Transcript from the video...
How to teach primary school dance
Teaching dance in primary school when you’re not a dance specialist is probably one of the most daunting things any teacher faces. It appears to be all technique you don’t understand (hip hop – you must be joking!); using music (what!!); with the children all running around the school hall or gymnasium!
It doesn’t need to be like that and teaching dance in a primary school can be really enjoyable for both you and the children once it’s been broken down for you with some really simple tips you can start using today!
My name's Imogen, founder of imoves, and I’m Gaye, lead presenter, and we have a combined 50 years of experience teaching dance in schools across the country.
So, how to teach primary dance with confidence?
We've broken it down into 6 key areas:
- finding the beat to the music
- the six principles of dance storytelling
- teaching methods
- cats and dogs (yes, that’s right!)
Here's a question; how do you feel about teaching dance in school?
So, let's have a look at this sliding scale from 1 for no confidence to 5 for fully confident. Are you a one or two and feel a little daunted by teaching dance all? Or are you a three or four and feel happy to have a go with a bit more training? Are you super confident and it's a five and feel that you just need a few more ideas or you want to try and deliver a little bit of staff training in school around delivering dance yourself?
In this video, we'll give you the tools to feel super confident delivering any age range and dance.
Before we move on, I'd just like to introduce you to the concept of cats and dogs where we categorise children into whether they are keen or whether they feel a little bit more apprehensive around being involved in dance lessons.
So, what on earth are we talking about? You’ll know your dogs, they’re at the front and they want to do everything to do with dance are really keen, really enthusiastic. The cats are at the back, they’re more reserved and it’s a bit more awkward. They might be feeling a bit more apprehensive about joining in and moving in front of their peers. We'll look at this a little bit more depth later, but throughout this session we'll be referring to cats and dogs.
Using the music
Always start with your music. That's the most important thing as the children need to be able to move in time to the music. If they if they haven't got it in their head before they start, it will be really difficult for them to start moving and listen to the music as well.
They need to understand the music first and to understand the structure of the music.
Music is the very foundation of what we do in dance. It is the inspiration, it's the excitement, it builds the story. It tells you the moves you're going to do, and it can get those cats really engaged from the start because they hear that really great music and they think, “wow, I'm going to get involved in this!”.
It's really important to get that really good music. Try something with a really easy beat for them to follow, taking really easy baby steps to build their confidence so they feel really great and ready to start dancing. Yes, hooking them in very, very early with something that they feel much more confident with.
Engaging music will banish any ideas they may have about dance. It’s not all about ballerinas or not for everybody. So, hook those cats in with some really good funky music from the very top so here's what we're going to do first.
Finding the beat of the music
Before you do any dancing or moving with the children, they need to understand the beat and phrase of the music. This means when they do get up and start moving, they can work in time to the music and they can count it for themselves, which saves you a job.
We’re going to look at 3 things:
Beat – the beat of the music
Block – 8 beats make up a block
Phrase – 4 blocks of 8 beats is the phrase (32 beats in total).
To begin with, we're going to have a look at some activities for you to do with the children. We're going to use our samba music, which is a really great track. But don't forget, you will do this with every single piece of music that you use in your dance lessons.
The first thing we're going to do is to get all the children seated in front of you and somewhere that they can hear the music. You're going to pop the music on and then all you do is get them to do a little bop, or a little movement, which could be just the shoulders or it could be or another part of their body. Whatever they're doing, they're just doing a little movement in time to the beat of the music. Once you've got that going, make sure everybody is moving in time to the music.
Now we start to get everybody in a line to get them into the music.
Music is made up of the beat, and 8 beats together make up a block, with the first beat called the ‘one’. We’re going to find the one.
We've got one to eight, and that just keeps repeating and repeating. And once we've got that, it makes it so much easier to do that dance.
So here we go. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five. Get the children to join in. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Once we've got our blocks of eight and we can hear that ‘one’ in the music, we can start to put them together in four blocks of eight, this is called the phrase and consists of 32 beats.
