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Ease children into rhythmic activities and dance with an icebreaker activity

This is an excerpt from Rhythmic Activities and Dance - 2E by John Bennett & Pamela Riemer.

by John Price Bennett, EdD and Pamela Coughenour Riemer, MA

Children need to know how to be social before they can dance together. Socialization comes from positive interaction in a nurturing environment with other children. Socialization occurs in several ways. Students touching each other (holding hands first) is a major obstacle (I call it a challenge).

One of the biggest barriers a teacher will face is attempting to have students work in partners. Students come to us with very little expertise in “social fitness.” We as teachers can use the activities in this chapter to ease the difficulty of working together in close quarters. We must always be patient and kind. We must allow absolutely no teasing of any student. The good thing about the methods in this chapter is that they allow connections with partners to be very brief so that students realize they will not be stuck with a particular partner. This is often the reason children do not like to choose partners.

The strategies in this chapter can only work if the students understand what it takes to make the class successful. They must know what makes them feel good about themselves and what gives them confidence is the very same thing their classmates need. Students cannot learn social skills unless the time is taken to help them learn. One such skill, dancing, has caused the feelings of many children to be hurt. This, in turn, has damaged their self-esteem, stripped them of their confidence, and adversely affected their self-image.

Another barrier is that students may absolutely balk at the very idea of dancing. A child might avoid learning rhythmic activities, saying, “I can't do it because it's too hard,” “I don't want to look silly in front of my friends,” “I'm too embarrassed,” or “That's stupid.” Whatever the excuse, they all come from the same source: a lack of self-confidence and security. If you ask adults why they haven't become comfortable enough to perform rhythmic and dance activities in front of others, you will hear the same reasons.

Easing students into rhythmic activities and dance

You can use many strategies to ease the social and mental barriers students have to learning rhythmic activities and dance. The rhythmic activities that follow are social, interactive activities that are meant to strengthen the foundation on which dance can be built. These approaches are tried and true. They help to create an atmosphere that will nurture the desire of students to dance for fun and fitness.


Help students learn rhythmic activities by helping them to become comfortable enough to abandon their insecurities and feelings of not wanting to dance.


Students start by sitting on the floor in a cozy cluster to ensure security.


  1. Students clap the rhythm of the activity. Next they snap their fingers to the rhythm. Students are to practice to the beat and get used to it. They will be much more successful if they first spend time learning the rhythm; they can then concentrate on the steps.
  2. Once the hand-clapping session is successful, ask the students to keep time to the music with their feet. They are still sitting in a scattered formation, so the worry of appearing awkward is absent. They keep time with the music by having each foot represent a beat and by alternating which foot strikes the beat. Which foot leads, or starts, has little significance at this point. You are trying to teach a rhythm and increase self-confidence, not teach a dance step. The students should practice with the music until they feel comfortable. You will probably see a high level of success. Walk around to accustom them to having you present; help and encourage them in such a way that you do not bring attention to them or embarrass them in front of their friends. If you present this step correctly, the students will feel challenged to be truly successful, and they will try even harder.
  3. The next phase begins to approach the standing-up portion of the process. Students come up to their knees, clap to the music, and then snap their fingers. Because they were successful with the clapping and snapping session, they will gladly come to their knees to try something new. They now have the background and self-confidence to want to try each challenge, seeing these challenges as adventures.
  4. At last it is time to stand up. Rather than having the students stand up, waiting to start the rhythm, have them stand up while they are clapping. Then change the clapping to snapping; the change will not be as noticeable. As soon as all students are up, they can begin keeping time with their feet. They will be at ease at this point because it is familiar and they have been successful at it.
  5. They are ready to learn any basic rhythmic dance step that you wish. Remember to begin by having students sit on the floor and from there to gradually let them come to a standing position.

Teaching Tips

  • Keep in mind that you teach the children, not the lesson. Help them to feel comfortable while they are sitting. They will then begin to show eagerness to move forward. This may take more time than you feel comfortable taking, but you will surely save time and accomplish more in the long run.
  • Using key words, such as slow and quick, will help the students get the correct rhythm with their dance steps and also help them differentiate the various dances. For example, while teaching the cha-cha, recite, “Slow, slow, quick, quick, quick.” While teaching the waltz, recite, “Slow, quick, quick”; for the foxtrot, “Slow, slow, quick, quick”; for the tango, “Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow”; for the shag, “Quick, quick, quick, quick, quick, quick, slow, slow.”
  • Have the kids move around the room doing the rhythmic pattern in all directions. Patterns make learning easy, since students are used to using patterns in math.

This is an excerpt from Rhythmic Activities and Dance.

More Excerpts From Rhythmic Activities and Dance 2E