Social Dances for Upper Elementary

Some fun social dances to try with your upper-elementary-level students


With increasing physical coordination and cognitive abilities, students in the upper elementary grades are at an ideal stage to broaden their dance experience with more complex movements and challenging rhythms. This is also an age at which positive dance experiences can help students build self-confidence and develop interpersonal skills. Moreover, social dance fosters cooperation and builds community—benefits that have the potential to transform your classroom.


Dabke Music Suggestions

“Dabka Men Hal Wade” by Sabah
“Ala Dalona” by Bilal Hakkani


The dabke (pronounced DEB-keh) is a folk dance from the eastern Mediterranean, where it is most often danced for weddings and other celebrations. This dance is done in a line that traces a circular path on the floor. Students should line up shoulder-to-shoulder and holding hands, with you (or someone who knows the dance) at the right end of the line to lead.

The step pattern follows a 6-count cycle as you trace a circular path to the right:

Count 1. Moving to the right, cross the left foot in front of the right and transfer weight to the left foot.
Count 2. Bring the right foot beside the left.
Count 3. Repeat: Cross the left foot in front of the right.
Count 4. Bring the right foot beside the left.
Count 5. Lift the left foot for a low kick.
Count 6. Stomp it down forcefully and loudly beside the right foot.

As students become more adept, let them have a turn as the leader.

Add some math: For multiplication practice, have students count all their steps—every time they stomp, students will know that the number is a multiple of 6.


Merengue Music Suggestions

“No Aparecen” by Juan Luis Guerra
”Solo Faltas Tu” by Milly Quezada

Polka Music Suggestions

“Raisin Nut Polka” by Nancy Hlad
“Marina” by Los Texmaniacs
“Polka” by Emil Chakalov and London Concertante (from Gypsy Strings)
“Polkas: West Kerry Polka/Murphy’s Polka/Daly’s Mill” by Donal Murphy
“Clarinette Polka” by Ti-Noir Joyal


The merengue (muh-RENG-gey) is an easy partner dance from the Dominican Republic that helps students learn to work together and follow each other’s cues. Have students find a partner and decide who will lead and who will follow.

  1. Partners face each other with hands joined in an easy grip at waist height.
  2. Do the basic 2-beat movement—a simple step to the side with one foot joined by the other foot on the second beat, like this:

Count 1: The leader steps out with the right foot; the follower mirrors the leader’s motion, stepping out with the left.
Count 2: The leader’s left foot joins the right; the follower’s right foot joins the left.
The leader directs the pair in any direction. (You may want to have the whole class move around the room in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.)

  1. Switch roles after a few minutes.


  • Stay loose.
  • Step on a bent knee each time so that the hip lowers and rises.
  • Keep the upper body relatively still (but not stiff!).
  • Leaders: Choose the direction and make sure you and your partner don’t run into anything or anyone.
  • Followers: Move with the leader by paying attention to the leader’s changes of weight and direction.


Originally a 19th-century dance from central Europe, the polka today is a dance enjoyed throughout Europe, North America, and Latin America. At tempo, polka can be described as a sequence of “gallop-and-skip” steps. You will find that the unique rhythm of polka music helps the steps to flow naturally. Have students pair up and decide who will lead and who will follow.

  1. Partners face each other and hold hands in an easy grip at waist height.
  2. The leader steps first with the left foot, the follower with the right. (You may find it easier to start out by practicing the step in a circle or a long line, with all dancers starting with the same foot.)
  3. Following the beat of the music, each person takes one long step, followed by two short steps.
  4. Repeat, beginning with the other foot.
  5. The leader cues the follower as each couple moves around the room in a counterclockwise direction. It is the job of the leader to make sure neither partner runs into an obstacle or another couple.
  6. Switch roles.

As students get more comfortable and can do the dance at a fast tempo, try it with recordings of polkas from different musical styles (see the sidebar) and compare the different “feel” of the dances.


Virginia Reel Music Suggestions

Any track from Dancing Bow and Singing Strings by Tracy Schwarz (start with the first tracks, which are slower)

Virginia reel

This partners dance is a classic from the Appalachian tradition. It is classified as a “contra” dance because partners face each other in two lines and progress to the top of the set. You will be the caller at the beginning; as your students develop proficiency you may eventually choose a student to be the caller. Have students find partners and designate one partner an “A” and the other, a “B.” Partners should line up opposite each other so that the “A” partners are in a line facing the “B” partners about six feet apart—this formation is called the “set.” It works well to have about 6 couples in each set. Designate the couple at one end of the set to be the “head couple.”

  1. “Two lines, forward and back.” Both lines take 3 steps forward; dancers clap both hands overhead with their partner’s hands and then take 3 steps back.
  2. “Right hands around.” Partners grasp right hands in a handshake grip, then walk around each other one full rotation and back to the line.
  3. “Left hands around.” Partners grasp left hands in a handshake grip, then walk around each other one full rotation and back to the line. Or add silly calls here if you like—“wiggle like a rubber band” or “waddle like a duck,” or anything else you come up with.
  4. “Head couple sashay down.” The head couple joins both hands and gallops sideways between the two lines to the end of the set, and then back up to their starting place.
  5. “Start that reel with the right elbow.” The two students in the head couple link right arms and walk around each other 1 1/2 times.
  6. “Right to your partner, left to the line.”
  • Each member of the head couple goes to the next person in the opposite line and does an elbow swing with the left arm, one full rotation.
  • The head couple dancers return to the center and swing each other with the right elbow, then go on to the next person in the opposite line for a left elbow swing.
  • They continue this way until they reach the end of the opposite line.
  • The head couple sashays back to the top of the set and returns to their original place.
  1. “Heads peel off.”
  • The head couple dancers lead their lines around the outside of the set.
  • The head couple meets and forms an arch at the bottom of the set.
  • Each following couple meets, joins hands, proceeds underneath the head couple’s arch, and then sashays back to place.
  • The original head couple stays at the bottom of the set, leaving a new head couple at the top.

Repeat the entire dance, with the new head couple performing the reel until every couple has a turn as the head couple.


Editors & Producers

Marcia Friedman

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Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



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