The first count of your phrase of 32 beats, or your 4 blocks of 8 beats becomes your ‘big one’.
The ‘big one’ is the beat we start our routine with, and we make sure we make a big show of that big one. Let's have a look at how we can do this.
We're going to start working in those four blocks and then repeat it back at that big one again. Okay, here we go...
We've got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, back to the beginning, eight and…
Big one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, back to the beginning, eight...
Big one. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, back to the beginning…
Big one, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
You just keep repeating the 32, starting on that big one.
Most music has been created with these 32 count blocks, so no matter which piece of music you use, the children will find it easy to create their performance in their routine.
Now let's have a look to see how we can do it practically.
So here are Jack and Morgan waiting for the music to start. And then we'll just get them to follow along to the music, so get them clapping along so they’re in time with the music.
Then let’s bring some movement by getting them walking between 2 points which we show here using 2 spots. We do this for eight beats, so they move forward on 4 beats and then back on 4 beats.
Dead easy, really easy to manage, really easy to facilitate. Once you've got them going, you can then start to change up the movement, so rather than a clap, maybe get them doing a roll with the hands and arms.
We get that for a couple blocks of eight, counting them through. So, everyone's really, really getting to understand the structure.
This is a great warm up for the children at the start of the lesson and definitely at the start of using a new piece of music. It’s just about getting those eight counts over and over into their heads so that they really understand those eights, and then to understand the ‘big one’ at the start of the phrase or count of 32, and the small ‘one’ at the start of the block or 8 beats.
Let’s have a look at how we can structure this activity for younger children. So here are Jack and Morgan waiting for the music to start and then we'll just get them to follow along to the music, clapping along, and then walking in between groups. We do this for eight beats, and repeat for 3 more leading to the next block.
For older children; let’s have a dance off! The kids absolutely love this because they can really freestyle it out! Line them up facing each other about 10 paces apart, don’t give them any choreography just let them do what they want, it's just about sticking to those blocks of eight starting on the big one, working in four blocks of eight and then going back to the beginning and starting again on that big one.
Here, we've got Jack and Morgan showing you in the two lines marching, ready for the music to start getting ready with the introduction, and then they're going to walk towards each other for eight. In the second block of eight, freestyle, whatever they want to do. Then the third block of eight, they move back to their start position; and the fourth block of eight, they give it some attitude with another pose, really simple, and then they go again.
I think the main thing is that it’s a great way of hooking those cats in again is let them have so much fun that they forget that they're actually dancing.
They're giving it so much attitude. Let's face it, they've got plenty of that. It's just so much fun for them and everyone is in stitches by the end of it. All of a sudden, you are the coolest teacher in town.
You can do this as a warm up or you could even do it as an entire lesson, using different types and styles of music. If you are going to do this for an entire lesson, the following exercise is a great way to extend the learning.
It’s called the ‘funky handshake walk’. They do exactly the same exercise we’ve just described, but rather than a pose in the middle, they create a pair and do their own funky handshake when they come into the middle. It can be claps, slaps, or booms, or whatever they want to do. You can give them free rein but they just need to fit it into a block of eight. It becomes their first opportunity to start to do something with a little bit of timing. Sometimes they'll try and fit too much into an eight-count block, they realise that they actually we need to slow down and make it a little bit simpler.
Let's have a look at Jack and Morgan doing that. It's exactly the same thing, but rather than the freestyle pose, when they come into the middle, they do a funky handshake. So here we go, marching on the spot walking in, here comes the funky handshake; Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Walk back, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and then hold it down at the end. Then they repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, they get better and better and better at it, before you know it, they've created their own piece of choreography.
So, it's something that they feel really cool doing and they don't feel silly or they don't feel like, “Oh, I can't do that because it's not cool enough for me”, they’re feeling, “yeah, I can, I can do that”! They may start to get competitive as well with the best handshake, especially with the year five, year six boys.
