When the sun sets before 5 pm and the temperatures hover below freezing for weeks on end, it’s tempting for us Midwesterners to curl up on the couch with a good book (or five) while we wait for the snow to melt and the sun to shine. But that lack of movement can lead to wiggly, unfocused, or irritable girls (And adults!). Try shaking up the winter blues by incorporating dance into your next troop meeting to get both brains and bodies moving.
Aside from being a great way to warm up on a cold winter day, dance allows girls to express themselves. You might notice that girls who are usually reserved with their words are the first to express themselves in movement. Plus, research by the National Dance Education Organization shows that dance helps meet social and emotional needs, is linked to the development of empathy, improves memory and recall, builds community—and it’s a whole lot of fun! Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a dance expert to get girls moving and exercising their creative voice. Keep reading for five easy dance games that you can use with your troop.
Before You Begin
- Expand your idea of what “dance” means. If your reference point is that one ballet recital, or that outstanding dancer from your favorite movie who makes you think, “There’s no way I can do that,” never fear because dance is a beautifully broad category—if you’re moving your body and having fun, then you’re dancing! As famous dancer, choreographer, and activist Alvin Ailey insisted, “Dance is for everybody!” (Plus, there’s a badge for it.)
- Play music! Instrumentals work well for the movement games listed below. Or you could have girls each contribute one favorite inspiring song to a playlist.
- As with everything in Girl Scouts, keep progression in mind when introducing movement. Start with more highly structured activities with clear instructions and then move toward more self-directed, creative activities as girls get more comfortable. If the word “dance” gives your troop stage fright, reframe it as “movement.” Help girls feel comfortable by participating yourself—and going all in! Stretching your comfort zone will help girls expand theirs.
- Keep girls safe. Clear the space of any potential obstacles, warm up and stretch, and never attempt to imitate more complicated movements you’ve seen without the proper instruction.
Game 1: Shapes
This game involves creating shapes with your body. Explain to girls that in this game, a “shape” doesn’t necessarily mean a square, circle, triangle, etc., but instead is any stationary position they can create with their body.
Instruct the girls to make any of the following types of shapes with their body. Challenge them to try to make different shapes than the girl next to them.
- Sharp (example: bent elbows with leg outstretched long)
- Round (example: spine curved, arms reaching rounded)
Once girls get the hang of making these types of shapes, you can ask them for other shape suggestions!
Game 2: Negative Space
This game is a great follow-up to the shape game and is loved by all ages. Tell the girls that the only rule of the negative space game is that the girls cannot touch each other. Explain that negative space is the open space surrounding an object or person. For example, if someone has their hands on their waist, the triangle space inside their arms would be negative space as well as space around the outside of their arms. It may be helpful to show a few examples of what negative space is before you start the game.
- Make a circle, ask one girl to go into the center and make any shape (use prompts from the shape game if needed).
- Ask a second girl to “fill in” the negative space created by the first girl with her own shape—remind her to not touch the first girl. (Example: Girl 1 makes a shape with her feet far apart and arms reaching up, Girl 2 reaches one leg under Girl 1’s legs and creates a wide circle around Girl 1’s waist with her arms).
- Encourage creative shapes and curiosity by asking questions like, “What would happen if you used your head to fill in the shape?”
If girls want an additional challenge, make a giant negative space sculpture, adding one girl at a time until all girls are connected by filling in the negative space.
Game 3: Mirrors
This game requires teamwork!
- Pair girls up and have each pair face each other. Ask each pair to designate one girl as the leader and one girl as the mirror.
- Instruct the leader to start moving slowly. The mirror should face the leader and try to follow her exact movement as if she is the leader’s reflection in the mirror. As the girls get more comfortable, they can move more quickly.
- After a minute or so, tell the leader and mirror to swap roles.
- When each girl has had a turn as both the leader and the mirror, explain that for the next challenge, the girls cannot speak with words, instead, they will be communicating with their movement.
- Instruct the girls to start the activity again with one girl as the leader and one girl as the mirror. The challenge is to switch roles back and forth occasionally without speaking or signaling obviously. The girls are successful at this challenge when an observer can’t tell who is the leader and who is the mirror or when the roles switch!
Game 4: Traveling Imagery
This game works best in a larger space where you can travel from one side of the space to the other. This game can get giggly and silly—and that’s okay!
- Gather girls on one side of the space. Explain that you’ll be using different types of movement to travel from one side of the space to the other. Designate groups if there isn’t enough space for everyone to move at once.
- Instruct the girls to travel using any of the following prompts. Sometimes it might be helpful to tell girls to close their eyes and imagine for a moment before they begin.
- Imagine that your limbs have suddenly turned to wiggly spaghetti noodles.
- The space in front of you is full of lasers about the height of your kneecaps and you need to sneak across without hitting any of them.
- You are made of stiff sticks and must travel without bending.
- You are an ice cream cone on a sunny day, start on this side as a fresh scoop of ice cream and by the time you make it to the other side, you’ll be fully melted.
- You are a tree and your limbs are tree branches. It is a very windy day and the wind is blowing you across the room.
- You are traveling through a giant bowl of honey, which is extremely difficult to push through.
- You are floating in outer space and there is no gravity.
As girls get the hang of this game, allow them to make their own prompts. If girls are feeling comfortable, you can eventually have them go one at a time or in pairs so that the girls can observe all the different ways we can move. Emphasize that there are a lot of different ways to interpret instructions like these, and it’s cool to see how unique each person’s ideas are!
Game 5: Who We Are Dances
This game works best when girls have already done some dance activities together. Girls as young as Brownies can take on this challenge with some guidance.
- Ask girls to think about the following questions: “What is something that makes you unique?” “What is something that makes you happy?” (You could also use any two questions of your choice.)
- When they’ve had some time to think, ask girls to create two movements based on their answers to the questions. The movements can be as literal or abstract as the girls like. Stress that as long as it makes sense to them, it works!
- Combine girls into groups of 2–4, keeping in mind that the larger the groups, the longer the next steps will take.
- Have each girl teach their groupmates their two movements.
- Then, have girls combine all of the movements to create a short dance representing their group. The movements can be combined in any order, and transitional movements can be added as needed. Remind girls to make sure that everyone in the group has input.
- Allow 5–10 minutes for girls to practice several times. When they feel like they have it down, have each group perform their dance. If you have time, each group can give their dance a title and choose music to perform to.
Want to continue exploring dance with your troop? Learn about famous dancers and choreographers of different styles, attend a dance performance, ask a dance teacher to come to your troop meeting, or attend a social or cultural dance lesson (tip: Look for free community classes)!
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.