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Teacher Tips to Get Students Hooked on Dance

Jump, wiggle, hop, shake, kick, leap, roll . . . kids love to move! 

The question is, do they love to dance? In all of my years of teaching, I would answer that question with “It depends.” In other words, it depends on how you get students HOOKED.

HOOK 1 Language matters: Dance versus Movement

The word “dance” immediately conjures up stereotypical notions of an artform that has historically been considered a gendered practice. While males dance as much as females, the assumption is that “dance is for girls.”  When starting a dance program with your students, one approach is to NOT speak of dance at all. Yes, you read that correctly! If you want to avoid the moans and groans, the hesitancy to participate, and the assumptions of what dance is and who can dance, do not tell your students they are going to be dancing. Instead, let them know they are going to be learning new ways to move their bodies. Ask them how they currently move their bodies in their day to day lives. What ways do they enjoy moving the most? How does it make them feel physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally? By starting with movement, you provide an opportunity for students to make connections to their lived experiences with few reservations. Once they are fully immersed in a dance program, and having fun, you can change your language and speak of dance.

HOOK 2 Building community: Creating a “safe” and comfortable environment

In any situation where students are asked to move their bodies, they must feel safe and comfortable to do so. There is a vulnerability that often comes from being in one’s body where the focus is on nonverbal communication and self-expression. While “safe” is a subjective experience (we can never know to the degree that another person truly feels safe) teachers can implement a number of strategies to build a respectful and trusting classroom community that promotes connection and collaboration. If students feel they can participate in movement activities without fear of being judged or laughed at, dance becomes much more appealing. One way to do this, is to begin with simple movement warm-ups and games that are accessible to all bodies and abilities. This might include mindfulness breathing, yoga stretches, drama exercises, acting out stories, dance and freeze, and so forth.

We have a number of suggestions in our resource Let’s Get Moving!, which you will receive for FREE if you sign up for our newsletter. We also have several community building resources in our shop.

HOOK 3 Pop culture connections: Discovering the latest and greatest dance fad

Pop culture opens the door to dance that students can get hooked on, particularly fad and social dances like the Charleston, Lindy Hop, Twist, Y.M.C.A., Sprinkler, Moonwalk, Cabbage Patch, Macarena, Cupid Shuffle, Loco-Motion, Time Warp, Cha-Cha Slide, Whip/Nae-Nae, and the Floss. Not only are they fun and engaging for all ages and genders, but they also have historical and cultural roots that students can connect to through their own lived experiences. These types of dances are intricately linked to pop music, they are often the life of a party, they can be found in video games, music videos, movies, TV shows, and on TikTok, and they are passed down through the generations. Plus, many are simple to do and easily improvised, and they can be performed alone, in partners, small groups, or as a whole class.

A fun way to include fad and social dances as part of your programming is to create a dance challenge. Invite students to work in small groups and choose a dance they’ve never tried before. Have them learn the steps. Allow the students the liberty of adding their own dance moves along with the traditional ones to make it interesting and modern. Have groups “show and teach” the dance to their peers.

HOOK 4 Choosing the “right” music: Enhancing engagement and participation

Imagine being at a party and music is playing over a loudspeaker. Suddenly, a crowd favourite comes on and the dance floor fills up. The space is electric with energy, laughter, and joy. People sing along with the lyrics, challenge each other to dance moves, and break a sweat. However, just as quickly as the party started, it might end. If the hits don’t keep playing, people will inevitably stop dancing.

Music sets the mood for any dance lesson and can enhance student engagement and participation. While it’s not necessary (or recommended) to play popular music every class, it is important to select music that students will respond to. Choosing the right music for dance takes time and energy, and there are a number of considerations to keep in mind. You can learn more about this by reading a previous blog on the topic: 5 Simple Tips for Choosing Music For Dance in the Classroom.

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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