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Dance Classroom Behavior: The Struggles of 2021

Dancers laying on the floor tired and sstretching.

All right teachers, raise your hand if the honeymoon is wearing off and classroom behaviors seem to be more abundant than in years past. I don't know about you, but I'm definitely experiencing this with my younger students. There is a huge gap in social and emotional development that is shining through. I'm not surprised though. Think about those 5-year-olds in your classroom. Over the last two years, they were severely limited in social interactions (preschool, sports, etc.). They were kept home, for good reason, and now their lovely faces are in your classroom experiencing a world of new possibilities. It's only natural for boundaries to be tested.

There's one more consideration I want you to think about before I get into helpful tips to smooth things over; electronics. These students most likely have been exposed to more television and video games than previous generations. A lot of television and video games stimulate your brain to crave instant gratification. Translated into our dance classroom it looks like impatience and lack of focus. Yes, not all children fall into this category, but it's still very important to consider when developing your lesson plans.

Now that we've identified some of the causes, how do we handle them? There isn't a magic answer but here is a list of things I've found helpful to curb those minor disruption problems before they start.

1) Take a step back and start where the students are. Don't hold your 8-year-old ballet class (for example) this year to the same standards as two years ago. Your students are starting at a different place mentally. Start where they are and work your way up towards where you want them to be. Typically, I'm not a proponent of game playing in my classroom, but this year it's needed. Since attention spans are down, you need to train their brains to focus for longer periods. An easy way to accomplish this is to take short brain breaks after 3 exercises. After a few weeks increase the number of exercises between the breaks. In no time at all, you'll accomplish a full ballet barre with no breaks and no "I'm bored".

Children sitting on a dance classroom floor wearing black leotards and tan tap shoes.

2) Train the listening skills. Have a call-and-response cue or signal to regain students' attention. You could use a clapping rhythm, bell, chant, etc. There are hundreds of examples online to use. Some are even a great way to boost self-esteem. For your younger students, your typical freeze dance songs also do this. Find a couple that work great for you and keep using them. Here are a few examples:

For my Minnesota friends:

Teacher: "Ready, Set..."

Students: "You bet!"

Cupid Shuffle's clapping rhythm:

Teacher: "Everybody clap your hands..."

Students: clapping the rhythm from the song Cupid Shuffle's

Simplest form:

Teacher: Rings a bell or blows a whistle.

Students: Freeze their bodies

Crowd pleaser:

Teacher: Macaroni and cheese!

Students: Everybody freeze!

3) Practice sharing ideas and movements A LOT. Let them have a voice and choice. Not only does it increase autonomy, but it will enhance their creativity skills. For example: Teach them one skill. Then have them create a mini dance that includes that skill plus anything else of their choosing. Finally, practice sharing for the class and demonstrate proper listening etiquette.

4) Provide sensory breaks. Are your students fidgety while waiting for their turn across the floor? Some students can't safely stand still and wait every time we want them to. Instead of constantly reminding them of their spot, redirect them by giving them something to do, like a kinesthetic strengthening challenge. Example: How many squats can you do in 20 seconds (or until your turn)? This simple challenge provides students with something safe to do while waiting for their turn. The pressure on their joints also acts as a release to the body's receptors, so they are able to regain some focus and be less "fidgety" for the next exercise. Plus, think about all of the extra strengthening exercises that could be added to your class. No boring wait time and stronger dancers? Win-win! On a side note, it is also important to have rest time too, so there is a balance to maintain.

Two children (One girl and one boy) doing side lunges

5) Demonstrate the wrong behaviors. We often show kids the right things to do, but you should also show the wrong things. Example when dancing with scarves: Demonstrate how to move safely in the space. Demonstrate how we do not hit others with the scarf. Demonstrate how to respond if someone takes your scarf away on accident.

6) Visually display your routine. Do you ever get asked the question "How much time is left" prompted by a child who wants to disengage from the class and go home? Children will have a sense of security when they can see what is coming next. I know there are a lot of exercises in a dance class, but to simplify, group them into sections. Have it posted somewhere in the classroom, reference it often, and soon that question will disappear. Don't forget to use pictures to represent the categories for those who can't read yet! Here are the ones I use for my under 7-year-olds:

Warm-up (3-5 exercises)

Across the floor (1-2 skills and a free choice)

Dance (what ever choreography you're teaching)

Free dance/game/choice activity


Finally, consider how long your classes are and if they're developmentally appropriate. Does your 5-year-old class always unravel at the end of the hour? Take a moment to look up the attention range for your students. You might be surprised to learn a 5-year-old has an attention span that lasts 10-15 minutes for guided learning. Sure, you can't change the schedule mid-year, but now is a perfect time to identify when most of your students lose focus in your class and consider future possibilities. Perhaps you can shorten that hour-long class by 15 minutes for the best interest of your students. After all, there will never be enough time to teach all that you want to teach. What matters most is the quality of instruction and how those kiddos feel after class to keep them coming back for more.

These ideas are minor preventative tweaks that could help make your classroom run that much smoother. No matter what you choose to do, there will always be minor interruptions to the flow of your classroom. But remember, your classroom is thriving, and those children adore you. You're already doing a fabulous job!


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