5 Ideas to Teach Children Creative Self-Expression Through Dance

teaching children creative self-expression through dance

If your family is anything like mine, you love big dance parties. With three energetic kids and two adults who love music, dancing together in the living room is a special bonding time.

But dancing is so much more than just a fun thing to do together. As an elementary school teacher, I know of the many benefits of dance for young children firsthand. Aside from being a great form of exercise, dancing also teaches kids to listen and pay attention to rhythmic and melodic elements of music. It can help strengthen a sense of vestibular balance, and many studies have shown that dance can help release stress and anxiety. Dancing with others even encourages social bonding as kids intuitively respond to each other’s movements.

While dance is not taught in many of our schools, educators Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica believe that learning dance is just as important as “the other arts, languages, mathematics, sciences and the humanities in the general education of every child.” Dance empowers children to express themselves and be comfortable in their bodies. Studies show a positive correlation between creative movement and learning.

teaching children creative self-expression through dance

If you’d like to help your child get more dancing in, here are a few ideas to kickstart your own mini dance program at home:

  1. Dancing is always better with more participants. Get a small group of kids and their friends together and kick off a game where they mirror each other in pairs. One child leads and moves their body however they want to while the other mirrors their movements. Switch after a few minutes so both children have a chance to lead and follow. This video on teaching strategies for creative movement and dance shows a group of students doing mirroring at 2:56.
  2. Vary the music or don’t use music at all. There’s something to be said for moving your body to silence or dancing to the beat of your own heart. Try a drum for a simple beat and see how your child moves in ways you wouldn’t have imagined!
  3. Let your child improvise, compose, and choreograph on their own or in a partnership. One approach is to encourage them to explore one dance movement such as gliding, crawling, running, skipping, or sliding with different types of music. You can also have them create a dance that uses two of the dance movements listed above and has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Have them try dances that and move from a low to a high level. Yes, a four year old can do this, too! Of course, their dance may change from practice time to performance, which can lead to a fun conversation about improvisation.
  4. Use props! Especially in the beginning of a child’s exposure to dance, giving them something like a scarf to dance with can help take away some of the performance anxiety. I like to pair up kids and have one of them move the scarf in creative ways (up, down, zigzag, slowly, in circles), while the other child moves their body as if they were the scarf. Then, they switch roles.
  5. After any dance activity, have your child reflect on their experience. The reflection could be a quick conversation or a written task to help the child process their experience. Some questions to ask are:
    • What did it feel like to dance today?
    • What did you enjoy about this activity?
    • What part of it was challenging for you?
    • If you could change something about the dance you created, what would it be and why?

    Reflective conversations after a dance experience help kids connect the physical and emotional experiences of creative dance.

Children are natural dancers and movers. Giving them the opportunity to explore creative dance can help them develop their inherent talent. Remember that you can modify your dance activities according to each child’s abilities.

More Resources

  • Elements of Dance: A framework developed by the Perpich Center for Arts Education in partnership with the University of Minnesota which identifies five elements of dance: Body, Action, Space, Time, and Energy and identifies suggested activities to teach each element.
  • PreK to 12th Grade Dance Standards, National Dance Education Organization: These specific standards provide clear guidelines to parents and educators on what kids should know and be able to do when it comes to creative movement.

By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.

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