Children love to move! They need to move. And it’s good for them.
Then why are long periods of sitting in desks still so much a part of some Primary classrooms? The introduction of Brain Breaks was in response to the need for children to move, relax their mind, and release energy. They need to not only move but to socialise and build community through the sharing of information and ideas.
Presenting increased opportunities for using children’s creative selves as a part of their learning strategies is an important part of any Primary classroom. Dance and movement support children in exploring physical and emotional ways of making meaning through a range of somatic practises, improvisation, and guided technical dance practice.
But how can we move more in our classrooms through dance and creative movement?
Trying to just use studio dance pedagogies in the Primary classroom, is not appropriate or useful. Unfortunately, some forms of studio dance can be hyper feminized, technically difficult, and teachers can feel unequipped to apply these types of dances in their classroom.
Here are some ideas for how you can use dance in your classroom without having to be a ‘dancer’ yourself.
Why bring dance into your classroom?
Firstly, it is important to have children moving. How to Get Kids Moving in Every Subject | Edutopia Research suggests that not only do children need movement for general fitness, but it also enhances mood and energy.
Secondly, you can create a sense of belonging in your classroom, building relationships and community through creative movement activities. These feelings of belonging are important as they are linked to school refusal.
Dance offers children a wide range of language that connects them to others, communicating complex and difficult messages. Movement facilitates connection between children on emotional and intellectual levels as well as the most obvious benefit of connecting them physically. (O’Gorman, 2014)
By supporting students’ sense of belonging, schools will be able to concentrate on their primary task of supporting children’s academic and social-emotional development; and society will be relieved of the major costs associated with school dropout as a result of established school refusal.
Kathleen Tait and Mervyn Hyde, Is Fostering School Connectedness and School Belonging an Answer to the Growing Number of Children Displaying School Refusal Behaviour? InSpEd Insights
In addition, children learn through dance. There are many ways to integrate dance as a part of other learning areas. In the process of using dance in this way your students can also learn about dance. Children can explore the language of dance, applying it to describe their own and other people’s choreography.
Research into dance in the Primary classroom
Here are some references that support the use of dance in the classroom if you need to advocate for dance in your school.
Gigvere, M (2011) Dancing thoughts: An examination of children’s cognitive and create process in Dance.
Becker, K.M. (2013), Dancing through the school day.
Leavey, P. (2020) Dance and Movement as Inquiry.
Makopoulou, K, Neville, R. & McLoughlin, K. (2020) Dance as a Dance-based Physical Education (DBPE) Intervention Improve Year 4 Pupil’s Reading Comprehension Attainment?
Our initial work together focused on bolstering student engagement and today we continue to pursue the same goal as our schools respond to the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen our students’ social-emotional well-being benefit from opening and closing routines, mindful moments, and engaging practices for performance preparation. (Dance educators who developed and implemented social-emotional learning practices in Chicago public school classrooms.)
M.K. Victorson, Gina Spears & Elisa Foshay (2022) Practical Resources for Dance Educators! Using SEL Strategies in the K–12 Dance Classroom: Practices from Three Chicago Dance Educators, Dance Education in Practice.
Dance in action in the classroom
So here are some starting points for bringing dance into your Primary/Elementary classroom.
Making space for movement
You can dance anywhere. At the sides of desks, with desks cleared, or even at the front of the room. If you have a large space for dancing, like a school hall or gym, try bringing the size in a little to start off your dance activity.
By creating movement boundaries with something like cones, you can hold the class together and avoid the chaos that can come when children are ‘allowed’ to move. This also applies to teaching dance outdoors.
What if I have no previous experience in dance?
If you have not used much dance or movement in your classroom in the past, you may like to begin with a brainstorm about what the class thinks dance is and how they may experience it in the classroom. In the past, in these beginning classes, I have let the children talk about their emotions. These feelings can range from excitement through to embarrassment. All feelings are valid and should be acknowledged.
A word about warm ups
Warm ups need to not just warm up the body but orientate the children to your approach to dance. Creative movement should be initiated by the dancer but activities that scaffold the learning and build confidence are always the best starting point.
Making different shapes with the body, individually, in pairs and in small groups are always good initial activities. Think about contrasting shapes – curved and angular, at different levels and connected to other dancers and isolated from each other.
Ideas for making your classroom move
These are just a few ideas I have used in my classrooms to include dance and movement as an essential part of my classroom. Use as many or as few as you think is appropriate for your teaching context.
