Creating a dance program in a Primary school is a bit like making a great playlist. It is a changing form that depends on what works with each class and at different times of day, week, and year. You keep adding to it as you experiment and subtracting as you find the things that are most effective for your class.
The curriculum forms your program’s basis, but then you have opportunities to personalise the design and content to best suit the needs and interests of your class. Making informed decisions about learning processes by really knowing your students, is fundamental to creating a great ‘playlist’.
Dance activities to help you learn more about your student’s comfort levels, technical ability, willingness to play and take risks, to improvise, or face challenges can help you to make your dance classes flexible and fun. By responding to your students’ feedback, you can avoid the one-size-fits-all curriculum approach.
This personalised learning approach empowers the learner as they take on a collaborative role with the teacher to shape their dance learning pathway. Often students will not immediately know what they enjoy and why, but by doing some of these activities, they learn to be curious about why they respond to certain stimulus.
Self-reflection is an important skill in the 21st Century and also forms the basis of deep artistic practice.
‘Getting to know you’ dance activities
These activities are important because they start conversations in the classroom. Through creative movement activities, students can talk about themselves, their feelings, and their lives.
In early childhood settings and early Primary classes, the children may need to get to know each other and explore ideas around making friends and being a good friend.
Dance activities also promote classroom play for both students and teachers. Having fun is an important component of getting to know who your students are and them coming to know you. Here are some icebreakers and warm ups that may be useful.
Sample dance activities.
- Build your own Superheroes. They need to design a superhero that is modeled on them. You can make up a sheet to fill in that has the rationales for their design. Some headings may include: how will they transform from ‘everyday person’ to ‘superhero’, what makes them transform, what is their superpower, who are they saving and why? Keep linking these attributes back to their own personal ‘superpowers’.
They then decide their superhero pose that makes you feel most empowered. You can use this pose throughout the year when you are challenging them in dance class to build their confidence.
They may like to create a four-part dance that shows 1. Everyday person, 2. Transformation into superhero, 3. The battle, 4. Saving the day. These sections may be short and could even be still shapes for the more inexperienced dancers.
- If you were an animal or an insect what would you be? Do you need to invent a new animal to show the ‘real you’? Where would you like to live, what would you eat?
Devise a series of movements that represents your new animal. Teachers need to have their own animal movements prepared with clear ideas for why you are moving like that. These need to reveal something about your own character and your life outside the school room.
Like or Not like dance activities
Offering dance activities that use a wide range of elements is part of their artistic education and you should not be fearful of offering something they may not like. This may include dance genres, music genres, tempos and time signatures, or movement dynamics.
Encourage students to be specific about what it is they like and why, and why they don’t like something. It is important for you and them that they can articulate what their position is about their preferences. This may be the beginning of a Persuasive writing activity linked to the Arts.
If they don’t like something, don’t let it put you off trying something again at a later date. When introducing new foods children will often reject a new taste initially only to really love it a little later. It is the same with dance activities as there are so many variables in a classroom to influence what works and what bombs.
Sample dance activities.
- Offer up to date music for dance activities while including some old fashion favourites. Did they like the music? Have they heard it before? What do they like to dance to? Does the music remind them of an event or a time in their life? Does the music make them feel an emotion? Move like the music makes you feel.
- Have some singalong opportunities while dancing. It seems that singing and dancing is often more acceptable to some children who may not have had much involvement with dance. Once again find out how it made them feel or what may have been challenging for them.
- Use relaxation and mindfulness activities to uncover your student’s movement preferences. How do you like to relax? Do you prefer meditation with a story, visualisation, sound effects or music? Do you need frequent water breaks when you are moving or would you prefer to keep moving?
Children will often have difficulty holding still positions and may need to develop more strength to show still shapes. Yoga positions may support this.
Design your choreographic adventure to discover new things about the students in your class.
If you want to know about how they connect with others have them do it in pairs or groups.
If you want to test their knowledge about the elements of dance give them choreographic parameters that use the elements of dance. For example, create a dance that only uses a small space but moves from high to low levels on diagonal lines.
To test their written or analytical ability, add a written component either as a part of the response to a choreographic stimulus or to explain their dance.
Sample dance activities
- Find a building fault in the room like a crack in the wall or a gap in the floorboard. Use that feature to explore new or imagined worlds that may exist beyond what they can see. Write what they see/how they feel/what they need to do to explore this space. Then create a short dance to represent their ideas.
- Choose a range of floor surfaces for students to use to explore their movement. This works well in barefoot but be sure to follow safe dance guidelines for floor surfaces and temperatures. Try it on grass, sand, scratchy carpet, plastic tiles. Discuss how they will adjust their movements to adapt and make it safe. They could document how it makes them feel or how it changed their movement.
The information you gather from these choreographic adventures helps you to shape your lesson plans as you find information and skills that need further development or that indicate that your students are ready for more complex creative tasks or projects.
This is a great starting point when you are designing your assessment items for the term, as it makes transparent each student’s starting point. You may choose to repeat these activities with variations to provide formative assessment. It results in feedback on their creative activities that is clear, focused and constructive.
By personalizing our dance learning programs we can better serve our students, finding out HOW they best learn, rather than just WHAT they need to learn.
Transparency in teaching practice allows us to get to know our students as people and for them to see teachers as people. This builds a classroom community that is based on kindness and respect.
Teachers are always trying to grow and learn, through reading about education research, talking with other teachers or going to professional development days at school, but the most effective way to improve as a teacher is to listen to your students. If we do, then we can learn more every day.