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When Fun and Learning Collide in the Dance Studio

Rachel Levitt on teaching young students dance through games and play.

I was a serious student who wasn’t big on games in the classroom. Usually they were either condescendingly easy, too boring to bother or just weird. So, it was no surprise that I became a serious dance teacher as well. All work, no play. And my approach was quite solid with older kids ages 10 and up or so, but not so much with younger students.

One day I had a boss tell me that my class plans, teaching techniques and choreography were perfect for the studio, but the thing she desperately needed me to add to my younger classes was at least one fun game where the kids could let loose.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to go at first. How could kids learn from fun and games? Turns out lots! My little students not only became significantly more engaged in class, they learned twice as fast because they worked harder when the material was delivered in a way that spoke their language. They even began taking the games home and playing them with friends. Isn’t it every teacher’s dream to have their students practicing outside class?

Games with some of my socially distanced kiddos.

Before using the below games, I have a few tips for success…

  • Highlight the learning objectives with your students – It is your job as the teacher to make sure your kids are being pushed and challenged. The games in this article are recommended for skill building, not empty distractions.

  • Play the same games multiple times – Repetition is a key principle for learning, especially for the youngest learners who commonly thrive on routine.

  • Take things up a notch once they start getting good – Add more facial expressions, challenge their musicality, give them harder dance moves, anything that will get them to the next level of the game (aka their personal growth as dance pupils).

  • Don’t spend the whole class playing games These are not replacements for focused classwork such as warm up, across the floor and combos; although you can use fun and play elements to enhance those parts of the class. Games are just additional ways to keep your kids engaged without losing the key element to any class: learning.

Learning objectives of these games include…

  • Applying class material by using their favourite moves in free dance and linking them together to create sequences.

  • Creativity by coming up with own dance moves.

  • Musicality by experimenting with how their body moves in tune to different music.

  • Storytelling by bringing characters, settings, conflict and resolution elements to their dancing.

  • Confidence building by getting to showcase the skills they are good at as well as trying their favourite steps they may still be mastering.

It's Play Time!

Wax Museum is a must. You can even pick different themes such as “Toy Store” or “Santa’s Workshop.”

  • Have the kids pick their starting pose and begin with an intro. Walk around, dust off your sculptures/toys/etc and set the scene. Pretend to leave the museum/store/etc and play music.

  • Turn on music and let the kids dance however they like.

  • Stop the music. The kids freeze. You return to the museum/store/etc and adlib about how the sculptures/toys/etc look different.

  • Repeat as many times as you like.

Themed Dance Freeze is a more educational twist on the original game which can get a little stale.

  • Pick a theme (ex. princesses/royalty, underwater, holidays, etc) and have them dance as a specific character (ex. Cinderella, a shark, Santa, etc).

  • Stop the music. Kids freeze. Then ask one of the students to pick a character related to the theme. Everyone dances like that character.

  • Repeat as many times as you like.

Dance Scenes is a game I made up for my musical theatre classes. You can pick any music and use it to prompt the groups. The songs I use the most are When I Grow Up from Mathilda (game/schoolyard/recess theme) and Rich Man’s Frug from Sweet Charity (students choose a type of party and then there’s a murder at the event).

  • Split the students into two or more groups.

  • Beginner version: Tell them what is happening in the scene at the beginning of each round (ex. Scene #1 = playing ball, Scene #2 = eating snacks at recess with friends, etc)

  • Advanced version: Have them think of however many scenes you think will fit into your chosen song, and they can have a small amount of time to set some ideas.

  • Play the song.

  • They then show each scene through dance.

  • Order goes: Scene #1 – group 1,2,3,etc then Scene #2 – group 1,2,3,etc and so on so forth.

DO NOT STOP THE MUSIC IN BETWEEN SCENES – the most exciting part of this game is how the flow impacts each group.

Feeling inspired to come up with your own games? Share your ideas with us via IG @adancewayoflife!



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