Performing Primary School Dance: Pluses & Pitfalls

Performing dance in Primary/Elementary classrooms can be an exciting and positive experience.  But like all good lessons or projects in schools you need to plan for success.

Many children and adults have very adverse experiences with performing.  This includes speaking, singing, or dancing in front of an audience.  But it is possible to create a lasting positive memory for children that will encourage them to become confident communicators in a range of contexts.

Performing Primary Dance

What are the best ways for children to perform dance in school?

Scaffolding children’s dance performances is important for building their confidence about showing work.  Always start by having children perform as a larger group rather than in smaller or solo performances.  This allows children to develop gradually, identifying strategies that will support them when they are ready to perform on their own.

There are three steps to unfolding this faith in their own ability.

Firstly, have them perform for peers as a part of the development of the choreography.  This gives them a chance to try out their performance skills in a familiar and supported environment.

Secondly, try performing for a familiar audience.  This could include another class in the school, their family or even on a school assembly.

Thirdly, they may then be ready to perform for an unknown audience.  This could be at a community event like a fete or fair or even as a part of larger celebration within your area.

In preparation for this try performing for another class, it could be a different age group that is unknown to the children.  Ensure that the class you choose are familiar with audience etiquette.  You could also have a word bank to assist in reflecting on the children’s dances. To assist with this your class may like to write a program or to explain their dance before or after the performance.

Performing Dance in Primary School

What choreography should you use for children to perform?

Teachers often feel confronted by having to create movement for students to perform. However, even if you are an inexperienced dancer, you can still design your dance to show what your children understand about performing dance. This does not require previous dance experience, but you need to plan to teach what it is you will be assessing or the learning outcomes you are trying to achieve.

If you are genuinely confronted by the thought of having to make up a dance, you can combine the performance task with a student choreography assessment.  Students creating their own pieces are often enthusiastic to perform for others.

So, is it better for children to perform teacher devised work or their own choreography?  Performing self-choreography combines the internal life of the child with their external selves. It gives them ownership over the whole of their creative product and enables them to see a creative project through to its very end point.

However, performing other’s work requires skills that go beyond duplication of movement.  Teacher choreography can be designed to challenge student’s movement skills beyond what they are comfortable with, to extend their ability to use abstraction to portray ideas, and to be able to spend more time on the performative elements of dance.

Should I use choreography from You tube for dance performance?

You can use dance that has been choreographed on You tube specifically for children. This can be a good solution until you feel confident as a teacher to share your creative dance.  The disadvantage is that the choreography will not have been created to meet the specific needs of your project or criteria should you be using it for assessment.

Performing Dance in Primary School

For older students, you could also consider using a professional choreographer to come to your school and teach a dance.  If you are enlisting the assistance of a dance artist, it is always a good idea to have conversation about what outcomes you would like to achieve with your students.  Ensure the dance artist is using inclusive choreography that is culturally responsive and that the music is appropriate for the age group and the requirements of your school.

Guest dance artists in schools can show students ways in which the dance profession connects with community.  Giving the artist a clear brief that makes transparent the expectation for collaboration between teacher and artist is essential.


What are the Phases of dance performance in Primary school?

Performing dance in Primary/Elementary classrooms can be an exciting and positive experience.  But like all good lessons or projects in schools you need to plan for success.

What the stages performance look like depends on the outcomes you would like to achieve, the time you have to spend on the project, and the stage of learning that the children are at.  It can be highly supervised, or self-directed or anywhere on the scale.

  1. Preparation for Dance Performance

What does the performance need to show? If it is for assessment, what are you assessing and how will the learning of the dance teach the children about that focus?

For example, if the assessment is about timing and rhythms, does the choreography include different rhythms so children may demonstrate how they dance in time to the music.  If they have been learning about controlling their bodies to perform sustained movement, can they move smoothly throughout the sections that require this dynamic. If they are demonstrating relationship, perhaps the dance uses props and another section has them dancing with a partner, making contact, and dancing separately in unison.

You could also prepare a word bank for talking about dance.  This helps when the children are reflecting on their own and others work or giving comments after the rehearsal or performance.  Explore words that describe movement, reflective words, and dance specific terms.  These will be different for each age group.

If children are choreographing their own work, they may need a reworking stage.  This can involve a showing of the work to each other and a short critique.  This work in progress could then need to have logistical issues of unclear phrasing, sequence, or direction rethought.  This is a good opportunity to talk about the objectives that the children are being asked to fulfill and checking that the choreography is showing those elements.

Performing Dance in Primary School

  1. Rehearsal for Dance Performance

The focus of the rehearsal should be on what you will be assessing or your learning outcomes. Make it clear what you will be looking for.  Lesson plan ideas for dance rehearsals | (

For example, it could be about staying in time with the music, showing control when using stillness and balance, or the continuity of the performance, not stopping but keeping the flow of the movement going throughout. It could be about showing control and focus in performance. Not looking at the audience to laugh or look embarrassed but staying in the moment.

This is a good opportunity to set up what will be your Performance Rules.  Cheryl M. Willis in her most useful book, Dance Education Tips from the Trenches, has a comprehensive list of guidelines for children’s performances (p. 235). You may like to use hers or create your own in consultation with your class.

  1. Reflection on the Dance Performance

Children need an opportunity to reflect of their own performance before receiving any feedback from others.  You may choose to do this formally, in written or oral form or informally, as part of a post performance discussion.

No matter what you choose you need to acknowledge that although they may have performed as a group each child will have an individual memory or emotion connected to the performance.  It is important for children to be supported in talking about performance experiences as a part of their learning about dance.

If they are going to repeat the performance at another time, this reflection becomes crucial.  This reflective process may include watching a recording of their performance and giving ideas for improvements.

Reflect on performance is a time for positive impressions and a personal charting  of how far students have traveled and where they have arrived in their dance performance journey.

Putting Children’s Dance in the Spotlight

Performing dance in Primary/Elementary school is a wonderful way to build children’s confidence in their own abilities.  It positions dance as a culturally significant art form not just as a technical skill, but as a means of expression and way of telling our personal stories.

The benefits to children of experiencing a successful dance performance process is that they are guided to envisage productive creativity.  This is an important skill in this era where creativity is such a highly valued commodity.

Look for opportunities in your school community for your students to show their work and their performance of other’s works.   Let’s create more thinkers and movers.