If you ask me, I will tell you that there are not just ten reasons why dance as an activity help supports child development. I would say to you there are hundreds! But then I am probably a little biased. From over a decade experience in teaching dance (more than half of that now in our Dance School Based in Streatham, SW16), I can wholeheartedly vouch for the near-magical effect that dance properties that dance can have on our development.
There are multitude reasons why parents sign up their children in dance classes: namely to broaden their creativity, and perhaps because the parents themselves love the art of dance and know from their own experience how wonderful it is. But, believe it or not, dance classes are an ideal setting to help your child develop many valuable skills that will help them to succeed throughout their life. To keep it sweet, here are my top 10 reasons of why and how dancing can support your child's developments from toddlers through their teens.
1. Dancing Develops Gross and Fine Motor Skills
We know that we can't run before we walk and the same goes for dancing - you cant pirouette before you can plié! As children develop, there are specific progressive benchmarks for their motor development to look out for which build upon each other (and which every dance teacher worth their salt should know)—crawling to walking to skipping to galloping and so on. Dance classes can give children and toddlers an excellent setting for them to experiment with movement, motivate them to push their limits. Dance classes will help children develop coordination, balance and elevation as well as fine motor control which we introduce with hand and finger work at around age 4. We usually expect children to be able to skip by age seven, often children who are engaging in lots of structured and unstructured physical activity like ballet class and free play will develop this skill much quicker. It is important to remember, however, that mastery of any dancing skill is a long process and takes years and years of practice! Dance curriculums should be created with a child's developmental stage in mind as well as having realistic expectations of what they can do/learn.
2. Artistry, Imagination and Self-Expression
The artistic side of dance allows children to learn the language of movement. In our dance classes in Streatham, we heavily incorporate narrative and imaginative sequences to initiate an action or give it context. This vein runs through all our levels and age groups as children progress and get older where we provide a safe place for all our pupils to express themselves through their dancing. The use of imagination in dance serves not only to give each dancer a deeper understanding of a particular technique and better execution but also makes it more exciting and engaging for them and for an audience who might be watching. Whether they are telling a story, feeling the music or expressing their emotions through movement, dance class are ideal for helping children develop emotional intelligence, unleashing their creativity and refining artistry.
Your child's self-esteem and self-confidence can be significantly increased by providing them with a safe environment in which to channel their emotions and energy. A dance school with a nurturing ethos and compassionate teachers can help shy children to blossom. As dance is also a skill that requires practice to gain mastery, you can see children gain confidence exponentially with every progression and achievement they make.
4. Memory and Recall
Dancing improves brain function and boosts memory in all ages! A study published on the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that dancing improves cerebral health. Dancing improves one of the cognitive domains, which is spatial memory. Another study found that dance was superior to other sports in its ability to enhance neuroplasticity! The repetitive and sensory aspects of learning dance skills also help improve recall by helping to stimulate nerve growth factors. This also applies to 'muscle memory'; the more we do a particular movement, the more the brain can shorten those neural messages making proficiency increase and leading to the action becoming second nature!
5. Dancing and Numeracy
Due to concepts such as symmetry, shapes, and spatial placing dance can also aid in improving non-verbal reasoning skills, but did you know that, like music, dance can help with numeracy skills too? Tapping out rhythms, syncopations and sustaining movements for different note lengths can help develop with counting, fractions and modular arithmetic! Its a running joke in our Preschool and Early Years dance classes that "dancers only count up to number 8!" so that we learn the fundamentals of beat and phrasing. As we get more advanced, rhythms and phrases can have any number of different mathematical and numerical values, all helping to develop an understanding of these concepts.
6. Energy and Stress Relief
Today's fast-paced lifestyle, there are so many stressors all around us, and children are showing higher and higher rates of anxiety. Dancing is a beautiful way for children to exercise and expend built up energy which can help regulate sleep. Expressing emotions through dance (which we already mentioned) also makes children more aware of their feelings, and this awareness can help them to control them better. Finally dancing releases endorphins which make you feel good! All stress-busting benefits!
7. Strength and Fitness
A fantastic result of being a great stress diffuser, dancing can help reduce the risk of a multitude of stress-related diseases with physical consequences. Professional dancers are renown for being powerful, determined and fit people, but did you know that a study conducted by the University of Hertfordshire found that the overall fitness of ballet dancers surpasses that of international swimmers! As dancing is such a wonderfully holistic way to move the body, it can help dancers improve posture, flexibility, strength, overall cardiovascular fitness, decreased immune system function, gastrointestinal problems and even diabetes and heart disease. Children who develop a love of dance and movement at a young age often grow up to be healthy, active adults.
8. Spatial Awareness
Spatial awareness is essential to everyone and is a significant concern in child development. We need this skill to understand our relationship to our surroundings, to move around without tripping over our own feet or walking into walls, and it helps us recognize objects even when we see them from different angles. Each day, we use this ability to walk around, get dressed, make meals, drive cars, or any other task involving motion. Spatial awareness is essential for dance and children begin to practice this in their class from their very first lesson, whether it be standing on a spot, finding their space at the barre or performing a routine in a group.
9. Connection Friends and Appreciation of Other Cultures
In the studio, your child learns how to work in a team, work with others, develop a greater sense of trust and cooperation and make new friends. During class, they interact with other dancers in the lessons and usually develop strong bonds and lifelong friendships with their classmates. Dance can also help to create an appreciation for other cultures and communities by learning different styles and practising to music from different parts of the world. Ballet especially has a reputation for being very exclusionary, but there are dance educators like us who are working hard to try and change that. It's vital to find a studio that value and promote diversity in their culture and ethos!
10. Work Ethic
Promoting a strong work ethic is the one, most valued benefit of enrolling in dance lessons. In our classes, we appreciate effort over talent and promote a growth mindset. With the right attitude and support, our pupils learn that they can do anything they set their mind to when they believe that it's possible and work hard to achieve their goals. The patience, resilience and determination that they learn in their weekly dance lesson have a far-reaching impact that extends into their life and future far beyond their classes with us. This is my favourite quality that I can give to my students as a dance teacher.