9 Most Common Mistakes Primary Dance Teachers Make

We have all had moments in the classroom when we ask ourselves ’Why did I just do that?’.  When you spend so many hours with students you are certain to make mistakes.  Despite rigorous planning and great intentions, we can fall into behaviours that are not helpful.

Primary dance teachers

However, how we reflect on and respond to those lapses in judgement is more important than the behaviour itself.   Learning through our reflections is the most powerful education experience you can have.


The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future.    Tyron Edwards


Some traps we’ve all fallen into!

There certainly are pitfalls and here are a few we commonly experience throughout our dance teaching journey.

1.Using an idea you don’t really love.

You need to enjoy all the parts of the lesson you are presenting.  The music, the movement exploration, even the children’s movement outcomes all should make you enthused and motivated.  If you are not 100% committed and invested in the lesson, you may struggle to be successful.

If you picked up an idea at a conference, or by watching someone else teach, or even DTI resources you may need to make them your own.  This could be a simple shift to using different music or adding a task to scaffold it further for your class.

Your lack of enthusiasm for the lesson may also be that the activity is just too much for where you are in your teaching journey. Alternatively, it could be that the children are just not ready for it.  You may be ignoring that ‘gut’ feel about what you know is not right for your class.


2. Being upset if the kids don’t love the activity.

Not all children will love all parts of a lesson.  Of course, we are trying to make this happen.  They may be enjoying it but just not letting you know.

I was teaching a Year 5 class and one of the students, who was usually really enthusiastic, complained about every task!  Finally, exasperated, I asked her if there was something I could do to make the lesson better for her (I could have been a little sarcastic in tone!). She explained that her grandmother had died several days before, and she was experiencing immense grief.

Each child brings their own experiences, emotions, and ideas into class and sometimes we just can’t fix it.  On reflection, I was so enthused with what I was offering that I forgot to consider the emotional, cultural, and social diversity in front of me in every class.  Empathy and compassion start with observation.

Primary dance teachers

3. Not making your dance space special.

This does not mean putting Tarkett on the floor and mirrors on the walls!  The space needs to be a place for making art.  You and the students need to honor the space.

This can start with how you enter and leave the room. After settling the children at the door and getting them to take off their shoes and socks, you may play music that sets the tone for the class.

Try getting them to move with the music as they enter the class and take a position in the space.  This could mean taking a shape or settling like a leaf floating to the floor.  Be playful and set the scene for the class.

Visual aids are also great for making it a designated dance space even if it is in a regular classroom.  Images of dance that convey its many places in our cultural and social life are great for bringing dance into the classroom.

4. Not reviewing what students have done previously.

Each class should not be just new material.  It needs to build on what they have learned before.  This can mean reviewing it briefly many times.  Find different ways to see if they remember the elements of dance. Here are some ideas about how you could make the review an exciting part of the lesson.

Repeating familiar material can be a way to connect lessons and ensure continuity in the learning process.  It also lets the children relax and give their brains a break for a while.

5. Expecting too much too soon.

We want our lessons to achieve great things!  Particularly with new classes children need time to settle in.  They need to acknowledge that they are having fun and that it’s alright to take artistic risks.

Each child will come to their movement in their own time.  So be patient.

Be patient with yourself also.  You may be expecting to zoom through material where in fact the children need longer to explore and create. You can build on classes as you go along.

Primary school dance teachers

6. Making ‘lumpy’ transitions between activities.

A dance lesson is like a piece of choreography, with phrases that are joined together by transitions.  Each ‘shift’ must be seamless, logical, and done as a part of building meaning.

With a dance lesson, the movement from one activity to the next, must be the same.  The activities need to build on from each other, providing knowledge that is needed for later in the learning experience.

The transition should flow smoothly as a part of a well-designed and considered whole.  If you are searching for music or props in the class, it gives students time to become restless and to forget the focus of the activity.  You need to be prepared.

There should be a clear reason why you are moving to the next activity at that time.  Avoid just cutting an activity to start the next like a clunky edit in a piece of film.


7. Too much talk.

Nothing stops the flow of the lesson like talking too much.  In dance children should be thinking, planning, , and doing.  Action is the key!

Let them talk more then they listen and move more than anything else.

8. Not linking dance knowledge to what they are learning in other classes.

This may not be thematic learning, but it could be about how they apply different skills in a dance context.  For example, you may be planning an experiment, using a persuasive writing piece or the book the children are reading in class, as a stimulus for choreography.

Integrating dance with other learning areas is a way of making dance a part of the way children learn.  It shows them the connection between the Arts and other learning areas.


9. Trying to go it alone.

If you are a dance specialist in a Primary school, you may be teaching in a space that separates you physically from other classrooms due to sound issues.  When combined with lunchtime dance activities like Dance clubs, special dance groups, and rehearsals for performances, this can act to have you working solo much of the time.

However, you need support from other teachers, mentors, and from dance colleagues in other schools.  Reach out to other dance teaching communities, like DTI, for help with ideas and strategies to use in class.

Although each teaching context is unique Primary/Elementary dance teachers have common dilemmas that we can all reflect on as a teaching community.  Many of the articles in DTI have come from conversations and interviews with teachers.  We collectively learn together.

We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.             John Dewey

Keep on Reflecting

These are only a few of the many challenges faced by Primary/Elementary dance teachers, however, engaging in regular reflection can be useful.  Trying new strategies and working to learn from our missteps is helpful for improving our teaching mindset.

Keep in mind that if you are feeling consistently overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed, you should seek help from a health care professional.