Why should dance teachers use a lesson plan?


Dance teachers often fall into two camps when it comes to their dance lesson plans – there are those who take the “do it on the fly” approach and those who are the “write every word out” types. I’ve definitely been on both sides when it comes to my own planning. As an experienced teacher, I can “wing it” when needed. But in my experience, a good dance lesson plan is the most effective way to ensure that my students are progressing all year long. When I take the time to plan lessons in advance, I ensure that I have clear learning goals for the year and an efficient path to reach them.

Not only is having a lesson plan good my students, but it also makes my life easier! Spending a few hours on dance lesson plans for each class at the beginning of the year means that I don’t have to stress about making up exercises and combos on the fly, or spend hours working on my classes each week. I can focus on being present with my students, delivering the lessons well and responding to their needs.

There are many companies that offer dance lesson plans for purchase, but creating your own can be easy – and effective! After all, you know your strengths and weaknesses as a dance teacher better than  anyone else – and you know your students best, too! In this blog post, I will outline some essential things to remember when creating your dance lesson plans, as well as some tips for making the lesson planning process easier.


How do you make a dance lesson plan?


I always recommend starting your dance lesson plans by looking at your learning goals for the entire year. To keep your students progressing, you need to think ahead. Too often, however, our dance lesson planning process focuses on the short term. We think about the current unit, tomorrow’s lesson, or getting through the week. For more effective lessons, however, I challenge teachers to consider this question before they start planning: Where do you want your students to be at the end of your dance season? A good way to figure that out is to picture your students giving their best recital performance or rocking their exams:


  • What dance steps are they doing?
  • What technique concepts have they mastered?
  • What is their performance quality?
  • How are they conducting themselves and interacting with one another before, during, and after their moment in the spotlight?


Let your end-of-year vision be the starting point, and work backwards to figure out what skills, concepts, habits and values you have to include in your dance lesson plans to get there! This will become your class curriculum – the list of learning goals for your students to meet by the end of the term. For more information on curriculum building, check out The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning – it makes the process easy!

Once you have your learning goals for the year outlined, you are ready to craft dance lesson plans that help students meet all of their learning goals. Begin by arranging your learning goals in a progressive sequence – the order in which students must learn individual steps and concepts in order to achieve those . goals. Then, create exercises that help students master them.

A good dance lesson plan, however, should include more than just movement exercises. Below you will find a list of things to include as you plan your weekly lessons.


What should you include in your dance lesson plans?

Themes to tie the learning together


Learning is all about making connections and synthesizing material – and dance learning is no different. One way that we can help our students make these connections is by organizing our class material in a way that highlights them. Having a theme or through line for your classes can help students make those important connections among the skills they are learning. You can organize the exercises in an individual class according to a theme, or connect groups of classes together in a unit based on a theme. Themes are a great way to link technique, artistry, and social-emotional skills organically in your lesson plans. Some theme ideas include movement concepts like level or elancer (darting) movements, and historical time periods like Romantic Ballet steps or early 20th century jazz.


Effective class sequences


To help students learn, you’ll need an effective class sequence. Students benefit from a way to transition from the outside world into class – I call this an Opening Ritual, and a thorough warm-up that gets them ready to move. From there, you need to introduce the day’s concepts and skills, connect them to what students’ already know, and let students apply them in new ways. Some dance forms have codified class sequences built in – think ballet: barre, center practice, turns, and allegro. But, you don’t have to be tied to tradition! Develop a class sequence that works for you and your learning goals, then try to stick with it. Most students thrive with a consistent routine – and consistency makes the lesson planning process easier for you, too!


Activities that go beyond dance technique


As dance teachers, we want to move! It feels good to get students learning new dance steps, progressions, and combinations. But we also know that there is much more to dance than just technique. To be successful as a dancer, students need creativity, performance quality, musicality, and artistry. Moreover, through dance students can develop strong social and emotional skills that will serve them well both onstage and off, such as persistence, responsibility, accountability, empathy, and teamwork. So often, we focus our dance lesson plans on technique alone, and let the rest of the learning happen by chance. It is critical that we actively build artistry and social-emotional development in our dance lesson plans, to help our students grow into well-rounded dancers and empowered individuals. Here are my suggestions for which skills to include – and how to fit them into your lesson:

  • For a list of foundational technique skills that are important for dancers in nearly every dance genre and style, check out this blog post.
  • My favorite ways to teach artistry in class, including creativity and performance quality, can be found here!
  • To read about the social and emotional skills you need to include in your dance lesson plans, check out this post


Input from your students


Okay, so you may be reading this and think … if I asked my students what we should do in class, we’d be making TikTok videos and playing freeze dance all day! I get it, and of course I don’t think that you should let your students dictate everything you do in class. However, when you know students’ interests, goals, and histories, you can use that information to create more effective dance lesson plans. You can connect aspects of your curriculum to what your students already know and like, creating a more authentic and engaging learning experience. This can be as simple as taking a new minutes at the beginning of the dance season to ask your students, “Why are you here?” and “What do you want to learn?”  Tailor aspects of your dance lesson plans to connect with their responses, and you’ll see a difference in their engagement and enthusiasm all year long!

  • Use the student surveys in The Holistic Guide to Getting to Know Your Dance Students to learn about your students’ backgrounds, interests, previous dance experiences, and personalities. These convenient students surveys will not only help you design better dance lesson plans, but they will also help you create meaningful connections with each student. The better you know your students, the better you can teach them!
  • Help your students set and achieve new goals for the dance season with The Holistic Guide to Goal Setting for Dance Students. This guide includes a brainstorming tool to help you easily lead your students through the goal-setting process, and ready-to-use worksheets to help your students organize and share their goals.


How many dance lesson plans do you need for an academic year?


So often, we try to constantly reinvent the wheel in our dance lesson planning process. We come up with elaborate new lessons and fancy combos each week. While it is good to keep students on their toes with some variety, the reality is that creating a brand new class every week isn’t necessary – and it can actually be detrimental to your students’ learning, especially if they are young or new to dance. After all, students thrive on routine, and learn through repetition. In fact, I usually create about 4 lessons per class during an entire 10-month dance season! The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning includes a unique process for easily and effectively including more variety in you dance lesson plans without starting from scratch all the time. By using creative ways to build on and vary your exercises and combos throughout a 6-8 week unit, you can simplify your lesson planning process and create the balance of repetition and novelty that students need to learn.


How can I create my own dance lesson plans?


The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning guides you through the process of creating your learning goals for the year, dividing them into  themed units, and creating unique and highly effective class lesson plans. This comprehensive 44-page guide helps you easily create a year’s worth of engaging and effective lessons – without reinventing the wheel each week! It includes printable and digital templates for your curriculum, themed units, lessons, and more.


More dance lesson planning ideas


Great dance classes start with a great lesson plan:


Have you tried The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning yet? Let me know what you think in the comments! You can also share your best tips and strategies for creating your own great lessons. 

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