The early grades are an ideal time to introduce children to different styles of dance. At this age, children are eager to explore all the ways their bodies can move and are open to taking risks and following cues. They enjoy moving to music and interacting with their peers on the dance floor.
What’s more, students who have positive experiences with dancing at this age are much more likely to seek out these experiences as they get older. It’s been shown that dance benefits children (and adults!) physically, socially, and emotionally. Your efforts to get your students dancing now may pay handsome dividends for them later in their lives.
These easy social dances are a great place to start. And in case you need a cheat sheet for leading the dancing, these dances are easily printable!
Basic Appalachian Circle Dance Music Suggestions
“A Bear With a Fiddle in the Middle of the Woods” by Brent Holmes
“Black-Eyed Daisy” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops
Hora Music Suggestions
“Hora” from The Greek Folk Instruments: Clarinet
“Hava Nagila” (any version)
“Freylekh Jamboree” by the Klezmer Conservatory Band
Scarf Dance Music Suggestions The dance is traditionally done with all dancers singing a call-and-response chant while dancing. Try “A Chant From West Africa” or another song from Call and Response by Ella Jenkins.
Basic Appalachian Circle Dance
Building community and group cohesion, circle dances can be found in many different cultures. You should plan to be the “caller” of this dance. Aim for 8 beats of music per movement (or longer if your students need it).
- “All join hands and circle to the left.”
- “Halfway back down the same old track.” Holding hands, circle back to the right.
- “Step with your feet and clap the beat.” Drop hands and clap to the rhythm while circling.
- “Come into the center with a whoop and a holler.” Grasp hands, walk to the center of the circle with a whoop, then back out.
- Repeat steps 1 through 4 in any order you choose.
- To end the dance, position yourself in the circle of students while they are circling left. Let go of the hand of the student on your left. Lead the line of students (with hands still joined) around the room, out the door, or wherever you would like to take them.
The hora is a traditional dance that is popular in Israel and Eastern Europe and enjoyed at weddings and other festive celebrations. The dance is done in a circle with joined hands and uses the 4-count “grapevine” step.
Count 1. Moving to the right, lift the left foot and cross it in front of the right foot, shifting weight to the left foot.
Count 2. Move the right foot right to join the left foot.
Count 3. Move the left foot behind the right as weight is shifted to the left foot.
Count 4. The right foot joins the left again.
Repeat numerous times. When your students are comfortable, mix it up:
- Stop, raise joined hands, move toward the center of the circle and back out again, and then resume grapevine.
- The leader (you first, later a student) drops the hand of the person on the right and leads the line around the room.
Inspired by a women’s dance from Togo, West Africa, this is a simple and fun dance activity for any age. Gather enough unique scarves so that each student will have one. The scarves must be long enough for students to loop around their waist.
1. Standing in a circle, loop scarf loosely around hips and hold it (don’t tie!) together in front with the left hand.
2. Turn to the right and use the right hand to loosely hold the scarf of the person in front of you.
3. Step forward with the right foot, leaning slightly forward with the upper body.
4. Bring the left foot to the right, and stand up straight again.
5. Repeat 6 to 8 times.
6. Stop. Remove and pass scarf to the person behind.
Repeat steps 1 through 6 until scarves are back where they started.
Conga Line Music Suggestions
“Hot Hot Hot” by the Island Club Players
“…Conga Line” by Gene Mitchell and the Big Coconut Band
The conga line is a dance that originated in Afro-Cuban tradition. An easy and inclusive dance, today it is enjoyed at parties everywhere.
- Form a line and place hands on the shoulders or waist of the person in front of you (or do the dance without contact).
- Take 3 steps and kick, like this: step right, step left, step right, kick left.
- Repeat starting with the opposite foot.
- Keep going!
Kentucky Running Set Music Suggestions
Any track from Dancing Bow and Singing Strings by Tracy Schwarz (start with the first tracks, which are slower)
Kentucky running set
As the name implies, this mixer dance originates from the middle Appalachian Mountains. You will be the dance caller; students should find a partner. The dance typically includes a series of two-couple figures as well as movements in a big circle. For simplicity, this version includes just the “birdie in a cage” figure (steps 6-8); be sure to have students practice it before you put the dance to music.
- “All join hands and circle to the left.” With the whole group in a big circle and dancers next to their partner, move leftward 8 beats.
- “Halfway back down the same old track.” Walk right 8 beats.
- “Into the center with a whoop and a holler.” Move to center of the circle and back out again for 8 beats.
- “Find another couple and circle up four. Circle to the left.” Each couple finds another couple, joins hands, and circles left in this group of four.
- “Circle to the right.”
- “Birdie in a cage.” One dancer hops into the center of the circle and does an improvised dance (flap elbows like a bird, or anything else) while the other three hold hands circling right.
- “This birdie out, the next one in.” After about 8 beats of music, the first “birdie” hops out and joins the circle while her partner hops in. Repeat two more times for each dancer to have a turn in the “cage.”
- “Swing your partner.” Partners join hands and turn in a circle.
- “Find another couple and circle up four. Circle to the left.” Each pair finds a different couple and joins hands, circling left..
- “Birdie in a cage.”.
- “This birdie out, the next one in.” Three times, then “swing your partner.”.
- Repeat steps 9 through 11 as many times as you like..
- “All join hands and circle to the left.” All students join hands in a big circle..
- “Circle right.”.
- “Swing your partner.”.
- And last but not least: “Thank your partner!”.