Tips for Teaching Students Who Don’t Want to Dance
Picture this: You’re starting a new dance class with your students, and you’re so excited! You know that dance education can have a powerful positive impact on your students’ well-being. Plus, it’s FUN! You tell your class, “Today, we’re going to learn Salsa dance!” and suddenly, their reaction is…less than thrilled.
Whether they’re nervous about trying something new, embarrassed to dance in front of peers, or simply having a bad day, it’s normal for some of your students to be resistant to the idea of dancing in school.
If you have students who are resistant to dance, here are suggestions from the dance teacher and founder behind Crelata – she’s been teaching dance in schools since 2010 – that’s over 10 years!
Before You Start
Preparing your class to learn dance is essential. A strong foundation supports a successful lesson. Before you start physically dancing, have an introductory conversation with your class.
Here are some introduction questions you can discuss with your students:
- What is dance?
- Do you have any experience with dance?
- How do you feel about dancing?
- Why do people dance?
- When and where have you seen people dancing?
- Why is it important to learn dance?
- Why are we dancing in school?
Your students’ answers to these questions will give you direct insight into their current feelings about dance. Meet them where they are and acknowledge that their feelings are valid. Be in tune to any preconceived notions that dancing is only for certain gender identities. Every culture is different and it is important to discuss and air concerns upfront. From there, guide the discussion to help them understand why learning dance is important.
- Dance is a part of every culture in the world
- Dance is part of life: weddings, celebrations, rituals, school dances, travel, and more
- Learning dance improves coordination, fitness, creativity, and self-expression
Helping your students understand why they are learning dance will put them in the right mindset to try their best and have a positive attitude.
Trying New Things can be Awkward
It’s important to acknowledge and validate your students’ feelings. On the surface, they might seem to have a bad attitude, but try to look beyond the surface level. Students are often simply nervous about trying something new!
Share with your class that trying new things like dance can be awkward and even scary. It’s normal to feel apprehensive about going out of your comfort zone. You can ask students to share about a time when they tried something new. Whether it’s trying a new food or going on a rollercoaster for the first time, trying new things can be super rewarding!
Make sure your students know that learning dance isn’t about being the best. Dance class is a judgment-free zone where everyone works to the best of their abilities. Laughing at others is never tolerated. Instead, your students will learn to give their peers constructive feedback.
Crelata’s dance lessons include a student intro video that tells students what to expect. Teachers can play it for their class before dancing to help students get excited about trying something new!
The Difference Between Adjusting and Resisting
If your students are shy in the beginning, don’t give up hope! It’s important to recognize the difference between students adjusting to the idea of dance class, and students who are refusing to dance.
In the beginning, give your students space as they open up and become more comfortable. It’s a good idea to start with very basic activities like movement games. Games can help your students get comfortable moving in class and listening to instructions.
Some of our favorite movement games are:
- Mirroring – Face a partner and move as though you are the mirror image of one another. One partner starts as the leader and the other partner follows. It should be impossible to tell who is the leader. Switch roles. For a challenge, partners can trade off being the leader and follower without talking.
- Follow the leader – Pick a leader and have them move in one spot or travel around the room. A partner, small group, or the whole class follows whatever they do. This can be done in a circle, spaced out lines with everyone facing the same direction, a clump, or a train-like line with one person standing behind the next. Change leaders.
- Reverse limbo – (This is an absolute favorite game of Crelata’s founder’s middle school students!) Instead of going under the limbo stick, try going over it! Start the limbo stick on the floor and after everyone has gone over it once, raise it a few inches. Anyone who touches the stick when going over it is out. See how high the limbo stick can go and still have kids be able to jump over it. Sometimes students need a big running start so make sure you have ample space and people you really trust to hold the limbo stick. If you think using a stick will be too dangerous you could use a rope, yarn, or elastic. That way if a student trips while jumping over, the holders of the “stick” can let go and the jumper won’t get hurt. We recommend playing this on top of gymnastics mats and with bare feet or sneakers – NO socks because it’s too slippery.
Start with easy, low-pressure activities to introduce movement and dance concepts to your students. This will make it easy to transition to structured dance lessons.
If you still have a student who doesn’t adjust and refuses to participate, here are some ways to work with them.
Tips for the Toughest Situations
When you’ve set your class up for success with an introductory discussion, played some movement games, and gotten almost everyone feeling comfortable, it can be frustrating to have one student still refusing to participate.
Follow these steps to address the toughest situations, seeking to understand the student’s perspective.
- Speak to the student one-on-one. Ask them why they aren’t participating. (Never call out a student in front of the whole class.)
- Maybe they are shy. You can put them in the back of the room where they feel more comfortable.
- Maybe they have religious reasons for not dancing. You can call their guardians to confirm and come up with an alternate plan.
- Maybe they forgot to put on deodorant this morning. You can keep some travel-size deodorant on hand for these situations.
- If students remove shoes for the class, maybe they have holey or mismatched socks. You can lend them clean socks.
- Maybe they just aren’t feeling well. You can let them observe today’s class.
- As long as the student isn’t causing disruptions or playing on their devices, let the student observe. Over time, they might get more comfortable with dance class. Sometimes their peers will pressure them into joining – thank you positive peer pressure!
- If the student continues to not participate in dancing, give them another way to engage with the material.
- Assign the student to be the class scribe. Have them take notes on the lesson: concepts, vocabulary, steps, corrections, choreography, etc.
- Have the student assist with pausing and unpausing the video to allow time for peer feedback during the dance lesson.
- Give the student a research project on the dance style. They can complete this project instead of dancing and present their findings to the class.
- If the student is behaving in an unsafe manner (running around the room, throwing things, touching others, etc.) the student needs to be removed from the dance environment or given an activity to do from the safety of a seat.
- As a last resort, call the student’s guardians and speak with them about the student’s lack of participation in dance class.
Although it can be difficult, it’s a critical part of a teacher’s job to ensure all students have the opportunity to learn. This means dealing with problematic behaviors while keeping the rest of the class on track.
Crelata Helps Teachers Help Students
Crelata is an online dance platform built with the beginner non-dance student in mind. Lessons are carefully paced so students of all ages and abilities can keep up. Each lesson has learning goals and uses best practices in dance education and video design to teach students the required concepts.
Crelata’s dance lessons use relatable peer models in the cast for motivation and encouragement. Our on-demand video lessons are fun and engaging, and they don’t move too quickly and leave your students in the dust. Give Crelata a try, and watch your students step out of their comfort zones and grow!