How and what does one teach students in a dance class? This is the question that is posed to educators every year and I have found it is one of the main reasons educators stray away from teaching dance. As a way to develop professionally, as well as assist my fellow colleagues in the area of dance, I have put together a package of simple and fun dance ideas, activities, and resources suitable for various age levels. Each of these activities cover all of the elements of dance and will allow students to be involved in dance while having fun. Enjoy!
For some quick and easy warm ups click here!
Great dance videos! For some awesome ideas for a dance class click here!
An Introduction to the Elements of Dance
Materials: Various music. Include music with various beats, tempos, and energies.
What the body is doing describes the body’s action. The more actions one knows and uses increases our capacity to express ourselves through dance. Actions can travel (locomotor) or can move on the spot (non-locomotor).
Activity: Using various drum beats, have the students respond to the different rhythms using both locomotor and non-locomotor actions. What were the different between the movements? Did the different movements have different words associated with them? What were some of the action words we expressed?
For some great actions words click here!
2. THE BODY:
The body is the dancer’s instrument. It is what dancers maniuplate in order to create actions and express themselves. We talk about and use the body as a whole, through body parts, through zones, and through body bases.
Play music and have the students dance around. When the teacher stops the music the students must freeze and make a statue with their body. To explore the various ways to use the body, use verbal prompts when making statues:
3 statues with one hand on the floor –> Body Parts
3 statues with your entire left side on the floor –> Zones
3 statues with your knees as the sole source of body support –> Bases
Dynamics is how the body moves. It is what gives dance its expressiveness and character.
Activity: As a group, have the students practice moving using various prompts:
Walk as though you are traveling through fresh cement.
Move as though you are a leaf floating in the wind.
Move as though you are trying to make your way though a crowded hallway.
Stand up as quickly as possible.
Stand up as slowly as possible.
The word relationship describes where a person is positioned compared to where other people or thing are in the space.
In pairs, students will express one of the following relationships: near, far, below, above, surrounding, leading, through. Without talking or touching, each pair will explore and demonstrate one of the relationships by freezing into statues illustrating the concept. The rest of the class will guess the relationship. Once the concept is successfully guessed, the class will practice expressing this relationship in different ways. This format will be repeated for the remainder of the relationship concepts.
Space is all around you. It is where the body moves. Space can be defined and used in the following ways:
General space: the dancing/activity area
Personal space: the space that one can reach while stationary
Directions: forward, backward, upward, or downward
Focus: where the eyes or the intention of the movement is directed
Levels: high, middle, or low
Pathways: the patterns or designs made in the air or on the floor by the person’s movements; can be straight lines or curved lines or a combination of both
Shape: the design of the body’s position
Size: the magnitude of the body shape or movement; small to large
Activity: Write your name
Using their bodies, have the students:
- “print” their names on the floor as quickly as they can
- “write” their names on the floor in handwriting
- close their eyes and imagine a keyboard on the floor. The students will then type out their names on the floor.
- use non-locomotor movements to write their name
Materials: Slow music
One student moves to the centre of the room and freezes in an interesting body position. One after another, group members enter the tableau and freeze in a different body position on the different level. Encourage students to create abstract shapes to make the tableau more interesting, making sure they are entering the tableau in tempo with the music. When all of the students have entered the tableau, have the student hold their positions for 8 counts. Then, going backward, one by one each student will exit the tableau in time with the music until one person (the very first person to enter the tableau) is left standing alone once again.
To expand this activity, you may want to introduce transition movements when entering and exiting the tableau. (Reminder: make sure the students are in time with the tempo of the music)
Abstract Movement Cards
Materials: Index cards, markers
Have the students use markers to create a simple, abstract design on an index card. The cards are turned in, shuffled, and distributed randomly to the students.
The students will then look at the visual design and determine what movements the design suggests. Each student will work out a movement for their card.
The students will then join into groups and teach each other their movements. They will then put their movements together to create a full dance sequence.
*** Another option for this activity is to have the sets of cards made up ahead of time and give groups of students identical sets of cards to work with. Have them choreograph a sequence and share their dances.
The objective of this activity is to show the variety of dances that can come out of one idea or identical set of cards.