The next part of the workshop is all about getting the children to understand about timing. The reason we do this is because it's going to help you as a teacher facilitating the children, doing their own choreography and getting them to structure it.
So, we’re not just going to be using the regular beat. We're going to make it much more interesting by helping them to understand that there's a slow beat or there’s a quick beat. The slow beat is half time of the regular beat. We'll go through this in a moment; and the quick beat is quicker, for example; one and two and three and four, where there's a little tiny beat in between the regular beat.
If you've ever had children trying to choreograph something without this knowledge, it's quite funny because you'll say, “Right, okay, I'd like to put together some movement to fit into that eight-count block there”, but they'll have no understanding of timing.
If the children are working on the regular beat all the time, it can get quite dull, counting just watching that same almost marching action all the time. Adding these different speeds can really make it interesting not only for the people who are watching it, but for the people who are performing as well, because performing on that same beat all the time, it's a bit like a robot or a soldier.
What we'll do now, we'll pop some music on and we'll just cut through those beats. Just so you you're sure of what you're going to teach. And then we're going to show you how to structure this next part of the workshop.
Okay, let's pop that samba music back on again. We're going to start with the regular beat. That's nice and easy. We've done that loads already. Count two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Maybe a 32-count block and I'm going to slow that down.
So, let's go. One, three, five, seven, maybe ask me to count it out really clear. Very simple.
Now let’s try quick beats; on one on two, three and four and five and six on seven, eight and one. Let’s get a little bit quicker. There's a bit more control okay then. Lovely. Thank you. Said that is regular, slow and quick.
The reason we do this is so they start to realize that when we do this next bit of the lesson, a slower beat means we can do quite a lot of long movements. Using a faster beat, it’s much more dynamic and they quickly realize that that movements have to be much smaller and much more concise, obviously they have to be very, very quick.
It's quite amazing, really. I've done this with lots of teachers, and this is often an epiphany for them. When I thought, my goodness, I didn't realize that these beats were going on in all the pieces of music that we use because they're there all the time, you just have to listen and pick them out.
The next thing we want to show you is a little activity around timing and how to structure that. Get your group of kids into groups of three or four and ask them to create a movement that goes nicely with a regular beat, one that goes nicely with the slow beat, and another for the quick and just give them four or 5 minutes just to create these movements.
Nothing complicated and keep it simple. And this will just really help them to understand how much movement they can get nicely into each of those beats. So, it's just one movement over and over again. It doesn't have to be you know, crazy loads of moves. It's just one move that they can repeat it, to really embed that timing into the head.
We'll show you what we need to do rather than just talk about it. So here we are with the lovely Gaye Holmes, Jack and Morgan; they are just marching out to the beat, so first of all we're going to do a regular beat and we're just marching out with them in high and low to fill the beats.
Nothing complicated and nothing too jazzy. Four, five, six, seven, eight. Really hit that beat every time. Yeah. And now we're switching to that slow beat. So that's one, three, five and seven. And we're only kind of doing that 32 count blocks. We're always going to change on that big one. Here comes the quick beat.
They create a little wiggle so we can just fit it into that; one or two, one, three and four and five and six on seven and eight; and one and two, one, three and four and five and six on seven on eight and walk. And then we just repeat the whole thing from the regular beat.
Okay, the next little part is all about queuing. It's not only for the teacher to develop this skill, but is great for the kids to develop so they have a understanding where to start moving in the music and the timing of when we cue into the music so that five, six, seven, eight and begin, the begin is the queuing.
This is a really lovely way to do this. Set the kids off doing their regular beat, then slow, then with their quick movements. Now they'll start to add a layer of understanding of when to bring in that movement by queuing. We'll start at the very end of the 32 count blocks and that last bar of eight will use that bar of eight to cue in the big one.
So, it will say slow move are you ready. Five, six, seven, eight. Or if it's a quick move next quick move. Are you ready? Five, six, seven, eight. So, we've put loads of emphasis on the music and it is so important and so beneficial to the children isn't it, for them to, to really understand this.
