Games or Consequences

I teach at Groove With Me; it's a volunteer-based dance school with over 200 students, who all will perform in one spring recital in two weeks. Because there will not be a tech or dress rehearsal, and because there are so many students and so few adults (many are only volunteering for this event) the directors organized a special meeting for all volunteers to go over the day-of-show’s flow. At the meeting, we reviewed games to keep younger students occupied and quiet backstage, and a behavior management specialist offered tips for handling challenging situations that may arise.


Here are a few games that not only work backstage; but also are great in-class activities:

  • Split students into pairs, and assign each student the role of “sculptor” or “clay.” Call out a theme, (like sports) or an action (like eating). Without talking, the sculptor molds the clay into a pose that fits the theme. The clay has to hold each position, and cannot direct the sculptor. Switch roles.

  • This game reminded me of a silent, improvised Pilobolus piece: Split students into groups of 4 or 5 and call out an object. Without talking, directing or motioning other students, students in each group must fit themselves into the shape of that object.

  • Tell students to freeze in a position of their choice. Students can pretend they are trapped in cement, or a gigantic sticky web. One body part at a time, the cement or stickiness dissolves, and they can move only that one joint—little by little wiggling their selves free. When playing with younger students, call out the body parts they can move.

  • Instruct students to walk when you say, “walk,” and freeze when you say, “stop.” Then switch the meanings, so they stop when you say, “walk” and they walk when you say, “stop.” Adding more instructions to the game will make it very tricky!


Students in an environment of heightened stress—like backstage at a performance—may act differently than they would in a normal situation. Before performance day, have your backstage staff rank certain behaviors or situations in terms of emergency or toleration. It will help them effectively and appropriately handle each circumstance. Here are some quick tips:

  • Present choices: “You can either (insert misbehavior), or not participate in the performance.” Saying, “You can either keep crying, or take a deep breath and tell me what happened,” often halts crocodile tears.

  • Communicate rules: Explain why a student should not be doing something. “If you run, you may trip and not be able to perform.” Redirect bad behavior: “Please don’t run backstage; walk instead.” 

  • Remember: Children usually do not know what they’re supposed to be doing, so only using “Don’t” without an explanation or an alternative is ineffective. Yelling or using sarcasm shows frustration, which often provokes poor behavior.

  • I loved this comparison: “Yelling back or getting frustrated is like playing Tug of War. When you pick up the other end of the rope, you have already lost.”

  • Asking a student to help find her own solution or consequence often helps her keep up her end of the bargain.

  • Let students know what consequences may be, and enforce them. Be consistent, clear and realistic. Nonrealistic consequences—those that far outweigh the behavior—invalidate the punishment.

  • Most importantly: Praise good behavior. Especially praise it when it's from a student who previously was misbehaving.


To read more advice when helping  students battle stage fright, click here.  

Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

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