ADAPTATION FOR YOUNGER GRADES: Instead of patterns to interpret, the cards could have pictures of animals or something familiar on them.
Spring on the Prairies
Materials: Poem “Spring on the Prairies” (or any other poem/song), musical accompaniment (optional)
Part 1/ Teacher and class choreograph movements together for the chorus of the poem/song. While song is playing or teacher is ready the poem, the entire class dances together for the chorus. Students freeze in position after the chorus is finished.
Part 2/ Students are divided into groups 3 groups (or however many verses there are in the poem/song). Each group will be assigned a verse. The groups will choreograph movements to their assigned verse. While the first verse is played or read, the group responsible for that verse will dance their choreography. All other groups will remain frozen while they are dancing. When the first group is finished, they will freeze and group/verse 2 will continue with their movements, and so on.
Example:Spring in the Prairies
Chorus:Spring in the Prairies comes like a surprise
[students spring up, arms out, with a surprised expression, and rock back and forth on feet]One minute there’s snot on the ground
[students use body to move like snow falling]The next there’s sun in your eyes
[hands in front of face blocking sun, lean backward, and freeze at a medium level]Verse 1: Winter stays so long Seems like it always has been Ain’t it nice to see that green And feel that warm wind Verse 2: Let cows out of the barn Watch them a kickin’ their heels Watch them run around the yard That’s the way I feel Verse 3: Hey Joe, what’cha gonna grow It’s nearly time to seed I don’t know, a quarter in oats But the rest it goes in wheat
***Notes to keep in mind:
- This activity can be used for any poem or song.
- This activity requires planning time for the students so allow enough time for students to plan and become confident in their dances.
- Encourage students to explore a variety of actions, pathways, and levels.
- Get creative!
Dancing to Music!
Materials: a variety of short pieces of music on tape, or c.d., preferably with no words
- Play a piece of music and ask students to listen to it carefully, think about what it’s about and how it makes them feel.
- Play the music again and ask students to move to the music. If the music is fast, encourage them to move fast. At the same time, ask students to show you how the music makes them feel. If it is happy, then there should be smiles on their faces.
- Continue through the whole song.
- Play another piece of music and repeat the thinking process. After the music is finished ask three or four students to come up to the front of the class. Play the music again and ask them to dance to the music appropriately. This time instead of asking them how they should dance, point out how they are dancing.
- Repeat until every student has had a turn to dance.
- Explain to students that marionettes are a type of puppet that have strings attached to different parts of their bodies. The puppets move by the puppeteer pulling on the strings.
- Ask students to pretend that they are marionettes.
- Call out one body part and a direction (eg: arm, up) at a time and have the students move as though the string attached to the body part is being pulled in the direction called out.
- Call out directions that would encourage students to practice their balance, as well as their use of the space around them.
Check out this cool video of a dance crew doing a marionette dance. Kids will love it!
Materials: Hoola hoops for every student and music with a good beat
Dance begins with a simple “march” to beat of music inside the hoop.
Continue using the following movements (plus add your own):
- One foot in, one foot out, circle around the hoop clockwise
- Reverse, going counterclockwise
- Using jumps, jump inside hoop, jump out to Right
- Repeat to Left
- March and step in then out, using Right, Left, front, back
- March around the outside of the hoop clockwise
- Repeat counterclockwise
- Vary the movement using a variety of locomotor movements (gallop, skip, slide, tiptoe, skate, run using little steps, etc.)
- Add a “change hoops” and give students a locomotor movement to travel through space to find a new hoop.
- Try shadowing with a partner for more advanced students or let them invent a new “move”.
You can really get creative with this, including a stretch before and cool-down afterwards, always staying within the “hoop”.
Materials: styrofoam cubes (or any other material in cube form), paper with dance movements/pictures on it, numbers, glue/tape, markers
- Use the two styrofoam blocks to create two dice.
- Cut paper to fit the sides of the styrofoam blocks. Print various ways to move on six of the pieces of paper and let the children draw pictures to depict the actions below the words (may also want to simply provide movement pictures). Glue or tape these to six sides of one die.
- Cover the second die with blank paper. On each side, print the number one, two, or three so that you have two of each number on the die.
- Gather the children together in the general space.
- Ask a child to roll the dice.
- Move around a designated area as directed by the way the dice land.
