Relationship in dance…how we move with others

  1. Relationship as a dance element

When teaching dance to Primary/Elementary school students, the Dance Element of Relationship can be a valuable concept to explore. Relationship refers to how we dance with others in the space.

It includes proximity, the physical distance between dancers, where children explore how it can impact the overall feel and mood of a dance piece. This may also investigate the relationship between the dancer and properties (props) and the production elements that include sets, music, lights, and costume.

Relationship is not always included as an Element of Dance.  But in the Primary/Elementary classroom it holds a special place as it emphasizes the ‘community’ that is formed between dancers as they move together.

Each component in dance works together to produce a symbiotic connection that is central to the performance.  The relationship between one body part to another, a dancer to another, a person to a group, one group to another or other physical objects in the space are central to the meaning of the movement.

Here are a few suggestions for introducing an understanding of Relationship in dance for Primary/Elementary school students.

Personal space awareness in dance

Start by introducing the concept of personal space to the students. Explain that personal space is the area around each individual where they feel comfortable and safe.

Encourage the children to explore their personal space by moving and dancing freely, while being mindful of others around them.  This heightened sense of awareness of others in the space is an important part of developing skills necessary for dancing in unison.    It also promotes teamwork and is foundational information for safe dance practice.

dancing in unison

Using Relationship as a part of choreography

When teaching choreography, incorporate different levels of proximity into the movements. For example, students may experiment with movements that involve being close to a partner.

Try moving in close formations as well as movements that involve more space between dancers.  Flocking exercises are great examples for introducing these kinds of group improvised, unison movements.

Encourage the children to explore the emotional impact and dynamics that proximity affects in the dance.

Dancing with a partner

Pair students up for partner work activities where they can practice dancing in close proximity to one another. Learning basic partnering techniques helps children experiment with physical connection and teamwork.

relationship in dance

Being a partner can include mirroring each other’s movements, leading and following, or creating shapes together.  These orientation style dance activities introduce being close to another person and are an important gateway to exploring dance in older Primary/Elementary students.

Stylistic partner dancing such as ballroom, salsa or swing dance may be explored in older children after they feel comfortable with physical connection.

Group Formations

When working with groups of students, experiment with different group formations that utilize Relationship and proximity to convey specific ideas or emotions. For example, students can create formations where they are closely clustered together to show unity or create formations where they are spread out to represent individuality or independence.

group formations

Sensory Awareness

Working with Relationship, as an Element of Dance, emphasizes the importance of sensory awareness in dance. Activities that quieten the ‘mind body chatter’ to focus on sensory stimuli can be introduced in very young children.

Being ‘aware’ of the body could include a focus on breath, muscle tension, contact with the floor, or the feeling of other dancers nearby.  Time for pausing and reflecting and using stillness to develop children’s awareness of sensory feedback is an important part of dance in schools.

The DTI Premium Membership resources include many activities that address this across Early Years through to Year 6.

Encourage students to not only consider physical proximity but also explore how their movements and energy can affect the space around them. This helps them develop an understanding of the impact their presence has on others and how they can influence the atmosphere through movement.

Dance activities that explore Relationship

In pairs, students use these words to explore relationship.  Begin the activity by deciding which words can be used with just two dancers and which ones need more or could be done alone.

Explore movements using the word bank in pairs, in small groups and then as a solo.

Introduce a theme/stimulus that students explore by choosing appropriate words from the Word Bank.  Some themes could include The Ocean, Autumn, a Volcano, an Earthquake, Fire, Magnetism.

Offer a range of props that they can choose to further explore the ideas of Relationship.  This could be chairs, hats, scarfs, newspapers, or objects from nature.

This word bank is adapted from

over around beside towards near/far meeting/    parting
alone shadowing contrasting in/out gathering action
canon successive under between behind away from
linking mirroring connecting unison on/off scattering
through reaction simultaneous side by side duet  

Safe Dance Practice

Remember, when working with Primary/Elementary school students, it’s essential to provide a safe and inclusive environment. Always encourage respect for personal boundaries and emphasize the importance of consent and permission when working in close proximity with others.

If you’d like other no fuss ideas for dance in your classroom join the DTI community. Find out more.