Dance Games for Upper Primary

Previously on DTI we have suggested some dance games for young children in the classroom and as a part of the orientation phase of a dance lesson.  This article suggests some dance games for older Primary students.  These games may be used to  explore what the children already know, prepare them for what will come later in the lesson, to activate their physical body after time spent sitting or to energize their curiosity about a skill or theme.

Whatever you are using the dance game for, it is important that you know what the purpose of the game is in your classroom.  Having a clear learning outcome will affect how you may manipulate the rules of the game or the thematic approach you will take.

The learning outcomes enable teachers to have meaningful group discussion before, during and after the dance games.

Delving deeper into the game and what impact it has on your students’ ideas, skill development and general learning ensures that even the fun part of the class is utilizing the minimal amount of time dance teachers have in the classroom.

Many dance games are accessible for beginner dancers as well as being challenging for the more experienced members of your class.  There are no set rules with any of these games, and you need to adapt them as you would with any dance activity or learning experience to meet the needs of your students.

Some of these games will be familiar to you but may have a dance ‘twist’ to them…pardon the pun.  I have discovered them from other teachers and artists or as a child, adapted them to a range of teaching contexts and developed them over time.

The teacher’s aim is to extend our students and challenge them to question further in the quest for dance and arts skills and knowledge.  To do this our actions in the classroom must have purpose.

  Dance Game for Observation – Watch this Space

It is common for young dancers to become fidgety on stage when they are asked to be still or are resting as a part of performance.  This may come from nervousness in being in the gaze of an audience who are totally focused on them.

In this era of devices of technology to absorb our attention at any point, having a whole group of people intently looking at you with electronic devices turned off, can be unnerving to say the least! Children need to learn what it feels like to be fully engaged in an activity, whether they are moving or not.  These skills are useful as they alleviate self-consciousness in most children and encourage being ‘in the moment’ rather than judging your own performance as it occurs.

The dance activity

dance gamesThe groups is split in half, with one group as the audience and the other as performers.  The performing group must simply stand in silence.  You will need to spread them out but they must remain standing.

The audience’s job is to watch and silently observe.  There will be fidgeting from both the audience and the performers but just let this happen without comment.  The performers will become more uncomfortable and restless.

After a couple of minutes give the performers something to do.  I suggest counting their breaths or being aware of the pressure of their feet on the floor.  Which part of the foot is taking the most weight, the heel or the toe, the inside or the outside of the foot?  Is the most weight on one foot or the other?

Let this hold for a couple of minutes longer and then swap group roles.  Try not to comment until both groups have completed the activity.

The discussion

The conversation after this activity should centred around how both the performers and audience observed the two different versions.  How was it different once you had been given a focus?  How did the performers appear different once they had been given something to do?

Avoid giving an opinion until the class has made their own personal observations.  They need to know that there are no right or wrong answers only what they observe in others or in themselves.  This level of reflective performance takes practice and it may require many times of doing similar activities for the children to quieten their minds enough to be totally in their own bodies.

The audience observations may give real insights into how our body makes meaning, even when standing still.  Often students in the audience capture the boredom but will sense the rising feeling of being unsettled as a result of being intently watched.  These are the subtle characteristics that lead to a more nuanced and sophisticated sense of performance.

Small changes in body language that convey different emotions are not only useful for dance or drama performance but will assist children in learning about unspoken ways of communicating.  A student standing with their arms folded in this activity may be interpreted as bored but also may communicate anger.

Depending on the learning outcome you wish to achieve, the discussion after this dance activity may be lead in many directions.

dance activities

Dance Game for Improvisation- One Movement Story

Children often struggle with dance improvisation even though they may be quite advanced in their technical skills.  For many of these children their experience of dance is being told what movements to do and to move in unison with many other dancers.  This skill of dancing in perfect unison is highly admired in many genres of dance but may be limiting for children’s individual creativity in a dance education context.

This dance activity is about the students finding individual movement for themselves and learning as they go.  It encourages each student to find their own movement rather than duplicating the teacher or other students.  It important that the teacher refrains from saying too much and instead lets the activity run its course.

As the students act and react within the activity it is important for the teacher to observe the pace of the activity.  If it begins to slow down then the teacher will have to reset and start again.

The dance activity

dance gamesIn a circle each dancer creates a movement and then the next dancer uses the end of that movement to start their movement.  Begin by explaining that it could be about body parts leading into the next movement or that the previous movement finishes on a low level so the next dancer must start at a low level.

Repeat this several times until each child understands the idea behind the game.  Then introduce emotions into each movement.  For an example one dancer may have a movement that is fierce, powerful and angry.  The next dancer may choose to react with a similar emotion and movement dynamic or contrast by doing a caring, gentle and calming movement, putting water on the fire of the previous dancer.

Remember that these movements will start out quite simple but as the movements go around the circle several times the story will become more complex and so too will the movements.  Some children will choose to extend their movements but other may keep them brief, both are appropriate in this activity.

The discussion

When reflecting after this activity I am often surprised at how complex the stories are that the children have created in their minds as they do their movements.  Each child will have a different take on the meaning of the movements from the circle.

Some questions that can go a littler deeper may be about how difficult they found it to be part of an unplanned story that was being devised with out any words.  You may also like to discuss any challenges your students had about going into a performance, even though it was just with the class, without any planning.

This dance game is a great opportunity to talk about the role of exploring improvisational movement for choreography as opposed to rehearsing for performance.

You may like to try a written reflection after the discussion where the children write their own interpretation of the circle dance into a story.  Using the descriptions of their emotional responses that emerge through the discussion makes their stories not only more creative but encourages a broad use of descriptive vocabulary.

These activities where devised with dance in mind, but both could easily be used for the drama classroom.  They support a safe, creative and sharing Arts learning environment that privileges curiosity and inventiveness.

Each play-based dance activity is adaptable to a range of learning outcomes and are suited to upper Primary and Middle school students.  Learning through play is rewarding for all age groups.