Good morning dance
Often these dances that start your mornings are a way of welcoming each other to the new day. Movement is used in many cultures to awaken the body and mind and to celebrate another day. Your classroom welcome dance can take any form that suits the class from gentle movement in silence to a choreographed dance to music.
This dance can be choreographed by the children. It can be based on cultural, community or school priorities.
The dance may need to be updated across the year as different aspects of class life come into focus. These changes are of course made via negotiation by the class.
You can even add seasonal details that could include cultural celebrations, changes in the seasons or events that are happening within the school like sporting carnivals or themed fundraisers.
Your ‘Good Morning’ movements could also be based on ideas that integrate mind and body in preparation for learning. Anne Green Gilbert’s Brain Dance can be used as it is or as a basis for your own movements that link to the interests of your class.
Brain breaks were introduced in the 1980s and made popular by Paul Dennison, a reading specialist who was working with Brain Gyms that used ‘edu-kinesthetics’.
Research suggests Brain Breaks can lead to improved cognitive function, better behaviour (Carlson et al, 2015), more productive time on task (Howie et al., 2014), and the development of reading comprehension and creative thinking.
They can be used at intervals across the day to relieve tension, relax the body or as a support other learning areas.
Linking to other Learning Areas: connecting across the curriculum
There are infinite ways you can use creative movement and dance to support, enhance or clarify other learning areas within the curriculum. Using movement can provide a gateway for many students to understand difficult or complex ideas.
Integrating dance as a component of children’s learning in literacy, math, science and other art forms, creates dynamic learning experiences. Use dance to boost story writing through movement narratives or link sounds to movement to assist in spelling.
The ‘movement’ museum’
Create a ‘movement’ museum in your classroom by collecting movements that can be displayed. Challenge your students to find movements that people who attend the museum can learn ‘from’ rather than “about’.
Perhaps the movements are culturally significant, scientific, thematic or linked to a specific geography.
Each movement should be supported by a written label that includes the date it was collected, where it came from and a brief description of the ‘movement object’.
This activity can prompt storytelling about children’s lived experiences as well as contributing to historical learning. Launch your museum with a special event that includes storytelling by the children about the processes they used to decide on the ‘movement objects’ in the exhibition.
The Water Cycle
The Water Cycle is a great example of how you can use dance to assess children’s understanding of another learning area. There are many resources that will support developing dance activities around this topic.
Water Dance by Thomas Locker Water Dance is a good resource if you are confident to lead your class to create a dance based on the water cycle.
I Can Make a Water Dance by Karen Diaz is a guide to creating a dance with your class. You will need to use some dance terminology if you are linking to a specific Arts Curriculum.
The Water Cycle, one of the free lesson plans on Dance Teaching Ideas, suggests scaffolded activities including Warm Ups, choreographic activities and reflections. This is a step by step unfolding of a dance lesson appropriate for the Primary classroom.
More ideas to use dance to help your students learn
There are so many ways you can use dance to help your students learn. Here are a few more that I have already covered in other articles on Dance Teaching Ideas.
How ever you choose to use dance in your classroom the rewards will be rich for you and your students. Be brave and start using dance and creative movement every day!
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Carlson, J. A., Jessa K. Engelberg, Kelli L. Cain, Terry L. Conway, Alex M. Mignano, Edith A. Bonilla, Carrie Geremia, James F. Sallis, (2015) Implementing classroom physical activity breaks: Associations with student physical activity and classroom behavior, Preventive Medicine, Volume 81.
Fresien, Megan N (2023) Beyond danceless classrooms: Investigating approaches to support classroom teachers in teaching dance across elementary school curricula, Simon Fraser University
Howie, E., Michael W. Beets, Russell R. Pate, (2014) Acute classroom exercise breaks improve on-task behavior in 4th and 5th grade students: A dose–response, Mental Health and Physical Activity, Volume 7, Issue 2,
O’Gorman, L. (2014). The Arts and education for sustainability: shaping student teachers’ identities towards sustainability. In J. Davis & S. Elliott (Eds). Research in Early Childhood Education for Sustainability: International perspectives and provocations (pp. 266-279) London: Routledge.
Pomer, J. (2022). Elementary dance education: nature-themed creative movement and collaborative learning. Human Kinetics.
Victorson, M, Spears, G & Foshay, E (2022) Practical Resources for Dance Educators! Using SEL Strategies in the K–12 Dance Classroom: Practices from Three Chicago Dance Educators, Dance Education in Practice, 8:2, 4-9, DOI: 10.1080/23734833.2022.2059219