Summer is a fantastic time to for students to engage in the serious study of dance technique. Camps, intensives, and workshops allow students extended time to refine their dance skills, study new dance styles, dive into the nuances of creating or learning choreography, and work on conditioning and flexibility. However, it is important to balance all of this hard work with a little bit of fun from time to time, especially for younger or novice students. I firmly believe in the importance of play in the learning environment, both as a teaching tool and as a vital component of child development. These games are designed to help students explore basic movement concepts, develop improvisational skills, and build community through teamwork. They can be adapted for dancers of all ages and levels, and you can incorporate genre-specific terminology and skills to help improve dance technique in a particular style.
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Here are a few of my favorite dance games for summer:
- Fifty Kinds of Freeze Dance Freeze dance is a perennial favorite among young children, and dance students are no exception! After being asked to play freeze dance for the millionth time, I decided to come up with a bunch of variations that would make the experience more educational, while still giving the students the fun of their favorite game. The possibilities are endless, but here are just a handful of the variations I’ve used.
- Freeze in a ____ shape: During class time, introduce students to shape-related movement concepts, such as size, width, and level, and lines, angles, and curves. Instruct students to freeze in a shape that represents one or more of these concepts, such as a big shape, or a wide one. Older students can handle combinations of concepts, such as a small shape, on a high level, with right angles.
- Dance like _____: Instruct students to dance in a specific way, reflecting a movement quality like fast or slow tempo, strong or light weight, smooth or sharp flow.
- Dance like a ____: Instruct students to dance in a way that represents a specific character, such as a tiger, a princess, or cowboy/girl. Talk about specific movement qualities, shapes, or lines that each would embody. From time to time, allow students to choose their own characters, such as their favorite bird. To build complexity, add an emotional quality to the character, such as a sad cowboy/girl.
- Dance like you are in ____: Give students an imaginary setting in which they are performing their dance. For example, dance as if you are on the moon, or on a hot, sandy beach. Discuss how the movement of their entire bodies should reflect the environment in which they are dancing.
- Over, Under, Through Have the dancers line up in a simple formation, such as a diagonal across the room, with about 2 feet of space between them. Allow each dancer to pose in a shape of their choosing – but they must be able to hold it for a long time! The first dancer will then improvise in the negative space around the other dancers, going over, under, through, around, between, and/or beside them. They continue weaving around the dancers until the get to the end of the line. They can then find their own shape to freeze in. (Note: If you run around of space, have the line curve around and head back up the diagonal in the other direction.) There are many ways to vary this game, including:
- Direct the dancers in the kind of shape to make, playing with levels, balance, use of different body parts, lines, and extension.
- Direct the dancers in the kind of movement to use as they travel down the line, incorporating different movement qualities, levels, technical skills, rhythms and tempos, etc.
- Have the line of dancers start closer or farther apart, creating new challenges for the student moving among them.
- Have the line of dancers connect with one another by touching or linking arms, legs, heads, or other body parts, encouraging the mover to use different levels to get over and under them.
- Encourage the dancer moving down the line to make physical contact with the static dancers, including perching or climbing (if this idea has been safely introduced previously), weight sharing, counterbalancing, or just connecting with various body parts.
- Pass the Prop Collect an assortment of props, ranging from the expected (scarves and balls) to the unusual (a large umbrella, a delicate paper flower, a heavy box). Have the dancers start in a simple formation, such as a line or circle. Give a prop of your choosing to a dancer and direct them to dance with it for 8 counts before passing it in a unique way to the dancer on their right. The next student will then dance with the prop for 8 counts before passing it on. The goals of this game are to get the dancers used to working with a prop, encourage them to let their movement choices be inspired by the prop, and help them consider different and unexpected ways of passing it to their partner. There are a number of ways that you can change up the game to make it more difficult, such as:
- Change the length of the dance time, for example, giving them 2 or 32 counts to move with the prop before passing it on.
- Have multiple props going around the circle at once, to help develop the students’ observation and awareness skills.
- Provide rules for passing the prop, such as not using the hands to give or receive it.
- Arrange the dancers in a more complicated formation, wherein they might be passing the prop to someone behind or in front of them, near or far away, etc.
- What is …. your dance vocabulary? This one requires a bit of prep work, but offers a big payoff in terms of student learning! Create index cards with the names of dance steps and concepts that the dancers have been learning. Arrange the index cards face down in “Jeopardy” style columns, with a category for each column. Some ideas for categories include stage directions, movement concepts, jumps, turns, musical terminology and barre vocabulary. In Jeopardy fashion, each row will have an assigned number of points. Students can work individually or in teams to choose a category and number of points. They will turn over the card and reveal the concept or step listed. Students earn points for demonstrating the concept or step with correct technique. As appropriate, they could earn additional points for defining the term (such as translating French ballet terms into English), describing the movement verbally, or providing a note or correction that applies to the performance of the step.
- Statue Garden This is a fantastic game for encouraging teamwork and connection between dancers, which I learned from Valerie Dunham, a fellow University of Maryland MFA in Dance alum. All dancers but one freeze in a shape. These dancers are the statues in the garden, and the other dancer is the magic elf. The magic elf enters into the garden and finds a statue that s/he would like to dance with. The elf uses their magic to bring the statue to life, either by tapping them gently on a pre-arranged body part (head or elbow works well) or by using a pre-arranged signal like waving to them. The two elf and the statue dance together. You can provide instructions for the dancing, such as that they two must remain connected, or they must use adagio quality movement. After a time, the elf becomes tired and falls asleep. When they fall to the floor to sleep, their magic elf powers transfer to the dancing statue, and the statue becomes the next elf. Repeat this process until all statues have been woken, danced, and had their turn as the elf. The final elf gets to wake all of the other statues, by using a pre-arranged signal such as a tap on the head. The game ends with a dance party for all involved – bonus points if you get in on the action too!