By: Christine Eagle, 2012
Every September it’s the same thing. Parents excitedly enter the dance studio with their child, ready to enrol them for their first dance class. And every September it’s the same questions. How will my child benefit from dance training? What will they learn? Will they like it? Will they make friends? When I sat down to write this paper, I began with some online research. I soon realized that the best research had already been done. With 30 years of combined experience, 15 years as a dancer, and 15 as a teacher, I have seen the benefits of dance training first hand in both my students and in myself. The academic, social and physical benefits as well as the life skills that are learned are invaluable to children. I see this every day that I go to work. I see it in myself as I confidently teach from the front of the classroom, I see it in my students as I watch them grow and develop and I see it in my graduates as they come back to visit the studio as productive and successful members of society. Although it was love for the art of dance that first began my career as a teacher, it’s the reward of seeing young people grow into confident, strong and talented adults and knowing that I had a part in that development that keeps me loving it season after season. It’s a great honor, and sometimes a great challenge, but one that I take very seriously.
Everyone knows that physical activity is important. I believe it is especially important in children. The physical benefits to dance training are huge. This is a time in a child’s life when they are learning behaviours and habits that will carry with them forever. In a society that is technology based, with very little school emphasis on physical activity, it is even more important for kids to be involved in after school activities. Dance is exercise for the whole body. It develops every muscle from head to toe in a safe and fun environment. It is one of the few forms of exercise that really doesn’t feel like “exercise”. Movement is natural and instinctual to even the youngest babies. Even in utero, babies can’t help but move when they hear music outside their mother’s womb. By pairing this natural love for movement and exercise at a young age, children are more likely to grow up to be active, healthier adults. Flexibility and co-ordination are two fundamental skills taught in dance class. They are important parts of developing into a strong, well rounded dancer, but more importantly they have lifelong benefits as well. Flexibility reduces risk of injury in ligaments and bones and co-ordination makes us more productive and skilled in everyday tasks. Two summers ago, I took a pretty bad fall up at the cottage. As my ankle twisted, I heard 4 very distinct “cracks”. It swelled up and hurt pretty bad so I went to the doctors. The physician informed me that if not for my incredibly strong and flexible ankles from years of dance training, I likely would have suffered several fractures. Instead, I had only a few strained ligaments.
Body image and body awareness are a major issue, especially among teenage girls. Society’s constant flood of images of underweight women affects how girls perceive themselves. Dance teaches them that strength is good. Muscle definition is good. Fitness is good, food is fuel and your body is sacred. We learn in dance class how to take care of ourselves as well as how to accept what we are given. We teach dancers how to work WITH their bodies, not against them and help them to identify strengths that may otherwise go unnoticed. Dancing teaches them to have confidence in their bodies, and that their bodies are worth so much more than a photograph on the cover of a magazine, or something to be sexualized. They learn how to take care of it, and in turn, learn to respect it.
The academic benefits of dance training often go unnoticed to parents who first enrol their children in dance class. I notice it most when kids enter the age where they begin more hours of training, such as into a competitive program. Many people believe that dance classes interfere with school and take valuable study time away. This is actually a complete misconception. Dance training produces smarter, more organized, more creative and more skilled people than almost any other after school activity. In my 13 years as a dance studio owner, every single one of my graduates has gone to University. Many were accepted with scholarships and into programs that have very limited enrolment because of their difficulty. I strongly believe that dance played a role in their academic success. At a young age in dance class, kids are learning to count, they are learning repetition and they are memorizing sequences. The dance choreography and combinations that they perfect during class reinforce these basic learning skills. They are in fact, learning HOW to learn. Homework has become an everyday task for the majority of school aged kids. When they are enrolled in an after school activity, such as dance, they must learn to manage their time wisely so that they are able to accomplish both their school work as well as attend their dance classes. This teaches them to prioritize and plan, both which I believe are imperative to a successful career in the future. Dance also puts emphasis on creativity and trusting your instincts. We teach dancers how to think for themselves and how to appreciate different styles and ideas. This is something that is not taught or valued enough in school. The last potential academic benefit of dance training is perhaps not as palpable, but needed to be mentioned, as it pertains to me. Dance lessons gave me my eventual employment. It is how I make a living and how I spend my time. Although this is rare, most kids in dance class don’t grow up to be professional dancers or dance teachers, it does happen, and we are proof of that. I am one of the lucky few who get to say that they love their job. My favorite activity as a child became the career which feeds my family. It really doesn’t get any better than that!
Dance class is a place where lasting friendships are made. The social benefits and skills that a child learns from participating in dance are endless. I see it every year in my studio; a new, shy student walks in and by the end of class she’s made a connection with someone. And often, by the end of the first term, they are inseparable! After all, they have one thing in common no matter what: they both love to dance. Often children are intimidated by teachers and by grownups in general. But the relationship that is nurtured between a dance instructor and their student teaches kids to trust adults and to confide in them. I often find myself multitasking as dance teacher/guidance counsellor. For many of our nursery ballet students, dance class is their first activity away from their parents. It’s their first chance to learn how to behave in a classroom situation – a great preparation for kindergarten. Dance class and performing routines teaches kids to have confidence in their work and in themselves. It teaches them to trust classmates and to be a great team player. They learn about personal goals as well as being responsible for their own actions. In a class room of 12 dancers, not every personality will mesh. Dance training helps kids to learn how to work with peers, whether friends or not. For me, dance was fundamental in developing my confidence. I was a very small, and quiet girl who hated being the centre of attention – except when it came to dance. It was my “claim to fame” as a kid in school. I may not have been the tallest, but I could dance! I had something that no one could take away from me and that my peers respected me for. Dance gave me a sense of security. It was a place to go when the outside world was harsh. In dance class, all other problems are forgotten. No family feud, trouble with friends or bad mark on a test could follow me there. The stability that being part of a dance team gives you as a child growing up in a sometimes confusing and cruel social world is invaluable to creating strong, confident young adults.
Everyone knows that dance is good for you, while you are young. What most people don’t realize is the life skills that are carried with you long after class is over. How many 25 year olds can say that they have a playlist on their iPod strictly for classical music, and one for big band? Someone who danced to all those styles would. Dance class creates an appreciation for music and arts unlike any other activity. When you move to piece of music, and really feel its story, you understand where it came from. You enjoy listening to it on an entirely different level – and there becomes an emotional attachment to the song. Dance gives you skills such as rhythm and co-ordination, which carry with you through life. Many adults are too shy or lack the confidence to dance even at their own weddings! Dance gives you the skill to enjoy dancing, at any age, in any social situation. This confidence carries through to many different activities as well, including public speaking and job interviews. Fear of speaking is a major concern, and often a major roadblock, for many adults in the workplace. The ability to perform in front of a crowd is something that is learned in dance through recital and competitive performances. Dancers often end up in leadership roles because they are willing to step forward and take the initiative to be the centre of attention. This is obviously a huge benefit in many everyday life situations.
Dance training is so much more than some music and a ballet barre. The physical, academic and social benefits as well as the life skills that are learned are invaluable. Dancer’s who train from a young age more often than not grow into productive, physically active and confident members of society. With all this in mind, shouldn’t everyone take dance training?