Teaching Dance at School in the Outdoors

dancing outdoorsWhether you’re a dance teacher, a classroom teacher teaching dance or a home schooling parent there are often circumstances that require you to teach outdoors.  This may be a welcome change to the four walls of the classroom or learning space.  But it could be an inconvenience brought on by the fluid nature of available usable spaces, that are big enough to run a dance activity.

Having a few dance lesson plans at the ready for these occasions is a great idea.  It can turn an inconvenience into a fun and engaging way to learn.

Teaching dance outdoors can be fun and informative for the class if you are prepared and have covered some of the ‘unknowns’ about the great outdoors.

Safe dance for outdoor dance at school

Safety will always be a part of any dance activity whether you are indoors or outside.  Setting up your space is a crucial part of a successful dance activity.

When outdoors you could consider …

What the space you are going to use looks like.  Does it have enough level ground for the students to move comfortably?  If the movements travel, through the space there should be enough room to avoid tripping hazards.

Consider setting up a perimeter with cones, sandbags, or ropes on the ground. This gives you control of the space and stops the unruly behaviour that can erupt with too much room.

Check the floor surface.  This applies to all dance classes but is more important with outdoor dance activities. The floor surface will determine whether the children remove their shoes or not.  If dancing on asphalt, dance in supported shoes and avoid ballistic movements or those that go to the ground.  You need to supervise movement exploration closely and always have a pre lesson safety check with the students.

Consider privacy for movement exploration.  For some children being outside can be freeing emotionally, creatively, and physically.  However, the open nature of outdoor spaces may mean that some of your class will feel ‘exposed’ to the view from passing students from other classes.  Privacy gives many children room to be creative and to develop their art before they perform.

Think about the impact of the weather.  As I am writing this, it is a perfect winter day in South East Queensland, Australia.  This is the ideal conditions for dancing outdoors, not too hot or cold.  However, in most parts of the world you always need to consider the weather

COVID – 19 plans! Always consider the COVID-19 plans that your school has in place and if your activity adheres to them.

Have a backup plan if any of these elements are going to influence the success of your outdoor dance activity.  Particularly the weather!

dancing at school

Designing the outdoor dance activity

If you have the luxury to plan to be dancing outside, you need to ensure that the quality of the learning experience is not affected by the space.  Deciding how the lesson will benefit from the environment rather then suffer for it can make a lot of difference to what you plan for.

dance outdoorsWhat is the context for learning, how will it link to the skill or knowledge you are focusing on and does being outside link directly to that learning?

The history of dance outdoors can be a good place to decide on what the context of the lesson will be.  With dance being so closely related to cultural and artistic history the lesson may link to something you have been exploring in class.

Here is a list of some ideas that could be suitable for a range of age groups.

The  dances of the ancient Egyptians.  These were like an ‘orrery’ that represented the solar system.  It was like a performance of the civilization’s knowledge of the heavens.

Greek theatre was performed outdoors and as well as the inclusion of Drama, dance played a significant role in the depiction of many classic stories.

The myths and legend of many ancient civilization included performances of dance. An example would be The Dance Champetre, invented by Pan and performed in the open air.

Dance played a significant role on board The Endeavour during Cook’s voyagesDance Teaching Ideas has resources that could be used outdoors to learn about this aspect of life on board ship during this time.

The birth of modern dance was intricately linked with the natural environment through the work of Isadora Duncan.   Many of her works were performed and created outdoors in gardens and wild spaces.

In more recent times Street dance and busking are a common sight in our metropolitan areas and form a part of our cultural environment.

Cultural dance at outdoor festivals and, as practiced in the community, reflect the rich cultural diversity of most countries around the world.  Here in Australia, Indigenous dance is an integral part of our cultural heritage.  It connects us to our natural world and is perhaps our most important context of dancing outside.

Site specific dance is another focus for an outdoor dance lesson. Using the environment as the stimulus for dance exploration assist students in investigating their world in abstract ways.  The art making provides different literacies that are transferable to many learning areas.

And finally…

These are only a few ideas of the breadth of possibilities around dance lessons conducted outdoors.  These dance explorations can also be extended to outdoor performances.

Inviting children to view their outdoor environment as a possible site for dance and or performance is a creative way to encourage lateral thinking.  The range of locations that may be used are only limited by the imagination.

Teaching and learning outdoors can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience with a little preparation and flexible thinking.  So next time you’re short of space for a dance or creative movement class consider the joys of the great outdoors

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