Evidence supports the fact that sending our kids to dance class is really good for them. The benefits for their minds, bodies, their ability to socialise, communicate and explore are significant. This has a flow on effect for academic studies with most recent research stating how dance effectively helps the left and right hand brain communicate. When we first see our babies crawl we are ecstatic because we know those synapses are effectively laying down pathways for future communication. Dance continues this process. Want a smarter, healthier and happy child? Send them to dance!
Dr. Kate Fennessy, clinical psychologist, and Katie Godwin, dance specialist physiotherapist talk to us about the psychological and physical reasons our children benefit from dance class. To read both physicians articles in full visit your local dance shop for our latest issue, listed here.
Children are natural dancers, moving for fun and to express themselves with their bodies before and during speech development, all the way into adulthood. Research has found that dance supports several key aspects of development for children and young people in several domains.
Dance places positive stress on growing bones causing them to grow into stronger, healthier bones! Girls lay down an incredible 25% of their total lifetime bone mass over the 2-3 years of their peak growth spurt (usually between the ages of 11 and 13). Weight bearing exercise will maximise the amount of bone that is laid down at this time, which can help to prevent bone diseases such as osteoporosis later in life.
Many adolescents find it difficult to maintain good sitting and standing posture, and develop bad postural habits during these years. Poor posture can lead to back and neck pain, and even headaches in some cases. Dance helps to strengthen postural muscles, including core muscles that surround and support the spine, helping to keep spines healthy and improve physical posture.
Studies show that children today are becoming less coordinated than previous generations (1), probably because they aren’t exposed to the same amount of physical exercise. Dance helps to develop a strong sense of coordination, timing and balance.
Children learn best through the experience of “doing”, and dance helps to support this kinaesthetic learning through providing novel and diverse sensory and physical experiences. In addition to this enhanced sensory and physical awareness, improvements in coordination and mimicry can promote pattern learning and left-right neural differentiation. Dance can also support children’s literacy as acquisition of language primarily involves the translation of movement expression into words, and there is some evidence that a lifetime of dance is protective against certain forms of dementia, and aids memory and concentration in later life.
Dance for all ages boosts serotonin levels, and can be a source of fun, excitement and joy.
Children and young people who dance can better understand and express their emotions through their bodies, and can have a greater awareness of the self and others through creative movement. While performance can be challenging, it also offers an opportunity to share experiences and achievements with family and friends, and can be a source of pride. While dance provides a physical release, which can help with stress, anxiety, low mood and anger, it also provides opportunities for the development of emotional maturity and self-expression, a shortcut to clearing the mind, feeling positive, and letting go of strong or painful emotions. It can become a space in which young people can break from other pressures and changes and focus on the moment, which can be meditative, and a way to affirm their own inner life and realities.
A large part of communication is nonverbal, and can occur outside of our conscious awareness. Helping children become more aware of how they hold and move their bodies helps to develop their social awareness and communication skills. Dance, like other activities, can also provide an opportunity to meet others, mixing with people from other schools and making new friends. Dance fosters social encounters, interactions, and cooperation, and provides young people with a sense of community. Moving together can be a very unifying feeling and through learning to work within a group dynamic, and the challenges that come with cooperation and responding to instruction, children learn to better understand themselves in relation to others. This can be particularly helpful as children develop their sense of individuality as they approach their tween and into their early teen years, and serves as a foundation to the development of more advanced social skill.
Dr. Kate Fennessy
Dr. Bywater and Associates
1. Hardy, LL; King, L; Espinel, P; Cosgrove, C; Bauman, A 2010, NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS), NSW Ministry of Health, Sydney.