Teaching Spanish through Dance
The Rhythm Gets You Going
Learning Spanish through dance captivates your students (and maybe you, too!) in a number of ways:
- It breaks up the boredom of rote memorization drill.
- The irresistible rhythm of dance music helps get your students' attention.
- The chance to move will help kinesthetic learners retain information.
- Students learn to connect the concepts of rhythm, movement, tempo and music directly with the appropriate Spanish words, helping them ease into the idea of thinking in Spanish, instead of translating back and forth between Spanish and English.
Be Your Own Lord of the Dance
If you're going to teach your students a few dance steps (and the commands to go with them), you must first learn the steps yourself. Don't fret — you don't have to be an expert, but you should at least be able to identify the right type of music and teach the most basic steps. Have a friend that knows how to dance teach you, or take a couple of classes from an expert. You can even learn online with free basic lessons from sites like www.LearnToDance.com or the Salsa & Merengue Society. Once you're ready to teach your students, keep it simple. Instead of standing in front of them and narrating how the dance will go, show them. Keep the commentary as simple and to the point as possible. The body movement, music and rhythm all combine to give your students a better chance of internalizing new phrases and retaining them.
You can work dance into almost any lesson plan. Don't limit yourself strictly to formal partner dances; you don't even have to stick to traditionally "Latin" dances. Use the Hokey Pokey, line dancing or disco to get your students up and moving; sometimes the sillier the dance is, the more your students will remember. Here are a few ideas to get you rolling:
- Invite a local Spanish speaker that also dances into class to teach a few steps. Dance teachers and performers make great guests, but like you, your guest doesn't need to be a pro to teach a few basic moves.
- Use the Macarena to teach body parts — call each body part out as you touch it, while following the pattern of the dance.
- Play "Follow the Leader." Students take turns as the leader, calling out a body part and then a verb to describe what students should do with it — all in Spanish, of course. For example, "Move your hands!" would become "Mueven las manos!" and so on.
- Narrate a line dance for your students, again supplying the words for body parts and movements as the students do them.
- Feeling especially brave? Try calling square dance moves in Spanish.
Going back to formal dances, don't underestimate their power as cultural teachers. Dance is central to culture in some Spanish-speaking countries, and even if your students don't turn into professional dancers, being able to initiate, conduct and then close a dance with a partner will make simple greetings and farewells a whole lot less imposing. When that happens, you know your mission has been accomplished.
Author's own experience.
For more information on using dance in the Spanish classroom, please see Spanish Vocabulary for Dance.