Can you imagine yourself walking into a classroom and seeing a teacher with preschoolers sitting on the floor, in a circle, attempting to grow a gigantic flower with their bodies that buds, blooms, wilts, and dissolves? What about kindergartners going on a transcontinental adventure by swimming across a raging river, climbing up a mountain, and finally, riding horseback to arrive at the sparkling Pacific Ocean? Or first grade students connecting with each other by using different body parts to make geometric shapes that then build and transform into a sheltering structure? These are small glimpses of the excitement that can be created by incorporating movement into early education.
Creative movement and dance can be used as a structured tool to accelerate the mechanism of psychomotor learning and social and emotional regulation. Movement activates the cerebellum, connecting neural pathways of sight, balance, attention, and stimulation. Dance and movement can be used as disciplines to raise and lower the internal arousal state through breathing, balance, physical exertion, and mental image formation.
Children become aware of, and then learn to self-regulate, their own energy states. Structured movement also switches on core brain pathways related to sequencing, timing, predicting, and rehearsing tasks to achieve defined outcomes. Thus, dance is a powerful tool to strengthen executive functioning that supports the transition to higher order cognitive thinking and planning that children need to be successful in both school and life.
Dance is an inherently social activity (there must be some reason humans have been engaging in it since the dawn of recorded time!) and a powerful reinforcement to music sense. Dance contributes to both awareness of one’s body in space (proprioception) and awareness of one’s relation to other bodies in space. Taught properly, it is a highly effective kinesthetic learning mechanism for counting, rhythm, mutual respect, and improvisation.
With imagination and commitment to collaboration, dance can be integrated with subjects, ranging from math, foreign language acquisition, physics, visual arts, and history, so as to render them more relevant and interesting for students. Students who make geometric shapes with their bodies, use “skywriting” to reinforce the alphabet, or master period dance styles are more likely to retain the academic context than those who simply get “chalk and talk” lectures or stare into tablet screens.
Movement is a way of reaching children, by opening doors to imagination, kindling sparks of improvisation, and sharpening ability to plan, rehearse, fail, and improve with increasingly complex movement sequences. Just as with language, children first become comfortable speaking the “language of dance” without ever thinking about it, then learn dance notation with Laban movement analysis, and then progress to higher order appreciation and analysis of different dance styles and master dancers and choreographers.
Among the benefits of formal study of dance are:
Dance Strengthens Imagination
Creative movement and dance activities integrate imaginative ideas to engage children’s learning such as providing various images for warm-up and making a dance in a specific theme. Students learn to think outside the box to find new expressions of creativity.
Dance Promotes Physical Development
In creative movement, children learn body control, gain respect for personal space, and accelerate the development of gross and fine motor skills. They improve their coordination, balance, stamina and strength.
Dance Is Inherently Social
Creative movement quickens social and emotional development. Children learn to work together and value each individual’s contributions. They learn to listen and respond to directions, offer suggestions, explore each other’s ideas while moving together. Dance is a means of telling stories about relationships, struggles, perseverance, emotion, and community.
Dance Promotes Explosive Neural Growth
Due to the unique power of kinesthetic learning, dance stimulates the development of critical brain structures that will determine children’s academic and life success.
Dance connects students to their own bodies and enables them to interact with others in a structured, respectful, and creative way. The five basic elements of dance are the body, action, space, time, and energy. In a children’s dance class that is properly taught, all levels of learning and multiple regions of the brain are engaged at once, in a way no other discipline can achieve. Success in movement and dance leads children to become more self-directed, self-aware and self-actualizing. They are able to regulate their energy, blow out the mental “cobwebs,” and sustain higher levels of attention in other subjects.
While only a small number of students may end up pursuing the life of a professional dancer, all of them will have their lives enriched by the positive impact on their holistic development, early exposure to the joy of movement, and a lifelong appreciation for this multifaceted art form that is present in every culture in the world.
Therefore, we dance!
Deborah Bradley Kramer is the Head of School, MUSE Academy. Learn more at museacademybk.com