By the time a new dance session roles around, I am usually ready and roaring to get back into the studio and get to work. After some time off – whether it is a week or two over winter break or an extended summer vacation – I want to get moving … and my students usually feel the same way. I am always tempted to immediately jump right into technique, conditioning, and choreography, but I’ve learned to take time for team-building exercises and making connections with the students. Over my many years of teaching, I’ve realized that getting to know your students on a personal level – and allowing them time and space to get to know one another – can help foster a more pleasant, enjoyable class experience that will last the entire year. The start of a new dance session affords us the opportunity to create a more positive and encouraging culture in our classes.
Getting to know our students and creating a strong community in our classes helps build a learning environment that students not only respond to, but thrive in! When you get to know your students, you can create lesson plans, assessments, creative experiences, and choreography that resonate with them. Connecting with your students through introduction dance games helps you teach them more effectively, and team-building dance games lead to friendships that help students stay engaged in their classes all year long.
During the first six weeks of a new session, I like to start each class with a fun introduction dance game. (What’s so special about the first six weeks of a new session? Check out this blog post and learn more!) 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. Just as importantly, they 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.
For all of these activities, I recommend positioning the students in a circle. This arrangement creates equity among all students – they can all see and be seen, and don’t have to worry about who is in front. While they create the movement or shape needed for each game, I allow the students to turn their back to the circle, so that they are not distracted by their peers or concerned about what others think. If they need more space to work, I direct 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 enables me to see the students’ reaction to performing in front of others, which gives me some insight into the support they might need throughout the season. Who love to show off? Who gets anxious dancing alone? Who seems comfortable creating their own movement? Who seems shy or nervous? Watching one another, especially with the expectation of being a respectful audience, reinforces the idea that all dancers are important and valued in our class community. 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!
For more ready-to-use dance games that help you get to know your students and create a supportive class community, check out The Holistic Collection of Introduction and Team-Building Dance Games – on sale for just $8 through August 31st!
The primary objective of this game is to explore locomotor movement as a class, while learning new things about one another and discovering common interests. To begin, explain that you will be dividing the dance space into a series of “maps” that will change each round. You can ask the dancers to imagine that the maps are printed onto the floor, or use painter’s tape to mark them out visibly. The map can be as simple as breaking the room into quadrants, or as complex as an approximate rendering of your town or county. This game is played in several rounds. The dancers will begin in a “neutral territory,” either in the center of the room if it is divided into quadrants, or off to the side of the dance space. For each round, assign places on the map. For example, one round could be “ice cream flavors,” and the room could be divided into vanilla, strawberry, rocky road, and mint chocolate chip quadrant. The dancers will move to the quadrant with the flavor they like best. You can designate a movement for all of the dancers to do as they travel to the quadrant of their choice, or allow them to choose their own movement. After the dancers have made it to their chosen points on the map, have them return to the neutral territory to begin again with a new set of criteria. Some fun options are:
- For quadrants – choose your favorite …
- Vacation spots (beach, mountains, theme park, city …)
- Kind of noodle dish (spaghetti, Ramen, mac and cheese, Pad Thai)
- Music (Hip Hop, Classical, Country, Rock)
- Dance Styles
- Marvel characters, Disney Princesses, Harry Potter characters, etc.
- For geography/map*
- Where do you live in the town/city? (Imagine or draw out a map on the floor)
- Where were you born? (Imagine or draw out a map of your country or the world on the floor)
- Where is your favorite place to visit?
- Where do you want to live when you grow up?
*Some questions may be uncomfortable for dancers, especially if they have to reveal information that relates to their socioeconomic status. Be sensitive as to the backgrounds and needs of the dancers in your group when determining which questions to ask.
- When all dancers are on their chosen points on the map, there are a few options for continuing the game if desired. They could make a shape based on their preference, or work together with the other dancers in their quadrant to create a dance based on their shared interest.
- This game can be an interesting way to divide students up for group projects, choreography activities, or performances. You may need to try several rounds until you have groups that are relatively equal in size.
- Did you learn something new about or discover a new common interest with any of your classmates?
Syllable Name Game
The primary objective of this game is to help students explore rhythm and musicality while creating original movement – and learning each other’s names! To begin, ask students to figure out how many syllables are in their first, middle name(s)/if applicable, and last names. Direct them to say their names while clapping to the rhythm of the syllables. For example, for my name (Shannon Dooling-Cain), I would clap 5 times total (Shan/non/Dool/ing/Cain). The students will create a movement phrase to the rhythm of their name. For example, my movement phrase would have 5 beats total. This means I could do 5 movements that each take 1 beat, a 2 beat movement and then 3 movements that each take 1 beat, 2 movements that each take 1 beat and a triplet movement, etc. To share, ask the dancers to first say and clap their name, then say their name while performing their movement phrase, then do the movement phrase in rhythm without saying their name. Have the rest of the class repeat each dancer’s name and movement phrase.
- Invite the dancers to create movement phrases based on other phrases that communicate something about themselves, such as the title of their favorite book, the school they attend, or their personal goal for the coming dance season.
- Put all of the movement phrases together to create one long dance sequence, keeping the rhythm of each individual section in tact.
- Use this activity as a jumping off point to explore rhythm and musicality in class. You can do this by repeating the movement phrases with counts instead of saying the syllables. Where are their whole, half, quarter, and eight notes? Were there examples of 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8 time? Did anyone use syncopation?
- To make this a team-building activity, come up with a class mantra, motto, or phrase, such as, “We never give up!” or “Fierce forever!” They can then work as a team to come up with the movements that match the rhythm of this phrase. You can use this phrase as a pre-class warm-up, class closing ritual, or pre-performance energizer.
- What was your favorite part of this activity? Why was it your favorite?
- Did you find it easy or challenging to stick to the rhythm? If it was difficult, what strategies did you use to make it easier?
Heritage Movement Game
The primary objective of this game is to help students reflect on and share the role of dance in their lives outside the studio and within their families and communities. To begin, ask students to think about a dance that is part of their heritage. I use this term broadly to describe any dance they have learned about, seen, or done with their families, friends, neighbors, or in their communities. These could include dances associated with their ethnic or religious background, dances associated with their city or neighborhood (like the Mummer’s Strut in Philadelphia or Hand Dancing in Washington, D.C.), line dances done at parties or school dances, celebration dances done by their favorite athletes, or even their favorite TikTok routines. (*This may require the dancers to do some homework, either by reflecting on their own or asking a family member for ideas. You might want to explain this game in advance to give students time to prepare.) Once the dancer has their heritage dance in mind, ask them to come up with a movement that represents it. It could be an actual movement from the dance, their best recreation of one, or their own movement inspired by it. Have each dancer share their movement, along with the name of the dance and why they chose it.
- To make this a team-building activity, have the class combine all of their movements into a single phrase, with appropriate transitions between each. Allow them to choose the music they want to perform their dance to. The group’s dance can become part of their warm-up or pre-class ritual.
- Was it easy or difficult for you to come up with a dance from your heritage?
- How would you describe the role that dance plays in your life outside the studio – that is, in your family, friend groups, cultural background, neighborhood, etc.?
In The Holistic Dance Teacher Collection, you’ll find great resources to help you start the year off right – without adding to your workload! Check out The Holistic Collection of Introduction and Team Building Dance Games, The Holistic Guide to Goal Setting for Dancers, The Holistic Guide to Journaling for Dance Students, and The Holistic Guide to Getting to Know Your Dance Students.
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.