The arrival of September officially marks the arrival of the back to school season, even if those of us in Arizona have been back at it for several weeks! The start of a “new year” affords us the opportunity to create brand new communities in our classrooms and studios.
At the beginning of the year, we are tempted to immediately jump into technique and choreography. We – and our students – are excited to get into the work of the year. However, taking time for team-building exercises can set the tone for a pleasant, enjoyable year.
I like to spend the first six weeks of the new dance season opening class with a fun introduction game. These games allow me to get to know the students – not only basic things like their names, ages, and some of the things they like outside of the studio, but also how they respond to new situations and deal with challenges. They also give the students a chance to get to know one another and develop friendships. These games provide a quick and easy way to get your students warmed up and ready to dance physically, mentally, and emotionally, while creating a fun and cohesive class environment.
Whenever possible, I like to start class in a circle. This arrangement creates equality among all students. During the game, I allow them to turn their back to the circle if needed, so that they are not distracted by their peers or concerned about what others think. If the students need more space to work, I allow them them to find their own place in the room after giving the instructions and an example. They then return to the circle after their work time to perform their movements for one another.
Sharing as a group allow me to see how students react to performing in front of others, which gives me some insight into the support they might need throughout the season. Watching one another, especially with the expectation of being a respectful audience, reinforces the idea that all voices are important and valued. After watching each other’s movement, I often ask students to repeat what their peers have done. This can help in the development of empathy, as students “try on” another’s movement style and experience another perspective through movement. It also keeps the class moving and gets them nice and warm!
Looking for more ways to get to know your students and create community in your dance classes? Check out The Holistic Guide to Getting to Know Your Students!
1.) Body-writing – Each student uses a different body part or combination of body parts to write their name on the floor or in the space around them. This is a great one to begin with, as you can provide as much direction as students need to feel comfortable. It can also be easily modified for novice through advanced dancers. You can have the entire class use the same body part to write their names in the same spatial plane, or give them a choice of a few body parts, or allow them “free reign” to be as creative as they’d like! As they become comfortable with the activity, encourage them to “smooth out” the transitions and connect the letters to make a seamless dance phrase.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have students combine some or all of the letters of their names to spell out a new word and create a dance phrase!
- Find more body writing variations and 24 other dance improvisation games in The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts and Activities!
2.) Initial Freeze Dance – Most students love to play freeze dance and are comfortable with the game, which makes this a great introduction game. In this version, they “freeze” in the shape of one of the letters of their name. You can direct the students to make their shape on the high, middle, or low level. Challenge yourself to recall each students’ name as you see their initial shape. (For more freeze dance variations, check out this post!)
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have one group of students stay frozen, while the others dance around them, exploring different spatial relationships.
3.) Action Dances – Ask students to choose something they like to do outside of the studio. Direct them to perform an action that represents this activity. Provide simple choreographic directions to help your students transform a basic action, like kicking a soccer ball or stirring cake batter, into abstract dance movements. For example, they can use repetition, variation, inversion, or changes in level, rhythm, or tempo.
- To engage students further while watching one another’s dances, have them guess what activity the performing dancer is representing in their dance movement.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have students work together to create a duet based on a common interest, or work as a class to combine all of the movements into one long phrase. (You may need to help with the transitions!)
4.) Emotion Check-In – I am a firm believer that social-emotional skills should an important part of of dance education. This game is a simple way to get students in touch with their emotional life. At the start of class, ask students to create a shape inspired by how they are feeling at that moment and share with the group. Repeat this exercise after class, reflecting on how their mood may have changed while dancing. Help them create a transitional movement to make a simple dance that combines both shapes.
- To engage students further while watching one another’s dances, have them guess what the performing dancer is feeling.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have small groups of students perform their dances at the same time, applying different choreographic devices such as changing the formation, or the dancers’ relationships (looking at one another, in front and behind, etc.), or playing with the timing through use of cannons, etc.
5.) Age Phrase – Ask students to create a phrase of movement with a duration based on their age. For example, a 9 year old would make a 9 count or 9 movement phrase. You can personalize this further by directing the students to create the movements in their phrase based on their favorite book, or something they learned in school that week.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have a small group of dancers combine their ages to determine the number of counts in their dance. Direct them to create their movement based on a shared interest.
PS: Goal setting is another way to help your students get the year off to a great start! Check out The Holistic Guide to Goal Setting for Dancers, which helps students set and achieve goals to improve their dance technique, artistry, and social-emotional growth.
Plan ahead with educational games for the entire year by checking out my other seasonal posts: Halloween Activities, Thanksgiving Activities, Winter Activities, Valentine’s Day Activities, Spring Activities, and Summer Dance Games!
For more teaching tools, class activities and lesson ideas, visit my Resources page and join me on Facebook at The Holistic Dance Teacher. For ideas and inspiration year round, sign up for my mailing list.