Choreography in Primary School Dance

Choreography in the Primary Dance Classroom


Choreographing, creating, making, or composing is a key component of dance in most interpretations of dance in Primary schools around the world.  Children making their own dances, individually, in pairs or in groups is central to them understanding about how choreographers make art.

By studying their own and others choreographic processes they understand how choreographers create dance work and reflect on their own artistic journey.

Choreography involves exploring the elements of dance, using various choreographic devices, to create the meaning or impression they want to convey to the audience.

Each choreographer will have their own individual purpose, processes, and strategies for developing movement.

Around the world, dance choreographers build works that bring forward their own personal stories, beliefs, emotions, and values.

Why do young children need to choreograph dance?

Understanding the intention of the choreographer and in turn how to make their own dances gives children insights into artistic ways of communicating.  It teaches them a range of transferable skills

  • introduces the choreographer’s poetic language of movement
  • allows children to solve problems
  • think creatively
  • make aesthetic decisions through reasoned logic
  • develop an understanding that dance is another way to make meaning
  • establish ownership of artwork
  • acknowledges cultural contexts
  • develops responses to stimulus in the moment
  • explores ideas in relation to a theme
  • draws on real or imagines worlds and experiences
  • builds the ability to improvise
  • enhances interpretive abilities
  • teaches how to negotiate ideas to collaborate with other choreographers and dancers
  • Interpret and create sensitivity to subtle qualities of expression
  • reflect on their own feelings and emotions and to express these in new ways through the body
  • express their own identity
  • make statements about what students value
How do you do a dance class based on choreography?

Central to choreographic activities are the skills of movement improvisation and exploration.  In a dance class where choreography is the focus children need time to investigate their own movement.

Choreography in Primary DanceImprovisation does not mean a dance ‘free for all’ but rather a structured set of activities that allow students to examine their movements and how they may express their ideas. Many children if given too much freedom around ideas will be lost as to where to start.

If you give students too much structure, they will feel uninspired and unable to use their own instincts for creation.

Improvisation occurs in most types of dance and is important for the choreographer.  Some dance styles will be predominately improvised even in performance, for example Hip Hop, Tango and Belly dance.  Some sections of the dance may also be improvised, remaining somewhat unpredictable and highly instinctual.

  1. The groundwork for the choreographic activity should start with the warm up. This offers opportunities to see what movements may be possible and how the elements of dance may be manipulated to express different ideas.  Using a mindmap for this orientating stage can be useful, warming up the creative brain as well as the body.
  2. It could then be followed by a guided exploration of the stimulus. This can be any object, idea, music, place or narrative that you are basing the choreography on. You don’t have to limit the amount of stimulus you have.
  3. This is the time when the blueprint for the dance is formed. What do you want your dance to say or what do you want the dance to focus on? What are some movements that are important to emphasis by doing several times or by manipulating them using various elements of Dance?
  4. The improvisation and exploration then uncover the central motif for the dance work. The students will make decisions about what they will keep, expand, emphasis or discard as they begin to form their work. This is a great time to discuss forming the dance using one or a range of choreographic devices.
  5. As the students begin to negotiate their final ideas, they need time to reflect on their own work and should be encouraged to make changes to improve the work. It is a good idea to video them performing so they can see details in shape and timing and assess the effectiveness of the choreography. Does the dance have a clear beginning, middle and end?

How long you spend on each of these steps is dependent upon the age of your students and their level of expertise.  If they are tiring of the task, move to the next step.  As their expertise increases, they will take longer on each level of the journey to creating an artwork as they begin to understand the finer details of dance choreography.

This is only one way to structure a dance choreography class and there are many other alternatives that will be equally successful. Ensuring that the students are supported in their early attempts is crucial for the development of confidence that results in a willingness to take creative risks.

Support your young choreographers by using small group work or choreographing in pairs so that the more confident dance makers can serve as role models.

What comes first in choreography music or dance?

This is a question that is often asked by teachers when they are first implementing dance in their classroom.  The answer at first seems to be that the music would come first.  However, often the stimulus for movement can something other than the music and therefore the movement is developed first.

There can be no definitive answer to the question as the style, motivation and function of the dance will determine how it is choreographed.

Finding music or sound that works in partnership with your dance is important, however silence, even for a short time, can also be an effective way to highlight movement.

What is good music for dance choreography in Primary education?

Music for dance should complement and enhance the work.  The music that you use in class can be an important part of educating children as to the breadth of styles of music.  Using music from the past is as important as music that is ‘on trend’.

Some questions you should ask yourself when choosing music are:

  • Can the children relate to this music? Sometimes complex polyrhythms are difficult to pick up for young children.  With younger students it is useful to use music that has a steady rhythm or that reflects the themes of the dance.
  • Does the music support the choreography? This does not always mean that it needs to sound like the movement looks as contrasting music can be just as effective.
  • Does the music distract from the choreography or enhance it? This is creative decision that is important to discuss with young choreographers.
  • Is it better to use lyrics or have instrumental music? Once again lyrics may distract from the impact of the movement, but it can also emphasis the meaning of the movement.

Choreography in Primary School Dance

Keep in mind that you can experiment with music in the same way you explore the choreography.  Try doing the same movements to different pieces of music and observe the impact on timing, dynamics, and intent.

As a teacher, listening to lots of music can inspire choreographic activities and tasks.  Sometimes you don’t choose the music, it chooses you.

The choreographer Balanchine said that ‘Dance is music made visible’ and choreographers no matter how young or old will continue to be inspired by music.

How long should Primary student choreography be?

Students will often ask how long their movement phrases need to be.  You need to ask the question ‘How long does it need to be to say what I need to say?’  The goal of each piece of choreography is to support the children in making meaning.

Choreography in Primary School DanceAs with many other activities in Primary school, the length of the dance the children choreograph will depend on how much time you have in the class to achieve the final product.  If you only have one 45 min class, then you may only end up with a few phrases of movement.  However, if the children are choreographing across several lessons, which is what I would suggest, they may compose 3 – 4 mins of movement.

The length of the dance work may also depend on the age of the children.  This can be affected by how much they can remember and how long they stay engaged in the task.

For younger students, short choreographic activities, done more frequently, will be far more effective.  To ensure that they remember what they did in the last lesson either video them performing them work or build into the initial tasks some written prompted that will support recall.

Dance making enables children to build a broad dance and movement vocabulary which leads to a more complex understanding of dance.

Through choreographing their own dances children respond to and appreciate the dance works of others, as they identify similarities in their own creative processes.  The act of describing, analysing, interpreting, and making judgements about their own work transfers to engaging with professional creative work.  This may include literature, visual art, music, drama, and media arts.

Choreography is an important component of children developing artistry.  By making their own dances, the ‘mystery’ of artistic practice is removed resulting in confidence to participate in new ways of expression.