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Dance Education Blog

NDEO's "Dance Education" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Read and Dance Activities

One of my favorite ways to get children up and moving is to read a story, and then use ideas from the story as movement prompts. I have been using Read and Dance activities in my children’s dance classes for years, using a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction children’s books, as well as poems and original stories.

Some of the Main Benefits of a Read and Dance Activity:

  • Comprehension
  • Sequencing
  • Identifying with and understanding different characters in the story
  • Exploring and learning about the story’s setting
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • Recognition of rhyme and rhythm 
  • Fun and lively physical activity and movement exploration
  • Social-Emotional Learning (SEL):  Group cooperation; creativity; problem solving; listening to, understanding and responding to instructions; self-expression; body awareness; empathizing with characters and situations in the story
  • Kinesthetic learning of the subjects/concepts/material in the story

Below is the general format I have developed and used to create dance stories from books, poems, and verses, varying it to fit different stories and situations.

How to Create a Dance Story

1. Select 5–7 images in a book (or song, poem, or story) that could spark movement ideas, such as descriptions of a character, pictures or words that depict action, or other images to spur the imagination. Through the exploration, children can bring the story to life.

2. Choose music for the dance story. Use a quiet piece, preferably an instrumental, for the background, and then use a more upbeat song (related to the subject matter in the story) or instrumental selection for the free dance to conclude the activity.

3. Read the book aloud to the class. Ask the children to spread out in the space available to you. Before you begin the dance story, remind them to be aware of others in the shared space. (Note: This activity can be done with each child in a home spot, and moving in a small circumference around that spot. If you have a large space, the children can move more freely throughout the space).

4. Play the quiet background music. In the order they happen, retell the highlights of the story (using the 5–7 images you chose) and call out movement prompts. Allow each section to develop. The children will naturally think of variations as they relive the story through movement. Pick up on these, and add your own ideas, so that each section is fully explored, and only then move on to the next movement prompt.

5.  Once you have finished guiding the children to retell the story through movement, reinforce learning by encouraging the children to dance freely, using ideas from the above explorations, or anything else they want to dance about. Play the upbeat musical selection. Use props related to the story, if available. For example, if your story is about kites, pass out colorful streamers for the children to use as kite tails.  If your story is about snow, use shower scrubbies or small strips of netting tied together for snowflakes (illustration).

6. Bring the story to a conclusion. You can do this through movement by asking the children to hold a final position that relates to an idea in the story, or to return to their original spots. Hold a follow-up discussion about the story or about the children’s movement experiences.

For more Read and Dance ideas, I invite you to explore From A to Z with Energy!, my new rhyming picture book. The book, geared toward children ages 3 to 6, along with parents, teachers, librarians, and caregivers, offers ideas for staying active while learning and reading about the alphabet. You can learn more about the book here.

Connie Dow grew up in Cincinnati, attended Denison University, and then received her MFA from the University of Michigan. She performed professionally for ten years in dance companies in both the US and Latin America. She has been active in the field of dance education for more than forty years. She is the author of Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! Enriching Movement Activities for Preschoolers (2006); and One, Two, What Can I Do? Dance and Music for the Whole Day (2011), both published by Redleaf Press. Her most recent book, From A to Z with Energy! was published by Free Spirit in April, 2019. She has has also written articles in journals and magazines. Her dance journey, from training to performing, to teaching children and adults, to writing and appreciating all forms of dance, has led her to an understanding of the importance of movement in our lives. She continues to share her passion for dance by writing, teaching, volunteering, and creating community dance projects, as well as offering movement workshops to early childhood professionals. She feels strongly that dance, and the other arts, are not ‘extras;’ they are essential and transformational forces in our lives.  

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