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Getting ready for class: Icebreaker

Form and/or Function

Fostering appropriate ways of participating in a dance class, creating access and inclusion is a process that the teacher can and needs to guide. This includes getting the participants to meet each other, to work collaboratively, encouraging trial and error, contributing, making informed choices, creating their own movements, etc. Games are a great way to practice these social and learning behaviours.

The teaching approaches presented here value diversity and creating access. This relies on the participants’ ability to work collaboratively, articulate ideas, make choices and to problem solve.

It is not enough to state these values and learning behaviours in words; this is something that needs to be practiced. Some games particularly lend themselves to a new class group: facilitating first meeting, integrating new participants, marking the start of a new term and/or to introduce and practice specific learning strategies.

Notes on our approach

There are of course numerous icebreaker games. During the research week we used the almost ubiquitous Move Around the Space and then played Starting and Stopping, first led by the teacher by calling out, then by the participants taking turns calling out ‘stop!’ and ‘start!’, and then by sensing the stops and starts as a group. Simple as it is, this was an important practice: to register the teacher’s voice, to have a voice as a participant, to establish taking turns and to develop a sense of the group.We developed this game by continuing to move around the space and playing Find Others who Share a Similar Trait, focusing on very generic characteristics like:

    • Hair colour
    • Hand or shoe size
    • Height
    • Favourite food, colour, game etc.

On observing the class, the teacher can choose several suitable criteria. I deliberately avoid divisive identity categories including; race, gender, disability, etc. As a development the dancers can call out criteria. This may lead to a discussion of what categories to use, remembering what categories have been used previously, etc.

Depending on the group or task, the participants use different strategies to find partners and create matching groups. They look around, call out and declare, touch and compare.

Inevitably, the class forms groups of various sizes from: one, to pairs, small groups and potentially the whole group. As you play this a number of times, get the participants to observe how the group size and constellation changes. I may also ask each group to give themselves a name (e.g. dark haired, just the right size, reaching the cookie jar, etc.)

Playing the game allows me to point out that sometimes we share a trait with many people while at other times we are unique within a group. Sometimes we match and sometimes we contrast each other. Self-labelling is played as a game and often allows me to address such terms as ‘normal’ and suggest the use of the word ‘average’ instead, or make the use of these terms relative to the group we are working with, e.g. ‘in this group our hand size is average / medium / the majority’.