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The playful dance teacher …finding your own sense of play

Recently, I was discussing with a group of dance teaching artists, about the importance of their personal playfulness. We talked a lot about school timetables, curriculum imperatives, paperwork, and general lack of time. This does not sound very playful!

But what these teachers kept repeating was the importance of playful delight to their own creative dance practice. That having space and time to find their own sense of play and a play mindset allowed them to see more possibilities. Possibilities for themselves and more importantly for their students.

Playful teacher

But why is this so fundamental to dance teaching practice and how can we, as dance teachers, nurture and grow our own sense of being playful?

The little ones still remember how to use the power of their imagination. They are still engaged in the utilization of their imagination — that is one of the reasons that keeps them so exhilarated.      Esther Hicks

Dance as a State of Play

Dance is a state of play whether you do it alone or with others. Inside or outdoors in nature. To music, sound, or the rhythm of your own breath.

Playful experimentation is an important part of professional choreographers and dancers’ creative process. Improvising with joy and curiosity is the starting point for most dance works.

Dance play allows the central nervous system opportunities to calm down and be peaceful opening up space for curiosity. Exploring ideas through the body embraces a physical, spiritual and heart connection that becomes a safe place for new thoughts and bigger dreams. This ease, delight and freedom is the state of mind to be ready to learn and be productive. Both as a teacher and for children.

The technology industry has used this idea of play to their advantage when creating their work spaces and flexible use of time within their industry. They know from practical experience that creative ideas and innovation come from the curiosity and inquisitiveness that comes from playing.

Play based learning

In some ways I think play needs a rebrand. We talk about ‘learning outcomes’ but the most creative and powerful learning often comes from a starting point of play.  However it is often seen as a fun add on rather than an important part of the process.

But what it really comes down to is how you are going to show up to each class? Are you going to be weighed down by the everyday without see the multiple possibilities that are within your grasp?

Play allows…people to make mistakes, to do trial and error and all emotions are welcome when play is here                       Emma Tempest   The Play Coach

How can we believe in our own spirit of play?

So many teachers feel they have to ‘fake it until they make it’, particularly when we are first starting out. But we are ‘enough’ already without having to take on an entirely new persona. Our authentic selves, central to who we are as people, is what has drawn us to be teachers. It is this caring heart that children respond to and feel safe with.

Tuning in to your inner child and trusting yourself can be a great starting point for finding your playful self. How did you feel before you were weighed down by the barrage of negative messaging that is part of living in an ‘adult’ world?

Prepare for Play Meditation

Close your eyes. (You may need to read and record yourself saying this first!)
Recognize where you are right in this moment.
Notice what’s going on right now in your body.
Your emotions.
Your spirituality.
Acknowledge your hopes and dreams.
Be in the moment and leave behind what ever else is happening in your life.
Be aware of what may be the barrier between you and your playful self.
Trust yourself and give yourself permission to experience joy in your relationship with yourself and others.
Feel the air as it touches your skin, the hairs on your arms, rests lightly on your face, and embraces your body.
Release your tension and any old ideas about you being perfect and let them float into space.
Feel the building joy of this release.
Remember a playful activity that you have done either as a child or as an adult. How did it feel? What did it look like?
Clasp your hands together to touch the memory.
Turn up the colour on that memory.
Can you feel any sensations in your body? Where sensations are you feeling in your body?
What emotions are you feeling? Where is it located in your body? IIs it hot or cold, smooth, or rough, does it have a colour or a shape?
Breath deeply as you create this image.
Slow open your eyes and look at where you are right now, holding onto that feeling of joy.



The next time you are playful in your classroom observe:
why you are doing it,
what happens when you do it,
how does it change the energy,
how do you feel?

Play based learning

Being playful as a foundation for learning

By being playful and curious we can create classrooms where all children feel welcome and safe to explore and experiment through play. We are that safe person they need to trust as we are showing them our curiosity and playfulness.

Teachers and student fearfulness is a major barrier to playful learning. It could be fear of looking foolish in front of others, not being perfect, not knowing or be able to do everything or of taking the risk to appear vulnerable to others.

“The answer to what you’re afraid of isn’t the opposite; like being brave and being powerful and doing all things with love. I really do think the answer is curiosity. You can be scared of things and do it anyway, you can be worried about things, but curiosity gives you the courage to have a try anyway”.   Emma Tempest

When we are comfortable with being feeling uncomfortable then we can accept all the feelings, thoughts, and emotions. There is no need to shame ourselves when thing go ‘wrong’.

Playfulness for wellbeing

Children are most creative in their playful experimentation when they are calm. This gives them the opportunity to observe dance and movement as well as participate.

Be sure to take the energy in the room to a point where they are connected to beauty and heart. This could be the way you have set up the space (positioning of objects and use of colour), the stimulus objects you are using or the pace, rhythm and volume of the music. This allows the children to give play their full attention and then build to larger and more exuberant motor movements.

Play based learning

For teachers it could be time to do what Kimberley Crisp  calls a ‘Sensory Stocktake’. When you go through this process you need to really feel it and see it from the perspective of your students.

Lying down, what do you hear?
What do you see from a child’s position in the space?
What do you smell?
How do these things make you feel?

Then write it down and bring intention to the ‘Sensory Banquet’ you are presenting for your students. The space needs to nurture movement play through all the senses.

And finally…

Some one once said ‘Your vibe attracts your tribe’. By becoming more playful we attract delight, joy, curiosity and exhilaration into our lives. We find ourselves surrounded by people who are playful and excited by life whether that is in our personal, peer or student relationships.

Give yourself and your students a daily infusion of play as a health priority.

Acknowledgement To Country

We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first people of this land on which we create, work, and live. We acknowledge your past and present suffering, we value your cultural wisdom, and we will listen to and learn from your voices.

We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, both past and present.