“I Hate Dance;” Finding Common Ground

Right before break, a fifth grade boy chose not to participate at all in my 30 minute class.
At all.

We had a familiar conversation that ended with him saying, “I hate dance. I am never going to dance so I don’t see what I have learn in this class.” And then the bell rang, the school day was over and our two week Winter break began. The conversation has been playing in my mind since.

Common GroundIt isn’t that he or other students haven’t said the same or similar statements before.

In fact, I recently spoke to this student’s dad about his general distaste for dance. His dad referenced this student’s involvement in soccer and suggested I use that when teaching the value of dance. Thing is, I don’t really think this kid enjoys soccer that much, either- at least not in the way that connecting dance to the sport would excite him. My sense is that he enjoys soccer for the steam he blows off- not necessarily the skills he is developing in a technical sense.

Given time and opportunity, I can usually bring these students around to seeing that it is worth listening and actively watching, and usually they end up moving. This latest exchange has prompted a larger scale reflection, however.

I think same old arguments for ‘why students should dance’ used 10 and 15 years ago don’t really work as well now.

Life is different. The learning environment is different. Students’ needs are different.

I wonder – how do we make dance relevant to all students?

The discovery of movement is a glorious thing. It is what keeps us dancing and talking about dance, isn’t it? But what about those that don’t have an innate love for dance and need a reason to buy in? What do we have in common with them?

Bodies and a need to communicate.

Over the last few months, I have revisited some stellar books that are shifting my attitudes about teaching and right now I see an opportunity and a reason to put some new ideas into play.

Here is my recent reading list:
Moving Lessons: Margaret H’Doubler and the Beginning of Dance in American Education by Janice Ross
Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance by Janice Ross

Teaching Dance Studies Edited by Judith Chazin-Bennahum
The Dance in Theory by John Martin
I Want to Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom by Danielle Goldman
The Body Eclectic: Evolving Practices in Dance Training

Theory to Practice

Creative movement has been a common element in my teaching of all ages for the problem-solving, higher-order thinking it involves and promotes. Improvisation, as a more formalized link to choreography has also been a natural and important element to my classes, particularly for middle school and high school students.

This semester, however, I am inspired to use improvisation to bring awareness to human movement potential, to treat it as a creative product and not simply a source for generating movement. I plan to introduce this approach even to my youngest students in ways we haven’t moved creatively before.

Why not give students time and space to process how their body works, as it is inclined to work.

Let’s honor our bodies as source material as well as the vehicle for blowing off steam.

Let’s value movement for its technical properties as well as purely functional ones.

Let’s permit students’ bodies do the thinking for them and teach them to value that very thinking- at least 30 minutes a week.

We want to hear your thoughts!

How do you make dance relevant to the students in your classroom?

Heather Vaughan-Southard
Heather Vaughan-Southward specializes in connection and community building. She offers project-based learning in K-12 and healthcare contexts, pedagogy consultation, and creative-self-care experiences. Heather formerly directed dance programs in Higher Education and K-12 settings and danced professionally in Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles, and through-out Michigan. She represents Dance for the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project (MAEIA), serves as a columnist for Dance Advantage, authors the blog EducatingDancers, and was invited to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Dance Education. She is a national conference presenter in the fields of dance and movement pedagogy and is completing a comprehensive pilates certification through the McEntire School. Heather currently serves as Director of Health and Education Services for Happendance, Inc., a non-profit dance organization based in Michigan. Heather is married to author Scott D. Southard and has two children who seem to be in perpetual motion.
Heather Vaughan-Southard


  1. I commiserate with the “I hate dance” boy. I was not a mover as a child. It was not normal or natural for me to move much at all. As much as I loved music and began music instrument lessons at an early age, it did not inspire me to move. Quite the opposite, beautiful music inspired me to sit very still to capture every nuance, feeling it in my body and soul meant being silent and motionless. Because of asthma, I was excused from most physical activity and I spent that time alone, reading, thinking, or listening to classical music . It made me happy to be still and tranquil.

    As an adult, I have found a deep and abiding love for dance. Lots of movement is still not natural for me and my dancing is a very intellectual and internalized practice. I do believe that movement is inherent to our humanity but I also have to accept that it will not be the same type of motion nor will it be inspired by the same things in all people. Sometimes it is hard for others, especially those who love dance profoundly, to understand the need for stillness vs. movement. Perhaps those of us for whom movement is not natural require more time to locate the source of physical gesture within the body. Perhaps we just need a greater sense of safety because movement feels foreign to our processing. Whatever the case, I wish you lots of good luck as you explore ways to inspire movement in and for your students, teaching dance to young people is a noble calling indeed.

  2. Heather Vaughan-Southard says:

    Thank you for a lovely, insightful response!

  3. Andrew Stone says:

    Teach Argentine Tango 🙂

    As someone who experienced many dance forms before discovering Argentine Tango – Tango was the defining educational experience.

    Dance is balance, movement control, musicality. Partner dance is shared balance, shared movement control, shared musicality.

    Dance is usually taught badly. It’s taught backwards. Movement before musicality.

    Most successful dance teachers ‘weed out’ the best dancers. Musically aware dancers are rare, and have great difficulty following set routines and steps. When the class steps right – they will step left.

    An intiutive, natural dancer will have a routine in their head quite different to the teachers – and their body will instinctively try to follow the music. Following a set routine requires of them extraordinary discipline – they have to move in a way the oppostie to what their instinct tells them.

    People who hate dance often hate the lack of musicality of many teachers. Or the process of learning physical control without a musical context.

    My experience is that the worst dancers – if they persist – often turn out to be the most talented dancers

  4. I don’t think you should pressure him to dance. Maybe he just wants to appreciate other people dancing. And that’s ok. Let him join in if he wants, but any pressure you apply will likely push him farther away.

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