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Social Emotional Learning in the Dance Classroom - Part 2: Mindfulness

Dancers stretching on a yoga mat while doing mindful breathing

In our previous blog post, SEL in the Dance Classroom Part 1, we explored how building a strong community helps support the social and emotional (SEL) development of students in the dance classroom. Today, I shift the focus to internal SEL development.

Sometimes dancers become frustrated when a skill or exercise doesn't go as planned. How do you support them when these instances occur? The natural teacher instinct is to provide words of encouragement and suggestions for improvement. However, this approach may not always fully address and support their emotional needs. This is where integrating mindfulness into your dance classroom becomes important.

Mindfulness exercises help dancers improve self-awareness, maintain focus, reduce stress, and manage conflicts. They also help build empathy as dancers learn to relate to the experiences of their peers. By including them, you equip your students with essential tools to navigate their emotions effectively. Below, you'll find a list of 11 activities you can incorporate throughout the year to support the social and emotional growth in your students and help them thrive both on and off the dance floor.

In addition to the activity list, check out our Mindfulness Music and Resources Playlist for audio and visual mindfulness resources.

  1. Mindful Listening: Begin your class by playing a brief piece of music or a recording of nature sounds. Encourage your students to focus their attention solely on the sounds within the classroom. Have them identify 5 sounds the hear. Stress the importance of observing each sound without judgment. This practice will help heighten their sensory awareness and communication skills as well as focus their attention for class.

  2. The Body Scan: Progressively guide your students through a body scan exercise,To begin, have students lay down with their eyes closed. Then, beginning with the toes and moving upward, direct their attention to each part of their body to observe any sensations, such as warmth, heaviness, tingling, melting or tension. Additionally, suggest they channel their breath to these areas, releasing any pent-up tension with each exhale.

  3. Deep Breathing: Encourage your students to engage in simple deep breathing exercises to aid in self-regulation. This technique can effectively decelerate the body's stress response. Here are some student favorites:

    1. 5-Finger Breathing - Hold one hand out with space between your fingers. With your other hand, trace the outline of your hand. As you breathe in, trace up each finger. As you exhale, trace back down the finger. Continue until you've outlined each finger on your hand.

    2. Balloon Breathing - Imagine filling and emptying a balloon with each breath. Use your arms to indicate the size of the balloon as you inhale. When the balloon reaches the maximum capacity, "pop" the balloon and have students exhale shaking the arms deflating the balloon.

    3. Shape Breathing - Pick a shape to draw with a finger in the air (Square, Triangle, etc. ). Inhale gently for a count of four, then exhale for an equivalent count. Continue breathing as your finger makes that shape in the air. Repeat until you've drawn the shape at least twice.Check out our mindfulness breathing dance cards for alternative shapes students can complete independently.

  4. Guided Imagery & Storytelling: Taking time for visualization exercises and storytelling can be remarkably effective in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation (especially when helping dancers mentally prepare for performances or manage pre-show nerves). Have students close their eyes and and visualize a calm environment, such as a sunny sandy beach or a tranquil forest. Draw their attention to the senses you can observe in those environments (For example, talk about the warmth of the sun on their skin or how they hear the wind gently rustling leaves). Continue until all 5 senses are observed.

  5. Emotion Charades: Most students love to play games. So why not play a game that helps support SEL growth? By incorporating feelings into a game of charades, students learn to communicate different emotions through non-verbal gestures and expressions. Not only is this a fun and engaging exercise, but it also paves the way for open discussions on handling emotions in real-life scenarios. You could even take the game to the next level and turn the charade topics into an emotion dance.

  6. Mirror & Partner Work: A standard tool to develop improvisation skills is to have students face each other and mimic/mirror each other's movements based on provided prompts. To incorporate SEL and encourage expression development, instead of using a prompt such as "float", provide students with prompts centered around feelings (excited, scared, sleepy, etc.). As an alternative independent activity, have dancers perform movements in front of a mirror and self-reflect on their own expressions and body language.

  7. Mindful Stretching: Combine stretching routines with mindfulness, emphasizing the sensations in the body.

  8. Group Reflection & Appreciation: After a routine, have students discuss their emotions and experiences during the performance. It can be difficult to have meaningful reflections initially. Try using starter sentences such as "I felt confident when I..." or "I felt panicked when I forgot..." to aid in the reflection development. Once students can self-reflect, have them reflect on their peers. A sample starter sentence for peer reflection could be: "I saw Julia expressed sadness when...".

  9. Nature-Inspired Dance: Take students outdoors and have them create movements inspired by their connection with nature.

  10. Dance Journaling: Have dancers keep journals to record their thoughts, emotions, and reflections related to their dance experiences. By being thoughtful with prompts, you can help students develop critical thinking and SEL skills without using too much class time. Need prompt ideas? Check out our Dance Journal Printable.

  11. Mindful Coloring: One way to interpret emotions evoked in music is through coloring. When introducing new music, take a few minutes and have students draw what they hear in effort to identify the emotions in a song. Sharing their interpretations with the class will develop communication skills and build autonomy strengthening the classroom environment.


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