying when a section, or the dance, ends.

Like a written narrative, the climax can occur at various points of the dance. It may be dramatic, sad, or uplifting and joyful.

Choreography in Primary school
The climax can vary in importance and can build throughout the dance work. It is often accompanied by a music climax and builds theatrical tension, building the audience’s attention.

As a part of preparing to create a climax in your dance structure, it is a good idea to build a mind map. By planning for the structure of the dance, children can decide which Element of Dance or choreographic device will best represent the idea they are exploring.

Here are some ways you could explore that create a climax in dance.

Change speeds unexpectedly
Build the intensity of the dynamics and actions
Stop unexpectedly
Use a small lift or a balance
Canons or unison movements with strong rhythms
A suspended action

4. What are some things I should consider when asking the children to choreograph a dance?

Like any lesson you teach, the unfolding of the dance inquiry needs be scaffolded, combining a range of ways to explore the ideas. This could mean using Word Walls, mind maps, improvisations, different stimuli, written planning tools, a combination of their movements and sequences set by the teacher and then adapted by the students.

As you create the lesson perhaps think about some of these questions.

Will your dance tell a story?
Or will the dance express feelings or an idea?
What will be the theme or the subject matter of the dance?
Which choreographic form will the dance take?
Have I made the parameters of the task narrow enough to support students but broad enough to let them be creative?

5. How can I encourage creativity and self-expression in my students’ choreographic work?

To explore their creativity, children need to reflect on their inner selves, thoughts and feeling. Providing the environment to do this means they must feel they are in a supportive and trusting learning space.

Choreography in Primary School
Imagination and creativity come from a feeling that it is ok to trust your own instincts and that those around you will support your ideas. For children to feel supported, teachers should be able to communicate effectively. This mean they need to show the children that they too are willing to take creative risks, particularly during improvisation and the more exploratory parts of choreography.

I was teaching at a school where the principal would come into the dance room, take off his shoes and his tie, and improvise alongside the children. Those children took much joy and pride in knowing that their school leader valued the process of making the dance as much as taking the accolades for their more public performances.

Your joy and confidence in exploring dance and communicating through movement will engage your students. It gives them permission to make mistakes and enthusiastically explore new ideas.

Self-expression in choreographic activities helps the children to learn focus, self-discipline, and a willingness to be innovative. However, they made not come with these skills readymade.

They need to have the tools to embody their ideas. These tools include a dance vocabulary and knowledge of the Elements of Dance and a range of age-appropriate choreographic devices.

Patience with young choreographer’s process, and an emphasis on that process rather than product, will build students who are capable of expressing themselves and communicate using multiliteracies.

6. What resources and tools are available for teaching choreography in Primary schools?

The resources you use are only limited by you own imagination. Music, props, picture books, stories, artworks and objects in nature are good starting points.

Looking at ideas that the children are exploring in other learning areas is a great place to start. The children then have the background information and have already started thinking about ideas to investigate through movement.

For using dance in your classroom as an integrated tool Using the Arts Across the Curriculum by Barbara Snook  is a useful resource.

For more detailed information about choreography and practices Choreography: The Basics, by Jenny Roche and Stephanie Burridge, is a useful book that gives an overview of a range of choreographic practices.

Dance Teaching Ideas has many choreographic ideas included in the articles. Becoming a Premium Member of DTI will provide you with step by step dance choreographic activities that a designed for specific age groups and learning outcomes.

7. How can I make my students more confident to make their own dances?

For a professional choreographer the starting point of a dance piece or inspiration for movement may come over a period of weeks, months or even years. These movement ideas can begin in private and be explored and developed through a series of collaborations with designers, musicians, other dancers, or artists.

There may be a number of ‘works in progress’, where various stages of the dance work are performed in small, informal showings. The dance work can change many times before it’s final performance.

When we ask children to create dance works in the classroom, we are asking them to develop the movements in a short amount of time. Also, this happens under the gaze of other class members and the teacher leaving many children feeling confronted rather than creative.

Injecting elements of play into these early choreographic improvisations is vital for children to feel curious, creative, and supported. Understanding that, in the limited time in class, they are creating their own ‘works in progress’ is part of their understanding of the creative process and professional dance practice.

Choreography in Primary School
Often teachers ask children to create movement with a limited movement vocabulary. Having a chance to explore their own movement and observe the dance created by others is an important part of supporting choreographic process for young children.

Questions for teachers to ask about children’s choreography that make them curious.

The more questions you raise the more they investigate and explore the alternatives and how they affect the dance.

I wonder how many different ways you could travel across the room/get up from the floor/get down onto the floor/connect with a partner?
What would happen if you did that movement faster/slower/at a different level/travelling in a different direction/ with your back to the audience?
Would it change the meaning if you did it all at the same time/at different times/in a cannon/repeatedly?

Choreography in Primary School

When thinking about an effective approach to teaching dance choreography in Primary school, the emphasis is on nurturing children’s confidence through a supportive and accepting environment for their creative skills. Structured dance lessons play a pivotal role in offering this support, using movement problems to encourage children’s critical and collaborative thinking.

Children are empowered to develop a rich understanding of dance through their knowledge of the Elements of Dance and the use of choreographic devices as a part of the choreographic process. By fostering an environment of encouragement, teachers can inspire young learner to explore their creative potential and develop a lifelong appreciation for the art of dance.