5 Ways to get your Students up & Dancing!

Movement in the classroom is almost universally praised these days. It appeals to a wide variety of learning styles, helps kids stay motivated and engaged, and helps them focus on and retain information. The Atlantic even called movement “essential” for young learners. So how soon can you start incorporating it into your classroom? Here are 5 tips to get your students dancing!

pagebreak    Countless academic outlets have written about the benefits of movement in the classroom, from regularly scheduled “Brain Breaks” to incorporating it into your lessons, and that movement is fundamental to the development of both a child’s understanding of their body and the world.  Since this is a music education blog I want to focus on one specific type of movement in your classroom: dance! If you are looking up and reading articles like this you likely fall into one of two camps; 1) I want to do it but I’m not sure how, or 2) My kids would never! (aka I don’t feel comfortable.) Well if I can get my 8th graders dancing, I’m pretty confident that you can get your class moving too! Here are 5 tips to get your students up and dancing:

1) Be Enthusiastic! 

        We all secretly know our role as a teacher is partly a “salesman of knowledge” and we all have our bag of tricks to get students engaged and focused; dancing is no different! If you’re excited about it, and confident in your delivery, it will go a long way in helping it to be successful. You need to take the lead and portray the activity as cool and fun. You also need to learn the dance too. Sorry, but that’s true. If students see you hiding in the back of the room or the corner, then they’ll think that’s an option for them! (it’s not). You need to be so excited; as if this lesson was the one thing you couldn’t wait all week to show them! Hype it up before you do it, talk about the fun and exciting dance you can’t wait to show them. Enthusiasm is contagious so make sure they catch it from YOU! 

2) Use YouTube & Videos

        Most of us aren’t used to dancing in front of an audience, and just because they’re kids doesn’t make it easier! In fact I’m always trying to make sure I don’t embarrass myself in front of my students, especially as they get older. Even if you might not be the best model for a dance, I bet you can find one online. I use tutorial videos of dancers in almost every movement lesson I teach. It’s weird (and drives me crazy), but the students will really focus on what the instructor in a video is saying, even more so than their teacher. Channels that find regular use in my classroom are the energetic and wacky Koo Koo Kanga Roo and the wonderfully musical Laurie Berkner . I’ve used all sorts of video aids in my lessons from the Irish Dance segment of my St. Patrick’s Day lesson, to a K-pop Dance-off, and even a wonderful tutorial by a New Zealand All Black player while we learn the traditional Maori Haka. There are resources out there and if you’re worried about standing in front of the class, just let a video do the hard work for you. This also ties directly into my next tip, and that is to….

3) Segway in with Video Games & Popular Dances

        I know, we all want to keep video games out of the classroom and kids get enough “screen time” outside of school, but that’s not what I’m talking about here! Dance Dance Revolution started it all in 2009, and is still wildly popular in arcades across the country. It has students moving their feet along with corresponding arrows that really pick up the pace. I had a friend lose 30 pounds because he played the game so much (he was a little overweight to begin with). Today there’s Just Dance, a popular game for the Wii that has choreographed dance routines to only the most popular songs. Students mimic the movements of the dancers on the screen and earn points. If you don’t have a Wii just play the videos from the Just Dance YouTube channel for pretty much the same effect! I honestly can’t believe how insanely successful this is every single time I do it. 

    In addition to these popular games I feel like we’re living in mini-renaissance (I use that term very loosely) for pop songs with their own choreography. There’s a new dance craze coming out every few months and if you want your students dancing, take advantage of that. Not all of them are appropriate but a LOT of them are! Lean & Dab , Whip & Nae Nae (which is everywhere) the Mad Dash hit NCAA college basketball last year and Skepta has been blowing up the internet with his moves at the BRIT awards this past February, so watch for something from him in the next month (speculation). It can be difficult to keep up with them all, or to know what is “cool” so that brings me to my next point….

4) Let the students be in charge

        I feel like my students will learn anything as long as it’s taught to them by their peers. I had the cheerleaders in 5th grade teach their routine to the entire class, boys included, and they LOVED it. Chances are that students who memorize all these dances don’t have the same penchant for their math or science facts. Give those students their time in the spotlight and let them lead the class in a mini-lesson on their favorite dance moves. It seems risky handing the reins of your class over to that busy body, but this is going to take a little trust. However if done right, you can save yourself a ton of work and effort while empowering your students. Make this a regular feature in your morning meetings (Dance Monday?). Once you feel it’s taking off, try and incentivise it! Let them show off their moves at another class’s community meeting or make time at the end of the day on a Friday. We know that meaningful student involvement is important, and this is just another opportunity for you to reinforce that ownership in your classroom.

5) Start Integrating Dance Early & Often

        This advice can be taken in a few different ways and for me, a general music teacher who sees the same students every year, it means that if I get them dancing when they’re in 2nd grade, then it’s not as weird to ask them to dance when they’re in 5th grade. However, most teachers don’t have that luxury. So what it could mean for the average classroom teacher is start early in the year! If you have them up and moving the first week of school it becomes a classroom norm. It’s just accepted that in this class we move around a lot! It’s about establishing that culture and setting the expectation early. This helps shy students feel more comfortable and lets the active ones know thats its ok to move around a little. If it’s halfway through the year you can (and should) still try and start. You can use any of the previous tips to make it happen, but the earlier you start the easier it is!pagebreak
     I hope that these suggestions help you bring not only movement into your classroom, but authentic dance as well! There are a lot of easy places to start, with pop songs, video games and the like readily available on the internet, but these suggestions are all more effective when used in conjunction with each other. The best things you can do right away are to be enthusiastic and create the climate and culture in your classroom. Students need to know that we move and dance in here, and it’s great! Once you have those things in place, start to lean on the students more: have them start suggesting songs or even have them lead a lesson on how to do the dance moves themselves! This gives them a voice and empowers them, plus having it come from their peers makes it more authentic in the eyes of an average student. Not only does doing it this way help build community by allowing students to connect with their peers, but it’s also increasing their physical fitness, while giving them emotional and creative outlets. Arts integration, especially dance, can do wonders across so many domains. It’s time to shake a leg and get your kids moving!






arts integrationbrain breaksdancedance crazeseducation blogelementary educationelementary schoolempowering studentshomeschoolmovement in the classroommusic in the classroommusic integrationteaching aidsTeaching Tips

Frank Cademartori • March 30, 2017

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