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The Benefits of Dance for Young Children

February 12, 2014
The Benefits of Dance for Young Children
With arts provision shrinking in our mainstream schools, more and more parents are looking for quality performing opportunities for their children. Stagecoach has been delivering children’s performing arts provision since 1988 and has seen the development of skills and confidence in thousands of children.

There are the obvious benefits of studying dance; reduced obesity, a fun source of exercise, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and helping to maintain a balanced lifestyle. There is clinically significant evidence that children who participate actively in the performing arts spend less time sitting in front of a computer screen playing games and therefore are at less of a risk of developing health problems. Children who spend more than two hours a day on screen related pastimes are at a high risk of developing health issues, such as obesity.

Whilst dance is a good source of fun exercise for young children, it is also a creative outlet. Fun exercise is important but the opportunity to release creativity is as important as exercising and maintaining a balanced diet in the development of healthy children, because of the life skills they will learn. Dancing can make a person feel physically refreshed and improve their mood, tackling serious issues including anxiety and depression1, and not just in adults. Group dancing is a tool to release daily stress, a distraction from everyday worries and an outlet for imagination and emotion.

There are physical benefits of partaking in dance classes as a child. Through dance, children develop a greater range of movement whilst developing the ability to work within different spaces. They learn to interpret the effect their movement has on the world around them. Dancing also improves a child’s co-ordination, especially at a time when they are rapidly developing in an ever-changing and evolving environment. Good co-ordination is vital in developing skills learnt in other parts of life, such as learning to ride a bike and learning how to multitask successfully. Dance and movement patterns also develop kinaesthetic memory. It also develops strength and endurance from an early age. This creates a solid platform for the child’s physical development and level of fitness.
 
The average human has 642 muscles in their body. Young children are naturally active, however dancing makes use of more of these muscles and in turn develops the use of their bodies fully. Through the process of learning movement, children become more aware of their bodies and what they are capable of. They develop an understanding of what each muscle and limb can do; also building up the courage to experiment with movement and to push themselves to see what they can achieve with their own bodies. This personal sense of adventure is an important life trait for children to develop and a skill they can apply in all aspects of life. It contributes to the development of a child’s confidence and bravery, and encourages them to search for new challenges to conquer.
 
Learning to socialise with others from a young age is a vital part of a child’s cognitive development. The ability to express emotion comfortably in front of others shows mental maturity and learning to do so through movement and dance provides a safe gateway for young children to explore. Performing arts activities bring together children from a variety of backgrounds and personalities; creating an environment outside of the habitat a child is accustomed to. Children are forced to learn to adapt and communicate in new ways. By navigating this new environment through creativity, children learn to build trust and effective relationships.
 
Being part of a group activity, such as learning a dance routine, promotes the importance of teamwork and develops the ability to work successfully in a group environment. The process also helps a child learn patience, listening and leadership skills as they start to help each other with learning and practising the steps. They also learn to accept vulnerability; that it is okay not to be able to do everything first time and that you should feel confident enough to ask for help, either from the teacher or from another student.
 
In a study of Stagecoach parents with children aged 5-7 years (November 2013) it was found that, on average, 82% of parents felt that their child’s confidence levels improved as a result of attending Stagecoach. In the same study we asked parents why they have decided to send their children to a Stagecoach school. The second most popular response was ‘That it would build my child’s confidence’. We then went on to ask ‘What life skills do you feel your child gained from attending Stagecoach?’ The most popular response was ‘improved confidence’. The feedback from this study supports our belief that dance is an important tool to use to build a child’s confidence. Whilst the participants of the study did mention learning to dance as a reason for sending their child to Stagecoach, the focus was much more on the development of interpersonal skills, predominately confidence. Incidentally, the other most popular choices when asked about life skills their child had attained whilst at Stagecoach were ‘social interaction’, ‘public speaking’, ‘improved communications skills’ and ‘made friends’.  It is a wonder what can be achieved through the study of performing arts and the positive impact the arts has on a child’s interpersonal development.

Nonverbal communication represents two thirds of all communication. It’s important for young children to understand that it is possible to portray a message both verbally and with the correct body signals and also to be able to interpret these signals from other people. The study of dance and movement can help a child develop an understanding of their own body language as well as others. Whilst it is relatively simple to express without words straightforward emotions such as ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, the study of dance can teach a child how to express physically more complex emotions and how to read and react when someone else is physically emoting.

When young children study dance they learn perseverance and self-motivation.  Dancing encourages children to experiment and find different paths to solving problems. It is vital in a child’s personal development that they learn the importance of trial-and-error and that, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. The sense of success and accomplishment they will experience when they have mastered a complicated movement will encourage them to transfer this ambition into other aspects of life.

The exercise of repetition and rehearsal when dancing improves mental dexterity. Learning body movement and gestures helps children absorb ideas better and improves their ability to absorb and hold information.
There is a perceived view that lingers around dance classes that children should only attend if they want to perform on a stage. The fact of the matter is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, dance classes are an ideal stepping stone for a child who is showing early signs of a natural flair for performance. However, there are a magnitude of benefits of learning to dance for a child who is shy, has low self-esteem or has shown no interest in performing. This is why we are all inclusive, not exclusive, at Stagecoach Theatre Arts schools. We understand the importance of performing arts to all children and it is our aim to promote this. We provide a safe environment within which young children can blossom and grow, practising important life skills and becoming confident risk takers.

The study of the performing arts allows children to explore and express themselves freely. It helps a child develop a better understanding of themselves, both physically and mentally, as well as understanding others and the world around them. It encourages children to use their own imagination and ideas to organically grow and create. When a child practises and learns a dance routine they become more confident in their own skin and sense of self and are able to express their personality and emotions without being afraid of the reaction they might receive.

The impact of creative learning on children is enormous. It promotes the importance of teamwork and social inclusion in a subtle but direct manner. Stagecoach parents recognise that confidence and communication skills are vital to their children’s’ future happiness and success. A child who has the opportunity to study the performing arts becomes more interesting, expressive and motivated.

Ann P. Kahn (the former president of The National PTA) once said: “The creative arts are the measure and reflection of our civilisation. They offer many children an opportunity to see life with a larger perspective...The moral values we treasure are reflected in the beauty and truth that is emotionally transmitted through the arts. The arts say something about us to future generations.”


H.Davis - Stagecoach Theatre Arts Head Office