I find dancing with students is usually one of the easiest ways to get them moving during DPA. With a good selection of tunes and a variety of ‘dance’ expectations, everybody can get down, whether preteens in grade 6 or really bouncy grade 1s. Not only is it great for DPA – especially during inclement weather – it is also a lot of fun, a nice break from sitting and thinking, and a chance to be creative without being assessed or evaluated.
The benefits of dance are many; it is a great cardio workout, it is an opportunity to physically express a range of emotions in a creative, socially acceptable way, it stimulates the brain and it releases mental and physical tension. Although dancing in public can make a few students anxious, I have found that if you make dance a regular part of your routine and set a few ground rules, students who are not sure whether they want to participate tend to eventually warm up and feel more comfortable about joining in. It can also be an accessible activity for students with a limited range of motion.
According to the curriculum, “Dance is expressive movement with purpose and form. All dance communication is transmitted through movement – that is, through the body movements and gestures of the dancer” (p. 14 of The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8/The Arts). While I encourage free form and creative movement, I do not want a mosh pit in the classroom. I rein in that potential chaos by encouraging students to think of dance as having a structure like a song or a poem, with a chorus or verse that is repeated as it tells a story or a message. For grade 3 students, this is easily understood when we dance like animals. I use a book some students made a few years ago called, “Danser comme…” In it are drawings of their favourite animals. When I use the book for DPA, I put on some music and hold up the book for all to see, turning the pages while I move around the classroom in time with the music. Often students begin by communicating an animal through sound, as in drama, rather than through movement, as in dance. It can get pretty noisy on the monkey page. When I remind students to show me that they are a monkey using a series of repeated movements and gestures, then some wonderful creative dance starts to happen. In a similar activity, OPHEA has dance movement cards as part of their Diabetes Awareness Program that are adaptable for any grade and work in the same manner. All you have to do is play some music and hold up the cards to show the dance moves to the students http://www.opheaprograms.net/EJ/pdf/EJ_PAKit_StationCircuitCards_Final_15NV10.pdf .
For music, I like to choose samples from around the world, rather than something from the pop music stations. The truth is, I can never keep up with what is hot and what is not, and at times, pop songs have lyrics which can be distracting. I want the students to be mindful of how their bodies are moving, so it seems to work better when they aren’t too familiar with the music. Lately, I’ve been playing Bangra from the Bend It like Beckham soundtrack; a collection of drum music from Japan and the Congo; Brazilian folk/techno from DJ Dolores; and First Nations electronic dance music from A Tribe Called Red. The students are really inspired by the terrific sounds and rhythms they hear and move freely to the beat.
For the older grades, line dances are easily brought into the classroom. If you can’t create your own line dance, there is a selection of line dances that can be found on YouTube if you need some inspiration. This way, the music and the moves are already done for you. The Cha Cha Slide was very popular a few years back. It is still handy to use and you don’t need a dance degree to teach it because the DJ calls out the moves, just like in a square dance. Sid the Sloth’s Continental Drift (from the film Ice Age) seems to be making the rounds at our school lately and Michael Jackson’s Thriller is always a challenge but a thrill for anyone who dances it.
Whatever resource you use, I encourage you to bring dance regularly into your classroom because it’s good for the brain and the body. And, it’s a lot of fun.