You as teachers will find it much easier when the kids get it and they're off doing their own thing and they're coming back with their own ideas. And, you know, you find a lot of the time throughout your dance schemes you will get so much back from the kids as they just develop their own great ideas.
And so really focus on the music; get the cats engaged and you'll be off to a flying start.
The next section is all about the actual movement because we haven't really talked about moving yet, how we talked about just the music and moving to it, but we haven't actually drilled down into any specific movements themselves. Let's now look at the six principles of dance, breaking down the basic fundamental principles that dance is built from.
Six principles of dance
One of the main elements to teaching dance are the six principles of dance, and you can build your choreography from there. The six principles are:
- Jumping and leaping
- Balance and stillness
So, when you've got them, you will be absolute fine. I'm going to take you through them now.
This is moving from point A to point B, or moving from a point, moving around the room and coming back to the same point. As long as you've left the spot and moved around, that's traveling. You can use any movement to do that, it could be walking, or skipping, or it could be a crazy dance move, whatever you want.
Turning is very simple, it's literally a change of direction. It could be as simple as turning from the front to the side, or it could be spinning; as long as there is a directional change that's turning.
Jumping and leaping
This is all about leaving the ground so you can do two feet back to two feet, two feet to one foot, one foot to two feet or leaping is one foot to one foot. As long as you leave the ground, at some point, that's your jump.
Balance and stillness
Stillness is like a statue or a photograph, and it could be a really nice way to end your performance with everybody being absolutely Still and not moving.
Really nice picture balances, slightly different balance is unstable, it's wobbly, and you have to work really hard not to fall over.
But remember, you can balance on lots of different body parts, not just on your feet. So, think about adding balance and stillness into your routine.
Using different levels and moving at different heights can really add to the look of your performance. You can be high, you can be middle level, you can be low level, or you could even be completely down on the floor. And this just adds a really nice layer of interest to your routine.
This is the character, the scene, or the story you're trying to tell.
It maybe you are doing a Bollywood dance routine, gestures are a great way to really make the dance come alive with you hand movements; or maybe you’re a Roman gladiator, think about how your movements and gestures need to be strong as you show the character of a gladiator. This could also incorporate holding (or pretending to hold) different pieces of equipment. So, it all adds to the layer of imagination and interest in your routine.
In the video clip, we're going to show you how we're theming our movements for the circus. We have the clown, which we're going to be using levels with turning; we have the tightrope walker, which will be balance; and travel will be the show horse with lots of leaping and jumping everywhere and traveling around. Finally, the strongman which will be much more about control and balance and using different levels.
You can see we've used all the different principles of dance. I know some teachers have the six principles in big, big posters on the wall, so the children can see exactly what you mean by each of the six principles.
From the video, they're clowns and are moving around their spot, using their levels, pretending to juggle, picking their feet up, having a lovely time being a clown. We do this for either 32 or 64 counts just to get them into it. And then we do the tightrope walker, there’s a little bit of a wobble going on and they move across the tightrope. Now for the show horses with lovely jumping and leaping. The last one is the strong man.
When we’re working with teachers, one of the pain points that we hear a lot are is “I don't have enough experience to teach dance, I'm not a dance specialist!”. So I have four lovely teaching methods for you to use and that’s the next section.
Teaching methods used in dance
It’s very natural if you’ve not been taught dance or come from a dance background to be fearful of teaching dance. It's so easy to get carried away and feel you have to be a dance professional with all the correct technique.
But it doesn't, it's about the children expressing themselves and allowing them to do that. Once teachers understand that, it's a really fun experience for the children and for you, it may even become one of the most enjoyable lessons you teach your week.
So, let’s have a look at some different teaching methods you can use in your lessons.
The first method is called ‘adding on’ and is a really good one to use, particularly for the little ones where you need a little bit more control, or you might use it for the older ones if you're teaching them something that's a set piece of choreography.
