Dance as a way of teaching other subjects


An innovative dance project aimed at contributing to positive culture change in schools has proved itself able to reinforce pupil learning and develop new approaches to teaching.

YDance, the national dance organisation for young people aged 3 to 21, developed Shake it Up, an interdisciplinary dance project for Scottish schools. The project is aimed at working with primary schools that were part of the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge, which drives forward improvements in education to ensure every pupil is encouraged to be the best they can be.

Shake it Up uses dance and a kinaesthetic learning approach to enhance a child’s learning in the context of the curriculum. The project places a dance tutor in education in a school for two years.

NSEE evaluation

YDance asked the Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) team at the University of Glasgow to conduct an evaluation of the Shake it Up initiative, which was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of schools across Scotland.

Nonetheless, the NSEE team carried out a thorough and informative evaluation of the work using interviews, focus group discussions, and a questionnaire survey with pupils and staff. Nineteen teachers and three headteachers were interviewed and/or provided information via an online proforma across eight primary schools.

The report, which can be downloaded here, found:

Findings among teachers

  • Teacher experiences of the YDance programme were overwhelmingly positive and they were generally enthusiastic about their involvement in the initiative.
  • Teachers agreed that the Shake It Up objectives involved using a kinaesthetic/dance learning approach, which would enhance their pedagogical skillset to enhance learner outcomes.
  • Initially, many teachers were interested in the programme but unsure how it would support their teaching. Some were anxious that they would need to be an expert in dance to teach the approach. These initial concerns were allayed by the training sessions run by YDance.
  • Informants were often surprised and impressed at the ways dance could be used to reinforce pupil learning and develop new approaches to teaching.
  • Many teachers spoke about the positive impact of the Shake It Up lessons on pupil learning and also highlighted how the programme articulated well with Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).
  • All interviewed teachers spoke of their enjoyment at working with the YDance tutors. Moreover, teachers frequently spoke about the teaching skills of the tutors, their ability to engage pupils and their understanding of the curriculum.
  • The skills and personality of the YDance tutors were seen as key to teacher buy-in and pupil engagement. The tutors demonstrated a good understanding of school context and the curriculum and how the Shake It Up approach can work with it.
  • Teachers stated that the programme articulated well with the curriculum. The Shake it Up approach was especially valued by teachers as a way to enhance learning of topic based and inter-disciplinary learning lessons. There were examples of teachers using Shake It Up for teaching specific aspects of literacy and numeracy, such as punctuation.
  • Most of the schools informed parents about the programme rather than adopting more active engagement. This included using social media and blogs to report developments. Some schools invited parents to workshops to demonstrate the programme. All the schools reported that parents were supportive and often impressed by their children’s enthusiasm for the lessons.
  • There was evidence that the programme had been successful in engaging all pupils. However, teachers frequently reported particular success for the programme in engaging learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who were traditionally seen as being less likely to engage in learning.
  • Fifty parents fed back on the Shake it Up programme via schedules distributed by YDance tutors. Most parental responses suggested that the project had contributed to an increase in children’s confidence. Moreover, parents also acknowledged support for the programme’s contribution to pedagogy in the schools.

Gender divide

The evaluation also looked at gender. Boys and older children were more likely to be reticent about participating at first but became more enthusiastic as the programme continued. Presenting the lessons as movement rather than dance appeared to help engage male pupils.

Girls were significantly more likely than males to report enjoying the Shake it Up activities in both the younger and older pupil groups. Among the younger pupils the programme was most frequently reported as a good help in relation to; feeling happier at school (64%), getting on better with their teacher (62%), and remembering facts about subjects (60%).

A total of 98 pupils took part in focus groups looking at the Shake it Up programme. The evaluation found:

  • Pupils in the focus groups talked about how much they had enjoyed the Shake It Up experience and the overwhelming majority indicated that they were happy with the programme they had experienced.
  • Many pupils shared examples of the topics and subjects they had covered during their involvement.
  • Pupils particularly appreciated the active nature of the programme and found it refreshing to engage with curriculum topics in a different mode. A number of pupils indicated how Shake it Up had helped them with aspects of their learning and facilitated building relationships within the class.
  • Most survey respondents enjoyed taking part in the YDance activities with their dance tutor. Levels of enthusiasm tended to be higher among the younger age group of pupils.

Feeling happier at school

For the older pupils the programme was most frequently indicated as a good help in relation to; remembering facts about subjects (55%), feeling happier at school (45%), working out answers to questions in class (41%) and working harder at school (41%).

  • A clear majority of pupils in both the older (70%) and younger (74%) groups were keen to see more dance activities introduced in class.

Almost all teachers interviewed as part of the evaluation believed that they would be able to continue with most aspects, if not all of the Shake it Up approach. The evaluation findings demonstrate that the programme has had a positive impact on pupils and staff in schools in line with the programme’s objectives to promote learner engagement, self-confidence, social skills and wellbeing.

To download the full report (pdf format) by Stuart Hall, Kevin Lowden and Deja Lusk, click the green button below.



We are the Network for Social and Educational Equity, based in the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow. We work with governments, educational institutions, local authorities and teachers to promote educational change.

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About NSEE

The Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) is part of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change (ROC) at the University of Glasgow.

It works in collaboration with schools, local authorities, Education Scotland and partner services to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap in young people’s education.

NSEE helps schools to use appropriate evidence and data within collaborative working approaches to critically examine context and current arrangements, make changes based on evidence, monitor the impact of these changes and reflect on what they learn.

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