Collective Wisdom | Classroom Connection: Acting the Dance

Ideas & advice from teachers

If your dancers don’t have acting backgrounds, it can be a challenge to help them emotionally connect to choreography. Dancers who can create fully developed characters, and who genuinely understand a piece’s emotional or narrative content, will shine onstage. Here are a few simple guidelines to help make that happen:

Create and maintain a safe environment. Acting requires performers to step outside their comfort zones and take risks. It is critical that dancers feel safe in your care, and with their peers, when exploring emotions and developing their characters.

With a welcoming and enthusiastic vibe, gather your dancers in a circle and clearly outline your expectations regarding behavior. Allow students to contribute their ideas about creating a safe space. Watch for subtle signs of negative energy such as eye rolling or whispering, and squash negative behavior immediately.

Read the song’s lyrics as a monologue. Have a dancer read the lyrics out loud as if the text were a monologue in a play. Ask students to identify heightened moments or meaningful words—there are no wrong answers. The discoveries from this exercise might surprise you, and you can use that information to help your dancers make connections with the choreography.

Listen or dance to an instrumental version of the song. While the song is playing, have your dancers improvise or write down their initial reactions. This exercise helps dancers connect to the mood of the piece and will deepen their emotional connection to their characters.

Rewrite the lyrics. As a homework assignment, prompt dancers to rewrite the lyrics using their own words. This allows dancers to put themselves in their characters’ shoes, and connect with their characters’ true voices.

—Samantha Bower


Samantha Bower is artistic director of the Performing Arts Connection in Sudbury, Massachusetts.