Why Teach Dance in PE?

I had a long conversation with a frustrated father last week. He wants his son to study in the library instead of participating in dance in physical education because the dance unit is a “waste of his son’s time”.

He stated that his son is an “elite athlete, who should be training not dancing, and if he can’t train he should use the time productively in the library”. I explained to the father that dance is an important part of movement development and social development but he was not going to be convinced.

Dance in Physical Education

This conversation left me asking myself, “why teach dance”?  Of course the national and state standards require it, but that’s not enough to persuade over 50% of the physical education teachers I know.  That’s right, half of the teachers I know don’t teach dance! It will come as no surprise to you that those teachers don’t like to dance because they don’t think they are good at it and find it embarrassing.  I’m sure it will also come as no surprise to you that 95% of these teachers are men.  Another supporting fact about these men is that they did not learn to dance in their physical education classes, probably because they were all “elite athletes”.

Dance Could be the Most Important Skill for Students in PE

So, again, the question on my mind is “why teach dance”?  How about this, it could be the most important skill that students will learn in physical education.  Dance is a series of support skills and fitness options that enhance every other activity a person will do.

For example, spatial awareness and movement development are necessary in every sport an “elite athlete” will participate in.  Rhythm and timing are essential in most activities, and cardiorespiratory endurance and flexibility are important for maintaining fitness, improving performance, and injury prevention. 

Students jumping

Beyond the physical advantages, dance in physical education also provides social opportunities for students to work together in a non-competitive co-ed environment.  Finally, we should teach dance because it’s fun and it feels good to move freely, jumping and spinning, leaping and dancing.

I have been teaching dance to 7th and 8th grade students for 15 years. My unit has been praised by students (boys and girls alike) parents, colleagues, and administrators, so I want to share my recipe for success.

What Students Need to Know:

  • Show students that dance is part of their pop culture through YouTube videos, movies, and TV. Ask students if they know of any good videos to show as well.
  • Tell them why dance is a great skill physically, physiologically, and socially.  Emphasize how it can enhance different aspects of their lives such as athletic performance, personal enjoyment, and social interaction.
  • Find a dance that they can relate to culturally. I am in San Diego so my “square dance” is a Circle Meringue. 
  • Encourage students who have dance skills to perform for the class. Make it “cool”. This may result in anything from break dancing to tap dancing so be prepared.

5 Tips for Teaching Dance in PE:

  1. I teach two days of “partner dancing”. I use a very watered down west coast swing.
  2. Partners are assigned and change every 3-5 minutes and I give everyone a squirt of hand sanitizer.
  3. Before we begin I have a serious talk with the students about behavior including eye rolling and body language.
  4. I also bring in a specialist. In my case this is our Vice Principal who is tall and fit and loves to dance.  He talks with just the boys about why it’s cool to dance and very un-cool to be rude. I talk with the girls about how they have a big responsibility to help the boys enjoy dancing so that they will have someone to dance with at their senior prom in 4 years.
  5. Finally I teach a flash mob dance to the graduating class that they perform on an unspecified day to surprise the younger students and faculty.

I realize that one important reason my dance unit is successful is because I love it so much, and we all teach what we love with more passion than things that we don’t love. But I hope my passion and my commitment to the importance of teaching dance in physical education will influence even the most elite athletes to open their minds and bodies to the opportunities dance can provide.

Suzanne is a Physical Education Teacher at Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla, CA. She is also an Adjunct Professor Adjunct at the University of San Deigo, CA, and an Advisor for the BTSA program for new teachers.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I loved when you mentioned how you should look for a dance that people can relate to. It is always a good idea to look for a professional to teach you. We want to enroll our girls in tap dancing, so I’m glad I found this.

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