It can be bad enough showing off your moves on the dance floor, let alone putting together a structured dance programme that meets the 2014/2015 curriculum and that you can deliver to a group of 30 eight year olds who probably have a whole lot more confidence with their sense of rhythm than you do! There is also a sense that dance is the ‘short straw’ behind subjects like music, drama and dance, subjects that often fall to teachers who happen to have some experience or natural ability. None evoke the same sense of terror as dance.
A collective groan
When we talk to primary school teachers the overriding message that comes through – via a collective groan – is a lack of expertise and confidence:
“I’d quite happily teach them dance if I knew what I was doing (I’m all for making a fool of myself)”
“In our school, each class teacher teaches their class dance as part of PE….the quality of the lesson delivered often depends on who is teaching it and their own personal experience and knowledge of dance”
“Most feel underqualified and wholly foolish when attempting to teach dance. Staff become self-conscious out of their comfort zone and resort to old hat and overused resources that don’t relate to the children, curriculum or the true potential of dance as a subject”
Resources tend to be a combination of TAs trained in PE, CD/DVD programmes, after-school clubs run by external organisations and ad hoc dance initiatives/visitors. This all still relies on the teacher assembling a scheme of work that, when put together, meets or preferably exceeds, curriculum requirements.
A lack of perceived value
Another major problem is the perceived value that is put on dance in the primary curriculum. Youth Dance England shares the Government’s ambition for “every young person to have access to the highest quality dance teaching at every stage of their development”. In YDE’s publication ‘Dance In and Beyond Schools’, the authors suggest that “[Young people] will understand the status of dance in the school through, for example, the amount of time allocated to dance, the quality of the space in which it takes place, the enrichment activities and qualifications available and the ways in which achievement in dance is celebrated.”
Unfortunately the emphasis given to dance within individual schools can vary enormously. It should be so much more than a box to be ticked; rather a subject that can inspire all those involved and become central to a school’s creativity and PE programme.
Dance has proven benefits that go way beyond the classroom. It can give primary age children confidence, help them learn the value of teamwork, and has obvious health benefits through exercise. Children who struggle with traditional academic subjects, for whatever reason, can shine through dance. Indirect benefits for all pupils include improved concentration, behaviour and learning. It even works both left and right saide of the brain simultaneously!
For primary school teachers, the ability to deliver an effective, engaging dance programme provides huge rewards as they see the tangible changes in their pupils’ behaviour.
Teaching teachers to teach dance
As professional dancers who have also worked within mainstream education, we have seen firsthand the cold sweat of a responsibility that sits well outside a teacher’s comfort zone. Our passion is to see every primary school teacher who ‘volunteers’ to teach dance feeling confident, inspired and with a growing passion for dance that is infectious for students.
The key lies in providing schools with a foolproof and comprehensive teaching resource for dance, which any number of teachers can use.
Although there are many dance resources available, most complement an existing dance programme rather than being a ‘dance bible’ for busy teachers. At slanteddance, our aim has been to create a comprehensive, totally flexible scheme of work for EYFS-KS2 dance. We realised that it needed to meet current curriculum needs, provide easy-to use lesson plans (schemes of work) and at the same time teach teachers how to structure a dance lesson so that as their confidence grew, they would be able – if they wanted – to create their own lesson plans with the same confidence. It also needed to be flexible enough to accommodate a single dance lesson, a block of dance activities or an academic year’s worth of lesson plans.
We felt it was important to incorporate practical tools – flashcards, reward charts, certificates – and that DVD-based training was vital to see the lessons in action. The manual is something that can be revisited time and time again, allowing any number of teachers to build from shared skills, teaching tips and techniques. Evaluation and the ability to chart progress was also key.
Central to the slanteddance programme is a structured methodology for every lesson: SESCC.
Our SESCC methodology is borne out of professional dance teaching:
- S = Starter (learning objectives and starter activity)
- E = Energiser (warm up)
- S = Skill Build (specific dance techniques and moves)
- C = Creative (freedom for personal expression/interpretation + performance and feedback)
- C = Close (cold down, recap and goals for next time)
Any theme or topic can be created using this format to ensure a safe, effective, engaging dance lesson. We provide a growing library of lesson plans, but our hope is that as teachers grow in confidence they will create their own, which can potentially be shared with other teachers.
A dance network
This idea of teachers sharing lesson plans and lending support to one another has subsequently led us to create a free network for primary school dance teachers, with half-termly newsletters. The network offers up to date information on curriculum changes that affect dance, alerts teachers to new lesson plans, and provides a forum for conversation, support and sharing best practice.
By now you may be thinking “Hmm. That’s all very well. You are professional dancers and I simply can’t imagine anyone making me feel confident about teaching dance”. Claire Levitt was one such teacher.
Inspiring dance in Attleborough Infant School
Attleborough Infant School is one of the largest infant schools in Norfolk. As a Yr X teacher, Claire Levitt was asked to take on dance for EYFS & KS1. After significant research into the resources available and conversations with Martin Radmore, Norfolk County Council’s PE Co-ordinator, a decision was made to buy the slanteddance Education Pack. Eight days after receiving the pack a team of teachers used their newfound confidence to run a four-day, mixed-gender afternoon dance club. In just four sessions and with very little planning, the students were able to work collaboratively to choreograph a dance, selecting their own music and incorporating the key movement skills they had just learnt.
In Claire’s words: “So much learning took place so quickly. It was an amazing moment to see, assess what they had been learning, as well as building their creativity and expression.” The feedback was unanimous in support of a regular dance club. In identifying what made it so successful, Claire says “The SESCC structure made it easy to build skills and creativity…it’s easy to follow and full of ideas…and the lessons in the DVDS with running commentary mean that you hear why the dance teachers make the choice they do throughout the class. This is a tool I will go back to again and again. Each time I watch it I get something new from it.”
Perhaps most telling of all is Claire’s parting comment: “A huge thank you for 100% improving my confidence!”.
Article published in Primary Teacher Update- July 2014
 Dance Manifesto quoting a Physical Education and School Sport Club Links survey, taken from the Foreword of YDE’s ‘Dance In and Beyond Schools’ publication