Part II: Dance and Social-Emotional Learning

By Heidi Glynias

There are many reasons children are enrolled in dance classes:

  • A mother says, “My child constantly dances around the house.”
  • A student enrolls because a friend is also taking classes.
  • Someone saw a performance and it “looks like fun”.
  • A parent says the child “has to do some sort of activity” so they try dance.
  • Someone says, “I was painfully shy as a child so my mother enrolled me in dance classes as a result of a doctor’s recommendation…simply for the socialization.”

Despite the many reasons for initially taking dance classes, I believe there is a beautiful, common denominator for people who continue to dance - passion for this glorious art form and a sense of fulfillment. Dance training requires perseverance, and as a result of many hours, weeks, months and even years of diligent training, there comes a sense of accomplishment. There really are no short cuts to success in dance.

Of course, there are the obvious physical benefits of dance: strengthening and toning of muscles, improved flexibility, balance, coordination, endurance and spatial awareness.

Additionally, there are mental and emotional benefits such as improved memorization skills, decreased stress and depression, improved confidence and self-esteem. Reports have shown that the positive effects of mental health can last up to 8 months after dance classes end. With increased movements, one’s brain prepares to learn. Brain functions, such as, kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional all begin to work together. As dancers move, the brain is given necessary “food”, glucose and oxygen; improving its functioning, developing fine and complex motor skills.

Speaking to parents over the years, has revealed a misconception, by some, about dance being highly individual and the fear that one’s child will not learn to be a team player. It is true that certain aspects of dance training are highly individual, but one could argue that a great deal of socialization is required for progress and success in the dance classroom. These important moments build confidence, understanding of self and cognitive growth.

Beginning at a very early age, young children who take dance classes learn to cooperate by following instructions, taking turns, sharing, and applauding others for their accomplishments. There are times when the spotlight is on the child, in situations where students may have been asked to share a story or the dancer may have an opportunity to express feelings through creative movement.

As time goes by, the cooperative demands are still in place as the maturing child learns to navigate through difficult emotional experiences. For example, being happy for a classmate who has reached a higher level of achievement or being empathetic towards a classmate who may be struggling with certain skills that seem easy for others. There are times when a student must become content with physical limitations; learning to accept and work with those limitations or "give up".

Learning to have a positive mindset can have great impact on a dancer's progress, as well as affecting others, by impacting the overall atmosphere of the classroom. Learning to work with these issues of competition, comparison and contentment are skills that carry over into "everyday life"; creating opportunities for real world connections and learning.

Additionally, there are great emotional benefits from expressing oneself through movement where words do not always suffice. Depending on the music and the intention of a piece, dancers can learn to work through issues in personal lives with friendships, understanding self, feelings of loss, happiness, gratitude, viewing another perspective and so much more. If the dance tells a specific story, the dancers may even learn more about the history of the world they live in with a greater appreciation for those who came before us. Dance, as it connects to learning and stimulating the brain provides many opportunities of understanding, learning and growth.

Next: Part III: Performing Arts in the Classroom

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