- Encourage the children to cooperate and help each other.
- Let each child take a turn rolling the dice. Continue play until the children lose interest or become tired.
*** You may want to have more than one set of die if you have a larger class.
The dice can be used as a warm-up and to create dance sequences!
Materials: paper and markers for each student
Have each student create a four legged path map; then select a locomoter movement for each leg of the map, practice the movements and memorize the sequence. Then have the students add one or more non-locomotor movements to each leg of the path map and rehearse.
Play some unstructured music and have the students repeat their sequences. Play once more and let them experiment with changes. Video tape the sequences to show the students at a later point.
Possible Assessment: Have the students view the video tape, first concentrating on their own performance. Have them write a short description of what locomotor and non-locomotor movements they used. What was interesting to watch; what they would change.
Replay the tape. Have the students compare and contrast the movements they observed, such as a walk with a bend, a run with a twist, a backwards slide, etc.. Discuss which they enjoyed watching — and why.
Materials: Possible music
Students brainstorm a list of contrasting emotions. Then they are divided into groups. Each group selects two contrasting emotions from the list generated by the entire class. Groups collaborate to create their movement study based on the two contrasting emotions they’ve chosen. After consensus is reached, the groups have a brief rehearsal period. They then perform their completed project for their peers. After each movement study is presented, the entire class discusses the choreographic choices of the group, as well as the use of contrast and transition.
*** This activity can also be done individually.
Mad Glad Sad
Materials: Jose Limon’s film “There Is a Time” and music to accompany “mad, sad, glad” movements
Show the students the film, asking them to notice “a time for war,” “a time to mourn,” “a time for peace,” and “a time to laugh.” Discuss the feelings, body language, and abstraction from the pantomime.
Have the students explore the words, “mad, sad, and glad,” first in realistic body language, second in pantomime, and third in abstraction. For abstraction have them experiment by changing time (slow, fast, freeze frame, repetition and deceleration), space (large, small, high, low, upside down, turning, traveling, putting the gesture in a different body part). Have half of the group improvise abstract movements while the other half observes. Discuss the choices made. Next day, add music, preferably music the students bring in. Have students practice a solo for the abstracted emotions. Share (with the class and perhaps have the students perform for a school assembly) and discuss.
Virtual Dance Studio
Materials: access to a computer, music with a simple to follow beat
ArtsAlive has a great virtual dance studio where student can choreograph modern and/or ballet dance movements and set the sequence to movement.
Have the students go online (either at your school or at home) and choreograph a 4-5 movement sequence. Allow the students time to practice their sequence (you may want to have them write/illustrate their online sequence on paper OR the sequence may be saved to the computer). Put on music, and again have the students put their sequences to music. After enough practice time is permitted, have the students perform their sequences.
You can access the Virtual Dance Studio Here!
African Circle Dance
Materials: CD player, CD: Gift of the Tortoise- Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Map or Globe
I. While the class is entering the room have the Gift of the Tortoise CD playing. As the students enter, ask them if they know what kind of music is playing.-
Ask the class if anyone has heard this music before.Discuss where the music is from.Show the students on a map that it is from South Africa.Explain how music is a part of their culture, ceremonies, and dances.
II. Teach the class “Vulani Ringi Ring” a dance/song that children in South Africa enjoy. Play the song on the CD. As it plays Ladysmith Black Mambazo speaks and explains how the game is played and you can hear the children in the background. After listening to the song once, teach the children the words to the song.
Vulani ringi ring
Vulani ring you boys and girls
You are my great big friend
I’ll take your hand
And dance in a ring with you
Vulani ringi ring
Vulani ring you boys and girls
You are my great big friend
I’ll take your hand
And dance in a ring with you
(repeat until end of song)
III. After the class is familiar with the words
1. Have the class stand in a circle holding hands.
2. Select one child to stand in the middle.
3. When the children sing the words “great big friend” the child in the middle grabs a partner from the circle.
4. They dance around the middle of the circle and the song goes faster and faster.-
(While children are singing with the CD, Ladysmith Black Mambazo narrates to help the children remember what to do.)IV. Discuss how this type of activity could relate to songs and dances that we do (e.g., Ring around the Rosies).
Sample Dance Units (from Sask.Ed.)