You start with a basic movement, then you need to teach them one little bit, then add another bit on and go back to the beginning, and add another little bit want and go back to begin.
Exactly the same as any other class you teach, when you always start with the basics and add a little bit on and then review it, it's just the same concept in dance.
The next teaching method we're going to have a look at is creative free style.
This is where the children create all the moves themselves. You give them the brief, the characters that you want them to be, and let them go.
A variation of the creative free style is a circuit approach. I've used this with the really little ones and just give some more structure to the lesson, where I've had my room set out with stations, where I had a strongman in one corner, a show horse in another, a clown, and finally the tightrope walker. So maybe four or even six stations depending on their age range and how much they can cope with in a lesson.
Each station is focused on their character and they'd be coming up with ideas within their group, around their character, and they may spend 2- or 3-minutes on each station before moving them in a clockwise direction. It’s a really nice way just to keep them moving, so once you've done all four or six circuit cards and they've got loads of ideas, they then come into the centre and we pull our ideas together as a group.
Once we've done all of that, we might pick out four or six of the best movements that we would collectively agree on and then put them all together in the order that they agree on.
So far, we've just looked at topic-based teaching methods, where the children are creating lots of moves themselves. This is not so good when you need to look at dance styles where there's technique involved.
The next teaching methods we're going to look at is all about teaching styles; things like Bollywood, Charleston, or Disco, where you've actually got set moves.
The next method we're going to look at is structured moves followed by a creative task, which is three or four moves depending on the time you have.
They led these structured set moves, and then they go off in a creative little bubble and create their choreography so they can put those moves in any order they like. They can do them for as long as they like, and they can even start to put them in some kind of formation, can't they?
Let's have a look at an example of disco we're just going to show you a little movie clip of our interactive movie showing the kids for disco moves, and then we'll show how we could use a brief for them to put together.
The children can be spilt into little creative bubbles where they can decide upon the structured moves and practice those before then going on to the creative part of the task.
Start by thinking about formations, how can we make this look interesting for the audience. So, when the audience is watching, the formation and patterns are changing and it looks really interesting.
One thing to consider for the children is to get them to understand where the audience is going to be in the room. So, if that's facing the way you're teaching, then to have a circle formation is not going to work because someone will inevitably have their back to the audience. Semi circles work nicely, diamonds, triangles, or one behind the other, or maybe a diagonal line formation. Give them some ideas on where to start, this is going to be their starting position or your starting formation.
They can perform their moves in any order as well. It doesn't have to be the order they learned them in, they can mix them around and perform one move at the beginning and do it again at the end if it's a particular move they like, they can even adapt them they can make them into a cannon. This is where one child goes, then another child goes, then the next child goes, a bit like a Mexican wave.
They also need to think about balancing the routine equally so it doesn't all travel one way and they all end up in a pile in one corner. They're using the space effectively, moving forward and backward or side to side.
that if they're moving forward, they need to move back. They're moving, right, then they need to move left or back to centre. I sometimes use a coloured spot on the floor for the entire group, so they know where they're working and they're not going to crash into all the groups in the room.
Pose and transition
A final teaching method is something called ‘Pose and transition’. I love this because it's so simple to use.
Start by getting the children to make a pose which they hold for 8 counts, they then transition for 8 beats to another pose, which they also hold for another 8 beats, before transitioning to another, or the 1st pose, for a count of 8 beats.
You could use a set of flashcards or the children could develop their poses as an individual group. It's totally up to you how you do this, but I use flashcards because it inspires the children.
You might have a section of a lesson for poses, so they develop and create their poses using the flashcards and practice standing, balancing in their pose, making sure they don’t fall over but are being expressive. And then before moving on to the second or third pose and fourth, so have your poses almost in the bag.
The transition part is next where the children think about how they could move between each pose, remember the six principles of dance as different movements they could use to transition.
So, we have pose one will be eight beats and then you transition for eight beats, your pose two will be another eight beats and that will be a transition into pose three, or this could be back to the original pose.
