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5 Simple Tips for Choosing Music For Dance in the Classroom

Selecting the right music for dance in the classroom can be a tedious process with so many options to choose from. Depending on the activity, lesson, or purpose of the movement, the choice of music can equally enhance or detract from the students’ experience. While many teachers play what they think their students want to hear (e.g., pop music), it can be very limiting in their ability to be self-expressive and creative. Therefore, I have come up with the following tips to consider when choosing music for dance in the classroom.


1. Make it Relevant to Students

It is important to expose students to a variety of music that spans genres, time periods, and cultures. This includes music with different tempos, time signatures, rhythm, and beats. Not only does choosing a variety of music expose students to a vast array of sound, but it also attends to the cultural diversity in the classroom. Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for students to learn requires that teachers pay attention to the individuals they are teaching. Choosing music that reflects the diversity of the student body lets them know they are seen and that they matter. At the same time, the students will gain a greater knowledge and appreciation for music that may be new to them. 

2. Let the Emotional Element of the Music be “Moving” 

Music has the power to uplift our spirits, remind us of sad moments in our lives, or create tension and fear while watching a scary movie. Therefore, music provides opportunities to address many different emotions with students. This is particularly effective when emotions are explored in the body through movement. Much of how we experience and communicate our feelings begins in the body before they can be articulated into words. Movie soundtracks are an excellent place to begin searching for music to explore emotions. We also recommend classical (particularly compositions for ballets), instrumental (from a variety of cultures), and nature sounds.

3. Diverse Qualities of Sound

Dance education is based on dance elements (relationship, body, space, energy, and time) and various movement concepts. Regardless of how the body moves in space, it is always expressing a quality of movement (e.g., pulsing, sustained, swinging, collapsing, etc.) based on the energy being exerted (light, strong, bound, free, sharp, smooth). Therefore, we recommend choosing music that has qualities of light, strong, sustained, and sharp energy for students to explore different ways to move. Music used for emotions work well for exploring energy and qualities of movement. However, all compositions have unique sound and quality that can be explored through the body. 

4. Interpret Textures, Timbres, and Tempos with World Instruments 

It is important to expose students to a variety of music that spans genres, time periods, and cultures. This includes music with different tempos, time signatures, rhythm, and beats. Not only does choosing a variety of music expose students to a vast array of sound, but it also attends to the cultural diversity in the classroom. Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for students to learn requires that teachers pay attention to the individuals they are teaching. Choosing music that reflects the diversity of the student body lets them know they are seen and that they matter. At the same time, the students will gain a greater knowledge and appreciation for music that may be new to them.

5. Allow the Experience to be Creative and Fun!

As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, it is important to be mindful that you are not exclusively using music that students know and recognize (e.g., from video games or pop culture). While familiar music is a great way to get students comfortable moving in their bodies and having fun, it can also compel them to mimic their favourite gaming character or pop star rather than being self-expressive and creative with their own movements. Although there will be times when students are invited to move to their favourite songs as they please, dance education is also about stretching students beyond their level of comfort to explore new concepts. Choosing music that is diverse in nature will encourage students to learn about themselves, and explore the world around them, in exciting ways.  
Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Want to know more about her work in education? Read here!

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