Welcome to Part 2 of our Guide to Teaching Dance! In Part 1 we discussed the benefits of teaching dance in the first place (it’s possible I’m biased in favour of dance but that’s only because it’s great!). Here in Part 2 I’m going to talk all about how to teach dance, and as a bonus you can download our Inside Info resource to delve deeper into more detailed examples and descriptions on the points below.
To be clear, when I say ‘how to teach dance’ I mean in terms of replicating or delivering a routine that has already been created. If you’re itching to learn more about creating choreography, sit tight (feel free to dance in your seat - I recommend the hand jive) and keep a lookout for Parts 3 - 5.
So, how can you teach dance? In the early stages of either your or your class’s dance experience, giving students something to imitate reduces both your and their responsibility. It also acts as a constant reference that they can compare their own movements against.
A good way to approach this is through 5 simple steps:
1. Start simple
Find a song you know or are familiar with, that has an existing, easy dance using simple gestures and movements to highlight or represent it’s lyrics or story. Don’t dive into the deep end with some abstract piece set to a single beating drum - find something you’re comfortable with, and give yourself a chance.
Looking for recommendations? Some that I have used or recommended previously can be found in our Inside Info resource :)
2. Be prepared
And I don’t just mean know the material (be sure that you do!) but also be prepared to perform this yourself in front of your students. Children initially learn movement through mimicking what they see.
Seeing a demonstration of what the finished product should look like before attempting to move themselves will give students’ minds and bodies an understanding of what to be aiming for.
If you’re shy, or just need safety in numbers - get your TAs involved too! Make a little show of it. (Though if you’re really, really shy - try to have a video of the dance to show students where possible.)
3. Break it down
Most music used for dance in primary schools will be in phrases of 4 or 8 counts. Therefore, begin by breaking down the routine itself into small, manageable chunks, one phrase at a time.
Continue to break things down by teaching the movements for each phrase one body part at a time:
Step 1. Teach just the arm movements
Step 2. Then the head
Step 3. Now add the legs and feet
Focus on the correct direction and position of each body part in turn, without the music if need be, then add in music when you think they’re ready. This should make the process more manageable for both you and your students.
When you’ve covered everything, combine all the movements together with the music and ‘mark’* the routine at half speed.
You can check out the Inside Info resource for great tips on how to use counts, sounds and language to aid your delivery!
(*mark = dance lingo for focusing on learning the steps and sequence itself, without striving for perfection)
So you’ve taught the routine - well done! Most students are moving in the same direction at the same time - excellent. Phew! Now it’s time to practice and perfect the piece. (Mwaha… you didn’t think you were finished?!)
Repeat the sequence altogether:
Like a song on loop, just keep going over it!
It’s great for muscle memory.
It allows you to monitor the group, spotting any students who need help or correction.
It enables you to suss any general areas of difficulty, to which you can then pause and review.
Sidenote: When practicing as a whole class I find it useful to give students the opportunity to practice both with and without the music. Sometimes, when simply trying to calculate how to get a foot from A to B, music can be a distraction. Allow everyone the chance to simply figure bits out.
Put students in pairs to work through the routine together.
As you teachers will know, pairing a student who’s got it with a student who’s tripping over their two left feet is often a good idea!
It allows students to notice differences in their movements and problem solve independently.
5. Perform! (The best bit!)
Quiet before the storm… Have the group take a few deep breaths (yourself included) to relieve any tension or niggles about the performance, before getting yourself and your TAs seated at the front as an audience, cranking up the music, and allowing the group to give it everything they’ve got all together!
Chance to shine… I usually then like to open up the opportunity for any groups, partners or solos to give it a go on their own (time permitting). Whether they get it right or not, it’s a great confidence booster getting up in front of your peers, and some students might surprise you.
Little added bonus… I would always encourage what I call ‘half and half’ performances. Have half of the class perform while the other half watch as an audience,. and prepare to answer some questions and feedback at the end. Then swap! This is particularly great when working with KS2 students, as they can begin to really reflect on someone else’s performance to help aid their own.
The finishing touch… My strongest piece of advice would be to always end a dance session on a high! Some students might have really struggled throughout, some perfectionists might be annoyed they went wrong in their performance slot, some might simply be bursting to do it one. last. time. So let them! Get everybody up, including you and your TAs this time and have a ‘just-for-fun’ finish altogether!
And there you have it!
1. Start simple
2. Be prepared
3. Break it down
Next week I’ll be going in-depth into creating your own dance in the classroom, and in the meantime you can download the Inside Info for specific examples of songs to use, ideas for how to highlight connections between movement and music, and tips for practicing the routine.