Bust a Move! How to Use Dance Breaks to Get Students Reenergized and Refocused in the Classroom

video still dance breaks

Fostering classroom attention and participation can be as easy as “5, 6, 7, 8!” The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Program in Nutrition at Teachers College, Columbia University has developed an innovative and fun way to get students out of their chairs and onto the (imaginary) dance floor during the school day. The Tisch Food Center’s Dance Breaks videos, a series of instructional dance videos featuring hits like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay,” provide students an active and engaging break to their mostly sedentary day of learning. Research shows that physical activity in the classroom is associated with increased academic performance, which means that Dance Breaks are not only lively and entertaining, but are also pivotal to students’ learning!

Teachers need not be intimidated if they don’t have the dancing skills of Beyoncé, because coaches in the instructional videos lead the class in dance moves meant for all skill levels. To incorporate Dance Breaks into your school day and kick start students’ motivation to learn, follows these simple suggestions:

Prepare the Dance Floor

  • Assign a designated space for Dance Breaks so students know where to go when you start. Choose an area with a non-slippery surface.
  • Ensure that the area is clear of potential tripping hazards like cables and wire, and ask students to push their chairs away from the area.

Let’s Dance!

  • Use similar phrases and signals, such as putting your hand up and making circles when the dance move is about to change, for each Dance Break to start and stop efficiently. 
  • Instructional videos can be found for free at Teachers College Dance Breaks. Dance Breaks last 3-5 minutes and can be used once or twice per day depending on your classroom’s needs.

Have fun!

  • Be enthusiastic and dance along with your students to make them more comfortable.
  • Use positive reinforcement and let your students know that they’re doing a great job.

Dancing Safely

  • Assess if any students have health conditions that might prevent them from participating in Dance Breaks.
  • Make sure you finish each dance break with a stretch (provided at the end of each video). Stretching cools students down and restores calm to the classroom before learning resumes.

Teachers and parents alike can use Dance Breaks as a fun way to reenergize children both inside the classroom and at home. Children will love learning some new dance moves and singing along to popular songs. In the words of one student-turned-dancer, “Dance Breaks help me focus on my work. I liked the Michael Jackson moves the best!” Take his word for it. Dust off those dancing shoes, stretch those limbs, and bust a move! 

For more infomation about Dance Breaks including example videos, visit: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/tisch/resources-overview/games-and-activities/dance-breaks-home/


Colleen Topper, Teachers College, Columbia University

Pam Koch, EdD, RD, Teachers College, Columbia University