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Choreographing a dance with your students

Some of my favorite memories as a child are of choreographing my own dances in the basement. With my sister, I created a dance to the Jackson Five's "Rockin' Robin," with my best friend Bronwyn, I choreographed a dance to "One" from "A Chorus Line," and then by myself, I choreographed a tap dance to "The Longest Time" by Billy Joel. It was always so much fun to decide which music I'd use, which moves would go where, and what the finished product would look like!

It wasn't until a few years ago, though, that I began having my own students choreograph their own dances. If I had that much fun as a child, why shouldn't they? I think my concern before I began the process was what the process would look like with a large group of students. I thought I'd outline a sample process here, and you can use it, tweak it, whatever you'd like!

The latest dance I've had students choreograph was "Hang on Sloopy." This is a HUGE fan favorite here in the state of Ohio! My third graders recently performed "B is for Buckeye," based on the book (each state has its own book...I'll blog about how to create a program based off those books later!) Each class choreographed their own dance, and then performed the dance one after another during the program. So much fun!

This song in particular seemed conducive to choreographing, because students already have danced a bit to it at football games and celebrations, making the letters O, H, I, and O after the words "Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on" (if you're not aware, football is HUGE in Ohio, especially here in Columbus!) All of the classes chose to incorporate those letters somehow into the dance, so that became a good jumping off point. The song has very clear cut sections, going back to A at the end, which made the dance even easier to choreograph. I would suggest using a piece with some repetition, as this makes the dance both easier to choreograph and easier to remember!

Here is a sample process I've used when having students create their own class dance:

Choreographing a dance with your students: Great process for having students create!
  • Students listen to the piece of the music and follow teacher-created motions. This could simply be moving to the beat in different ways (pat head for 8 beats, pat legs for 8 beats, etc.) This helps familiarize students with the song or piece of music.
  • Then have the students listen to the piece again as they sit. Ask them to think about which motions might work with the dance. You might brainstorm a list of moves on the board (such as circle left, circle right, disco, etc.)
  • Have the students listen again, and collaboratively decide which moves should go when. As the class decides, you can write those moves on the board, along with how many beats that move will last for.
  • Do one small section at a time. So, after deciding how section A should be choreographed, have students perform with music. Ask them to give feedback as necessary to tweak the moves. You might remind them to be respectful of others' opinions and creative input.
  • The process might take a few class periods (as you may have lots of other singing games and activities planned for that lesson!) On my SMART board, I kept a file of the dance moves, with the pages labeled by class. As they continue the process, have them practice each section and tweak as necessary.
  • Here is an example of a dance a class created:
    • March to the pattern "ta ta ti-ti ta" four times
    • Do O H I O letters
    • Repeat
    • Take 4 steps in
    • Right step close x 2
    • Left step close x 2
    • Take 4 steps out
    • Repeat starting with 4 steps in
    • Turn to partners in the circle and begin switching spots and getting new partners until the next section begins!
    • March again to "ta ta ti-ti ta" four times
    • Do O H I O letters
    • Repeat
    • Pose!
Fun dance, right? :) I had posters in the middle of each circle with their dance directions written so students didn't have to worry about forgetting how their dance went. They had so much ownership of the dance!

Do you have a process that works well for choreographing dances? Please comment below!

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