What makes a good dance warm up?

When considering safe dance practice in your Primary classroom, a dance warm up is crucial.  The dance warm up acts to prepare the body for the activity that it is about to be engaged in.

warming up for dance

Actors, athletes, singers, and dancers all warm up before they use their bodies.  This enables them to gently get ready for more vigorous use of the part of the body they are engaging.  It prevents injury and, when performing, enables the maximum articulation of the body.

The body is a little like a car engine in that it performs better when warmed up.

The aim of the warm up is to:

raise the heart rate

increase the body temperature

improve coordination and cooperation of the muscles

ready the mind for exercise

reduce injuries

(Lykesas, et al, 2020)

However, there are many other reasons why the dance warm up is particularly important in the Primary dance classroom.

Why warm up for dance?

There are two main types of warm up: a passive warm up and an active warm up.  A passive warm up occurs if you go into a sauna or other device and externally warm up the body temperature.

An active warm up is what we would do in a dance class in Primary school, where the body moves to raise the temperature.  This could involve light jogging, skipping, or striding around the room and simple stretching to mobilize the joints.

Do you need to stretch as a part of a dance warm up?

Stretching may be static, ballistic, dynamic, or specialized.  Each of these types of stretches fulfills a different function and may be used in a combination during the warm up or independently.

Static stretches were once thought to be essential for the dancer when preparing to take class. However, the temperature of the muscle reduces during these stretches.

warm ups for primary schoolThis lowering of muscle temperature in turn leads to a reduction of strength in the muscle (Hedrick, 2000).  It also decreases the electrical muscle stimulation which lowers the ability to recruit muscle units decreasing the production of strength (Winchester, et al, 2008).  There is also some research to suggest a reduction in balance and reaction time after static stretches (Behm, et al, 2004).

In studies of dynamic stretching, a combination of low, moderate, and high intensity exercises using upper and lower extremities, was found to produce positive results for both strength and agility (Yamaguchi et al., 2005; Gelen, 2011).  These studies have been primarily carried out on athletes of various sports, adults, and cohorts of secondary school students.

Coledam,  Palu-do, De Oliveira and Dos-Santos (2012), compared dynamic stretching to a “tag” game and found very few differences between dynamic stretching and tag, in agility and strength.

Lykesas, et al, compared static, dynamic, no stretching and Greek traditional dance in 5th and 6th graders in a recent 2020 study.  They found that while the static stretches produced a significant advantage to flexibility, there was no statistical difference between static and Greek traditional dance, when used as warmup in relation to strength and dynamic flexibility.  The dynamic stretch protocol and the traditional dance were similar in benefits to the children’s agility levels.

Unless you are engaging in a dance activity that requires a gymnastic level of flexibility, static stretching is not necessary and dynamic stretching or an aerobic activity like a traditional folk dance is sufficient. (Lykesas, et al 2020)

Examples of dynamic stretching for Primary children

Heels hitting the buttocks

High skips using arms in a right angles shape

Big steps forward with leaping movement

Side steps

Walks lifting legs straight to 90 degrees like Frankenstein

Walking on toes and then on heels

What is important for a Primary school dance warm up?

What is important in a Primary dance context is not high levels of performance in the movements but an awareness of the body and how it moves and a sense of ‘coming into the body’.  By this I mean that the students need an opportunity to refocus their attention inwards, to be mindful about how they approach their own body and how it moves.

It is an opportunity to focus on posture and how our muscles engage to support a healthy body.

The warm up for this age group serves an important purpose in the lesson to start building a relationship with their own body before they begin to work with others in the class.  They need to be conscious of how joints move and how it feels to engage different muscles.

Isolating parts of the body and exploring how the body moves is an important part of the dance warm up.  Slowly moving and building momentum through the warm up gives children the opportunity to explore the sensation of how they can be in control of their own body.

“Start simply; start slowly.” Anne Green Gilbert

Creating your dance warm up

When designing your warm up for the dance class consider:

How much space you have to perform the movements.

How much time you have as a percentage of the whole lesson.

The content of the rest of the lesson. What types of movement are likely to occur?

Your lesson goals. Is the focus of the lesson on skill development or introducing a concept or the students creating their own movements?

Dance warm ups for different age groups

primary dance warm upFor 0-5 years, a  2-3 minute quick warm up may be done sitting or standing.  By starting sitting it is easier to hold the children’s attention.  Try to work with movement that is simple and familiar.

For 5-7 years, a teacher choreographed ‘Hello dance’ that isolates and moves the body aerobically is a time saving way to lead a warm up.  This can be based on folk or traditional dance styles and should  alternate between locomotor and non locomotor movements.  Consider using a piece of music that starts slow and gets faster. Unpredictable by The Herd is an example but you may wish to use music that links to the theme of your lesson.

For 7-12 years, the warm up could be improvised in a ‘follow me’ style or a set dance similar to a social dance.  Children also like to create their own like the Welcome Dance in the DTI free lessons.

Using a dynamic and engaging warm up can activate the central nervous system, improve blood circulation, and alert the brain to the creative learning activity to follow.

Final Thoughts

Don’t overthink your warm up, but definitely use it to your teaching advantage.  It is an element in building momentum in your lessons.

The dance warm up is important as it sets the tone for the rest of the lesson.  Having fun will always be important as you build relationships with your students and create the learning ‘hook’.

Avoid talking too much.  Make the warm up focus on your students not on you, even if you are doing a ‘follow me’ style of activity.

Finding new activities for the warm up will keep you and your students fresh.  Over the next few months DTI will have some exciting dance warm up ideas for you to try in your dance classrooms.



Behm D. G. & Chaouachi A. (2011). Review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol, 111, 2633-2651.

Behm, D. G., Bambury, A., Cahill, F., & Power, K. (2004). Effect of acute static stretching on force, balance, reaction time, and movement time. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36, 1397-1402.

Coledam, D. H. C., Paludo, A. C., De Oliveira, A. R., & Dos-San-tos, J.  W.  (2012).  Dynamic exercise versus tag game warm up: The acute effect on agility and vertical jump in children. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 7, 243-253

Gelen, E. (2011). Acute effects of different warm-up methods on jump performance in children. Biology of Sport, 28(2), 133 -138.

Hedrick, A. (2000). Dynamic Flexibility Training. Strength & Con-ditioning Journal, 22(5), 33-38.

Lorenzo-Lasa, R., Ideishi, R.I. & Ideishi, S.K. (2007) Facilitating Preschool Learning and Movement through Dance. Early Childhood Educ J 35, 25–31 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-007-0172-9

Lykesas, G., Giossos, I., Chatzopoulos, D., Koutsouba, M., Douka, S., & Nikolaki, E. (2020). Effects of Several Warm-Up Protocols (Static, Dynamic, No Stretching, Greek Traditional Dance) on Motor Skill Performance in Primary School Students. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education12(5), 481–487. Retrieved from https://www.iejee.com/index.php/IEJEE/article/view/1155

Yamaguchi, T., & Ishii, K. (2005). Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 19(3), 677-683.