Why is it important to get to know your dance students?
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.
How introduction games for dance class help you get to know your students
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.
A note on play as an educational tool in the dance studio
These introduction games for dance class are all based in the philosophy that play can be an important educational tool in the dance studio. Research indicates that students of all ages learn through play, and play can help children can develop important social, cognitive, and emotional skills. Using play as an educational tool can help students gain self-confidence, engage in new experiences, and meet new physical and mental challenges. Incorporating play in the dance studio with students of all ages can have many benefits, from helping students learn new skills and refine their technique to helping them cope with stress and anxiety. Read more about the play in the dance studio in this blog post: Your Ultimate Guide to Play in the Dance Studio.
Tips for using these introduction games in your dance classes
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!
Examples of introduction games for dance class
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.
- 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 making as an approximate rendering of your town or county.
- 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.
- This game is played in several rounds. 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 quadrants. 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 way of moving.
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.
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!
- 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).
- Direct the students to create a movement phrase to the rhythm of their name, with movements that correspond to the number of syllables. 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.
- 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, to help each dancer feel seen and validated as they learn one another’s name.
My Signature Move
The primary objective of this game is to encourage students to express themselves in the creation of a “signature move,” and to develop empathy and understanding by trying on one another’s special movement expressions.
- Ask each dancer to consider what they like most about dance and/or other movement practices they have participated in, from yoga to soccer to karate. What are their favorite steps or movements? Do they like to move slowly or quickly? Powerfully or softly? Do they like big movements or small? Simple movements or complex? Do they like to express themselves individually or master codified skills?
- Once they have the answers to these questions, the dancers will use them to create a “signature move” – one that sums up what they love about dance and movement, or that captures their unique movement style. You can give them some examples from famous performers and choreographers: Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, Martha Graham’s contraction, or Earl Jones’ “Snake Hips,” for example. Their move can be completely original, or their own unique take on something they’ve learned in their dance training
- Have the dancers share their signature moves with one another. After a dancer shows their movement, they should teach it to the other students so that they can “try on” one another’s movement.
More back-to-dance resources
For even more back-to-dance games, check out The Holistic Collection of Introduction and Team-Building Dance Games! This ready-to-use collection of 15 educational dance games is perfect for the busy dance teacher who wants to get to know their dance students, help them learn more about one another, and create a strong sense of community in their classes, companies, or teams …. without having to do a lot of extra planning. The detailed explanation of the learning objective and instructions for each activity make it easy to use these games in class, while the list of ways to change up each activity over multiple uses keeps these games fresh and interesting all year long! It’s perfect for back-to-school and on sale for just $8 through August 31, 2021!
Get all the dance teacher resources you need to get to know your dance students and create a strong class community – all at a great price – with the Back-to-Dance Bundle!
Plan ahead for future holidays by checking out my other seasonal games for dance class:
- Get-to-Know-You Dance Games
- Halloween Games for Dance Class
- Thanksgiving Dance Games
- Winter/Holiday Dance Class Games
- Valentine’s Day Games for Dance Class
- Spring-Themed Dance Games
- Summer-Themed Dance Games
- Team-Building Games for Dance Class
For dance games that help your students learn through play all year long, check out the Dance Games Bundle. This bundle includes 75 educational dance games arranged by season – Back to School, Fall, Winter/Holidays, Spring, and Summer – all for under $40!
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.