6 Tips for a Successful Kids (Dance) Fitness Program

Let's get our kids more active! Use these 6 tips from an educator and fitness professional to develop successful youth dance, fitness, or sports programs in schools, community centers, and gyms.

In the beginning, I had a small mission: to provide a new dance opportunity for kids. I knew that many of my elementary students were gaga about dance but their families could NOT afford dance lessons. This motivated me to research, plan, and launch our school’s first Wildcat Dance Club, which we made free for participants.

Forty kids registered and showed up each week to connect with each other, practice new dance patterns, and get lost in the music. At the end of each practice, they went home with an endorphin rush, and I went home with confidence that what I was doing mattered. My mission had morphed into a huge sense of reward.

If you’re ready to offer those same connections with kids in your area—albeit at a school or fitness facility—here are 6 tips to successfully develop and manage your own kids (dance) fitness club.

Throughout this article you’ll also see Case Study Examples from my experience creating the Wildcat Dance Club.

1. Establish the Parameters

There are four major parameters to consider when creating a youth fitness program. You will use these to support your marketing efforts and programming decisions.

  • Ages
  • Class Duration
  • Session Length
  • Enrollment Size

Determine what ages you want to work with, how many minutes class will run, how many weeks you’ll run your session, and how many kids you’ll allow to register for that session. Remember, you should have a solid knowledge base around the physical literacy and physiological development of whatever age group you choose to work with.

It’s also important to understand the difference in biological and chronological age as it relates to lumping groups of kids together. There are also requirements of student to adult ratios when working with youth. Check with your facility to ensure you have enough teachers to match the enrollment numbers.

It’s beneficial to run the clubs/programs as a session (with an ending point) rather than offering it indefinitely. This allows you to make changes in your parameters for the next session, should you need to.

Case Study Example: My Wildcats

I opened the enrollment for my Dance Club to upper-elementary students (4th and 5th graders) knowing they have longer attention spans and more control over their bodies. I established this club would meet once a week for an hour after school for a 10-week session.

I also capped my enrollment at 40, which is very large with a 1:40 teacher:student ratio. However, considering I’ve been a classroom teacher for 16 years, I was confident that I could manage that many students in our school’s gym. If you’re not trained in managing student behavior (which most of you are not) or your fitness space is smaller than a gymnasium, consider capping your enrollment at 15 or 20. If you want to work with even younger kids, consider lowering your enrollment to 10-15.

2. Maintain Daily Routines and Procedures.

We’re all creatures of habit, and kids are more successful when they have a regular routine and procedure to follow. This allows for consistency and takes away an element of confusion or need to teach something new each class. Remember, you’re the teacher, so you need to establish routines in the following six areas and TRAIN kids on how you want them to act.

  • Enter the space
  • Where to put their things (provide cubby’s with their names to further decrease confusion from week to week)
  • Where to sit / stand (assigned spaces work great for this)
  • How to get equipment or any tools they may need during class
  • How to ask for help (raise hand, stand up, etc)
  • How to become silent (flickering of lights, clapping hands, etc)

This is not an all-inclusive list; consider what other procedures you you need for a smoothly-run class. Organize class to be run the same way every meeting (consider creating signs as reminders for each of these items).

It’s also important to consider the structure of the class (aka. the order in which you present the information). When you follow the same structure each class, students will know what’s coming and it’ll be easier to manage them.

Case Study Example: My Wildcats

My students entered the gym and sat in a specific location. Once I turned off the music and approached the students, they knew to become silent, ready for me to remind them of my expectations and make any announcements. Later during class when I needed to demonstrate some new steps, I used a clap and hand signal to quiet them down.

My class structure was the same each week: warm up song, strength song, stretch song, main dance routine, then concluded with five minutes of a “freestyle” dance-off, which was the kids’ favorite part of the class!

3. Focus On Progress, Not Outcome.

Expect that your kids won’t have good looking squats or start their steps on the 1 count. Trust me: this will bother you far more than it will ever bother them! For many kids, if they are feeling their muscles burn (despite their form) or they finally memorized the steps, they’re feeling successful—which should be our goal! Don’t get caught up in them needing to look a specific way, instead just let them enjoy the freedom of movement

Case Study Example: My Wildcats

Go watch video’s of kids moving and dancing. They are all over the place, but they’re still smiling!

4. Keep Music and Moves Clean and Simple.

To prevent copyright infringement issues, choose professionally-mixed fitness songs. However, make sure these songs are not just “clean,” but free from references to alcohol, drugs, and sexual innuendos. That’s right: the songs you use in your group-fitness classes are likely inappropriate for kids dance fitness. While it may be true that kids are hearing these songs on the radio when in the car with their parents, it’s your responsibility as a professional to keep the music clean.

Once you have your music selected, make sure your choreography is basic with repetition, so the kids get a taste of success. The more you repeat the same move, the better they will be at remembering it and having fun with the routine. While you may want to change things regularly, kids will be more successful at repetition and simplicity in movement.

5. Provide a Performance.

Kids, like adults, put forth more effort and energy when they know they will soon perform for an audience. It gives purpose to the hours of practice each week. This can be as simple as a final “Parent Performance” at the end of the session. Just be sure to plan and announce this information early in your session, so kids know that it will be coming. They will focus and work harder from the beginning.

Case Study Example: My Wildcats

At the start of our 10-week session, I informed the kids that we would be performing in an all-school assembly at the 7-week mark. I also assured them that if they were nervous about this, they would be able to stand in the back row during the performance. Later in our session, I was able to add an optional second performance at our school’s “Fall Fitness Night,” which included a Zumba session.

6. Keep Things Light & Fun!!!

However you choose to design and manage your kids (dance) fitness club, remember to keep things light and fun. If you have any struggles, make adjustments. Don’t stress out over making it perfect, instead just allow the kids to move and enjoy themselves. And always keep in mind the positive connections you are fostering in our youngest generation!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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