Molly Lucareli | February 2022

5 Ways to Add Dance
& Theater to The Classroom

One of the ways that I combat stress in my life is a good old fashioned dance party in my car on the way home from work. Nine times out of ten I am going to blast “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston with full on car-choreography and air drums. It’s quite a sight. I do this, not because I have an extensive dance and theater background, but because sometimes a dance party helps shift my mindset.

In fact, Clinical neuropsychologist Paul D. Nussbaum claims that adding dance to your weekly routine will boost brain activity (Saumaa, 2021). And we have said as much ourselves! Since movement is at the core of both dance and theater, it makes perfect sense to find a way to incorporate it into the classroom. The best part is that your students will be engaged right away, even if you don’t know where to start! Here are five ways to bring Dance, Theatre, and engagement into your classroom today!

Mystery Mover

The first dance and movement game requires no preparation and you can teach it to your class in under two minutes. The object of this game is to catch the Mystery Mover. Gather your students to stand in a wide circle. Choose one student to be the guesser and have them exit the room. While the guesser is away from the group, decide who will be the mystery mover. The mystery mover will start making small movements that everyone will follow as discreetly as possible. As the guesser is called back in to take their place in the center of the circle, the mystery mover will shift through different movements while the guesser is slowly turning around trying to catch them. Allow the guesser three attempts to catch the mystery mover before they identify themselves.

The key to this game is to change movements when the guesser has their back turned to the mystery mover and have the rest of the students use their peripheral vision. This game is a great brain break and can be played for as long as you would like as your students cycle through different guessers and mystery movers!

Stage Corners

Not only can this theater activity be a brain break but you can also pair it with any multiple choice activity. It is an adaptation of the game Four Corners where students choose a corner of the classroom in hopes that it doesn’t get called (either from a spinner or a dice.) Instead of numbering the corners, use stage directions instead! Identify the front of your room as the “audience” and assign the corners of your space as follows:

If using this as a brain break, have students choose a corner and randomly select a corner. If the students are in the stage direction that you call, they are out. Students that are not, choose a new stage direction corner. The game is played until there is a lone winner.

If you are wanting to connect this activity to academics, turn this into a review activity and assign each stage direction corner to a response. You can adapt this by playing in teams and sending one representative at a time to eliminate getting “out”. Your students will familiarize themselves with these stage directions quickly by the end of the first game.

Carnival Walks

This activity is a combination of movement and theater. Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer well-known for his musical suite called Carnival of the Animals. Each movement reflects a different animal and uses different instruments. Have your students explore the different animals and challenge them to move through the space how that animal might move with the music. Encourage them to think about how facial expressions could add to their portrayal. Take it a step further and have your students choose a character from a book or historical figure they are learning about and align it with one of the musical movements that best fits the mood or personality. The rest of the students will have a blast trying to figure out who your students are acting out!

Reader’s Theater

Preparing, practicing and performing a reader’s theater is a simple way to add acting, dance, and theater into your classroom. A quick search for a reader’s theater that aligns with your current curriculum will come with many options – especially for literacy and social studies! Acting out the story will literally drop your students into the action of the story and understand the characters on a much deeper level. As they think, move, and act, they are analyzing the text at a much more rigorous level.  This small play does not have to be fancy either- everything can take place inside the walls of your classroom with makeshift props and sets that come straight from the students’ imaginations.

When I Move, You Move

Kids continue to learn the most amazing dance moves, as social media platforms, like TikTok*, are taking the world by storm. A popular trend that has circulated is a dance in which participants begin by standing in a line, all facing forwards. The first person chooses four beats of movements before stepping out of line. The person directly behind them has to begin their series of movements with whatever move the person in front of them ended with. The end result is a really strong ripple effect. Give your upper grade students some background music and try it out as a small group. You better join a group yourself, too!

Now our younger learners, will not be familiar with these trends because they are not old enough to be on these platforms. That doesn’t mean that they have to miss out on the fun. There is a great alternative to this activity. Throw on some music and tell your students to follow along. Give them four beats of movements and have them copy back and forth! Invite a student to be a leader and see what crazy choreography they can come up with.

Another great alternative for dancers of all ages, is a good, old-fashioned dance party. Put on your favorite, school appropriate, music and dance the stress, jitters, or wiggles away. One of the best things I ever put in my classroom was a cheap pair of colorful LED disco lights. Can you say instant dance party?

Don’t think, just try!

Dance and theater may be outside the comfort zone of many classroom teachers, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and try something new. Your students are in the same place every time you teach them something new. When they see you taking a risk, they will be more willing to take a risk too. Adding dance and theater to your classroom will not only increase engagement, but it will increase confidence, decrease stress, and spark new creative opportunities!

*Did you know that The Institute is on TikTok and Instagram? Follow us @artsintedu for more creative ideas!

About the Author

Molly is thrilled to be joining IAS as an Educator-in-Residence after completing her level one Arts Integration certification! She received her BA in Elementary Education from St. Norbert College and her master's degree in educational technology from the American College of Education. Molly teaches fifth grade for the Green Bay Area Public Schools District in Green Bay, WI at an elementary school dedicated to integrating the arts. Molly loves incorporating her love for music, theater and dance into the classroom! Molly is a classically trained ballerina, avid performer, and will break out into song and dance whenever she can. She cannot wait to share her passion for the arts with you!