Holding those poses and then transitions can be repeated and repeated until they absolutely nail it. And you'll be surprised at how the boys get involved in this. It's actually really amazing and I’ve often seen the boys outperform the girls. They're only performing things that they can do, not something that you're asking them to do.
Let the kids develop their poses first and then be put in your transitions with a little bit of a brief around them. And are they turning, are they jumping or they leaping, whatever you want them to do, you put the transitions in. And once they've learned the poses and I think that's the best way to do it.
And indeed, depending on the style that you're using, this is Bollywood, but it could be anything from an Egyptian or the Romans or anything you like, really. It's just a really nice teaching method to use and really effective as you just say.
So, the teaching methods that we've discussed today are ‘adding on’, which is structured movements in a particular order that might be just wanting to have a performance piece, or it might just be because you want to keep the kids in a bit more order or control.
You've got your ‘free style’, which is your creative free style and your free style circuits.
You've got your ‘structured movements’ with creative tasks, which we’ve just done in disco.
Finally, you've got pose and transition, which we've just shown you for Bollywood as well.
So those four teaching methods are so useful to have in your toolkit, and they're great for four to 11 years, the best thing about those is that any teacher can teach any of those.
You can get one that you feel really confident with, whether it's, you know, you joining in or just showing a movie or just showing a card, whatever your skill levels, there's something there for you.
If you weren't very confident and you wanted to just use the flashcards and use a pose and transition, that’s somewhere to start and you’ll feel much more confident after you taught a few sessions like that.
Or if you want to teach a new style. Now, you can use a use a movie clip or flashcards to help you demonstrate the technical bit, and then just use your planning to help you structure that lesson.
And so just take a deep dive into that and look at how we can really engage those difficult cats. And banish any ideas that dance is just for ballerinas and tutus.
Cats and dogs
In all our years of experience, we found that the 9- to 11-year-old boys can be the trickiest little cats. They're challenging and often think that dance isn't very cool, so it's not for them. If we can get them on board and win them over, then they often become the most enthusiastic of all because they've actually realized that it is fun. They are enjoying it and it's cool.
Now we're going to share with you a few little tricks that we've got to win them over.
First of all, you want to choose your music and your characters that are really up to date with modern music. And this will automatically from the beginning really excite the cats and they like to feel cool and grown up.
Try not use topics that they'll feel embarrassed by, we're going to have a look at some topics in a moment, and once they've had that positive experience with dance, that they realize it isn't kind of boring or it's just for girls that now they're willing to try the style.
You might want to start them off with something ‘macho’ as with gladiators or Romans. Then by the next dance scheme you’re teaching Jive, they're quite willing to hold a girl's hand no less. So, if you've got tricky cats in your in your groups, then these are the topics to start with.
We are just going to have a little talk about assessment because obviously you have to assess this as part of your curriculum and you need to know how to do that.
For assessment, we favour using a simple point in time assessment approach as it's easy to implement at the end of every half term or at the end of every unit of dance they might do. The main things to look out for are specific dance skills, creative performance technique, timing, and then at wider outcomes, such as engagement or working well with others.
In this workshop, we've looked at how you can feel much more confidence around teaching dance at primary level and the six areas that we focused on, which will really help. One is the music, which is the absolute foundation of teaching guns. The content, which is the six principles of dance, the traveling, turning, jumping, leaping, balance, all of that.
Then how we see it and tell a story and the teaching methods, the add on, the structured movements, the creative task, the pose and transition, all of that that we looked at to help you deliver a really, really solid lesson. And then the cats and dogs and how the kids feel about what their motivation is, what their mindset is before a quick look at assessment.
I hope you've got lots out of it and I hope it's really helped you to start on your dance teaching journey. Please get in touch if you want any advice around teaching dance at primary level, we're always at the end of a phone or at the end of an email, so you can always just send us a quick note and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.
Have a great time teaching dance, it can be a really fun activity for you teach and the kids to learn!