Three Ways Dance Can Be a Platform for Teaching Social Skills
Not too long ago, I found a note while picking up some leftover scraps of paper in my second grade classroom. On this note, a student terminated a friendship with another student through crayon. Does this sound familiar? If it does, then you are not alone. Now, more than ever, empathy and social skills can be difficult to cultivate. Of course, you might have a class-generated chart with a series of rules or expectations hanging up in the classroom which you constantly allude to throughout the day. However, to some students, it goes in one ear and out the other until either recess begins or they receive a consequence.
Active learning can be much more effective for just about any subject matter, and when it comes to social skills and empathy, this can be as simple as allotting 5-10 minutes for students to push the desks and chairs up against the wall and transform their room into a dance classroom.
Without further ado, here are three reasons why a dance classroom can be a platform for developing social skills.
#1: A dance classroom helps make etiquette approachable and fun
Before students even attempt to dance, make it clear that they will be learning about etiquette and being respectful. Next, ask the students to repeat the phrase, “May I have this dance?” aloud at several different sound levels. For this exercise, 10 would be deemed the loudest, 1 would be “whisper level,” and 5 would be considered “conversational level.” As students become accustomed to this exercise, partner up your students and ask them to repeat the phrase at the tone of your choosing, then rotate partners. At the end, discuss which tone appeared to be the most appropriate when asking someone to dance or even to ask them an important or pertinent question.
#2: A dance classroom encourages students to “own the space.”
I would always remind my students that the classroom we are in is theirs, not mine. Therefore, they have to “own it,” which can mean cleaning up after themselves or respecting school property. However, within the dance classroom, it can also refer to a change in how the students carry themselves. For example, one good exercise to encourage social skill develolpment, which not only tackles manners, but the idea of confidence, is to ask students to stand tall like trees within their dance space. Next, set a timer for 15 seconds and ask your students to walk around in that position, with their shoulders back, back straight, chest out, and chin up. You’d be surprised how students insert themselves into this simple exercise. Some might exaggerate or make faces as they do it, but the point is, they are practicing walking with confidence and are building upon the importance of carrying themselves with pride and dignity.
#3: A dance classroom helps build empathy
So far, we have not yet danced, and yet the stage is set for it. If you’re looking for an approachable dance to begin with that is not too intimidating or complex for the students, especially if they have never danced before, I would recommend the Merengue. Dancing with Class offers professional development to help teachers integrate this dance as a classroom social skill-building activity.
Etiquette in dance also requires the students to employ empathy as they dance with a partner. Even in the simple act of making eye contact while they dance, they can learn about their responsibility to each other to show kindness. You may even make a list of “how to dance with your partner,” in order for students to be constantly reminded of this. This will help students become aware of how they are treating their partner on and hopefully off the dance floor.
Students simply need to practice social skills. Dance allows it to be both fun and meaningful and it can be a simple exercise meant to “get the wiggles out” or to simply unwind when the class needs to take a break from the momentum of the day. In either case, a dance classroom is a small step towards being a more respectful, empathetic, and conscientious person.
Take a look at some of our students exhibiting their strong social skills in these videos.
-Written by Hector Hernandez