Talking in dance class: friend or foe?

dance activitiesYes, it’s true I was a chatty dance student.  I talked in studio dance classes, school classes and pretty much all the time.  Talking to the teachers mainly.  Asking questions and generally just wanting much more detailed information than necessary.

I was a born researcher.  But that will be no consolation to the teachers and peers that had to tolerate to my often disruptive, if well intentioned, behaviour.

The point is that there are many ’chatty’ students like me who are not being purposely disruptive. However, they infect other students with the ‘talky bug’ and turn a calm, focused dance class into one that is not productive.

There are some children who are excessively talkative to the point where you question their motives.  Are they genuinely interested or just trying your patience?

In a dance class, excessive talking can stop the natural rhythm of the learning activity and lead to both teacher and student frustration.

Creating dance activities that help to teach children to listen can be a good starting point.

The dance class atmosphere

The dance class is a place that should be interesting, exciting and a purposely energized space.  But it is also a place for deep reflection, whether that is about the creative process or the details of acquiring movement skills.

Children need to be able to have a time in their dance class where they can not only listen but reflect.

Often listening in the dance classroom is about safety and requires the teaching to be direct, not just as a part of a teacher-centric teaching methodology.  Children need the skills to listen, hear and apply complex movement directions to keep themselves safe from physical injury.

Dance teacher vocal problems

Dance teachers often have difficulty with throat soreness and croakiness.  This throat strain is exacerbated by trying to yell above music and talk over the top of a class at full volume.

Giving children time to settle down before you speak prevents being tempted to raise the modulation of your voice over desirable limits.  Having a well-modulated voice also helps to model confident and calm behaviour to your students.

Dance teachers’ voices often get louder as they get more enthusiastic and, when combined with shallow breathing from puffing while demonstrating, they may become hoarse.

Warming up the vocal chords before class, using a head voice, using silence as an attention getter and not talking over loud music help avoid tired, strained vocal chords.  Try speaking in short sentences, with an even breath. If you are demonstrating use emphatic movements and not your voice.

Staying hydrated by drinking lots of room temperature water is also good for protecting the voice.

Using productive noise in the dance classroom

However, it is important that dance teachers also embrace productive noise that is essential to building the relationship between the students and the teacher in a creative, collaborative environment.  They need to have lively and engaged conversations with each other.  Exploring meaning, understanding and applied knowledge in a creative classroom.

Children need opportunities to talk and question.  This may be students most effective way of processing new knowledge or building on what they already know, value, and understand.  For this to work well, without disrupting other students, the children need to trust you. They can’t trust you if you don’t know each other.  Doing some icebreakers andgetting to know you’ activities will help build respect for each other.

Tips for managing dance classroom noise

You need your students to be agile enough in their self-regulated behaviour management to be confident, energised speakers who share their thoughts and feelings, but calm enough to listen, concentrate and reflect when appropriate.

Explain what you mean by quiet for each dance activity.

This seems obvious but students can have preconceived ideas about imposed silences in a school classroom.  Does it mean keep your voice down?  Should we be quiet unless we need to discuss with a neighbour?  How long should we be quiet for?

Why they need to be quiet?

Giving students a clear idea about why they need to listen means that they are focused on the detail of the information.  It could be that it is information that they need in order to complete the project, that it is for their safety, or that it is how to do a movement in a way that will work better for them.

Often what you want them to listen to is you rephrasing what they have said to you and you want to be clear that you understand what they have just said.  The need for silence may be a part of a meditation style activity, or to listen to some music or sound as a stimulus for a choreographic activity.

Giving children a clear and concise ‘why’ shows that you value that they understand and are not just imposing your will on them.

Model what you want them to do

As the teacher, you lead the behaviour that happens in the class.  By speaking in a well modulated voice, about as loud as you would in a restaurant, you demonstrate polite behaviour.  For you to stop talking when they are speaking, make eye contact and really listen to what they have to say, without jumping in, teaches children ways to communicate with respect.

Good manners will rub off on your class.   A calmer, gentler and more confident approach in the classroom by the teacher is better for your stress levels and supports moderated behaviour in your students.

Practice ‘listening time’, starting for only short periods and increasing to longer intervals depending on the age of the students.

Silence Signals

teaching dance classThere are many examples of silence signals that are used in Primary classrooms ranging from call and response to hand gestures to electronic tools that make a sound when the noise level gets too high.  Each teacher needs to find the best one for their class and for their own individual teaching styles.


Above all, you need consequences that you are prepared to go through with, to enforce compliance as a part of the silent activities.  You should avoid letting disruptive behaviour play out as it may infect the behaviour of the whole class.

It may be the teacher that creates the ‘chatty’ class by lack of consistency in listening in the classroom.  Be clear with your students what the different levels of consequences are and avoid bring out your ‘big bad guns’ too early.

These consequences may be something you negotiate with the class right from the beginning so that they know you are doing it as a class not that you are imposing it on them.

Setting up routines

Bringing children into the classroom quietly and having an end of lesson routine that acknowledges reflection and calm is important for consistency.

Many children may anticipate taking off their shoes and being active in a dance class, by responding with a lack of self-control at the doorway to the dance classroom.

The physical nature of dance requires students to exercise self-regulation and to develop greater self-discipline over time.  By encouraging both confident verbal expression of ideas and constraint when listening, children are more equipped to collaborate creatively.

For more ideas about how you can bring dance activities into your Early Years and Primary classrooms take a look at the Free Lesson Plans on Dance Teaching Ideas.