2020 has caused us to rethink how we approach learning. We are now asked to learn by ourselves from behind a screen. While this is not an ideal way to learn to dance, dance studios and teachers around the globe have found new ways to engage their students. If you have a child who is asking about taking a dance class, now is a perfect time to enroll. It may take a little extra focus and determination, but the benefits will be well worth the effort.
Maybe your child has expressed interest in dance class or they are always dancing around the house, but you’re not sure if they will be good at it or coordinated enough. At 3 years old the only thing that matters is that they want to try. At that age they are still developing their gross motor skills, fine motor coordination, listening and social skills. A dance class is a way for them to play with movement the way toddlers play with sounds when they are learning to talk. The main goal of that first dance class is to instill self confidence and a familiarity with how our bodies move in space.
But what if your child is older – say 10 or 11? Is that too old to start dance classes? In my opinion it’s never too late. When starting at a later age, it’s important to match the student with other students the same age. And more than one class per week can increase the rate of improvement by leaps and bounds. Soccer practice is rarely only one day a week because frequency of training speeds up learning and the same applies to dance skills.
You might ask, “how long should my child take dance classes”. I always recommend sticking with an activity for at least a year. In a dance studio there is usually a concert at the end of the year and it provides a great sense of accomplishment for the students to work all they way through that very exciting conclusion. Then, after that first year, the question becomes “should my child keep taking dance classes?” Say, your son loved his first dance class, but now you’re not sure whether to continue.
Past that first year, there is a lot of evidence of the benefits of participating in arts programs even for kids who will not end up pursuing a professional career in the arts. Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the arts in America (https://www.americansforthearts.org/research), cites the following benefits for youths who participate in the arts at least three hours or three days each week:
•they are 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
•they are 3 times more likely to be elected to a class office within their schools
•they are four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
•they are 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
•they are 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem
•they are twice as likely to read for pleasure
•they are four times more likely to perform community service
When I was growing up everyone was encouraged to be “well rounded”. These days that concept seems to have been buried under more financially centered advice like “learn marketable skills” and be “career focused”. I believe, however, that the Art fuels our souls and that focusing too much simply on how one plans to make money can keep kids from reaching their fullest potential in whatever field they end up in. Continuing with dance instills a way of looking at the world and a flexibility in problem solving that will help kids grow up into better adults and caring citizens.
Researchers from the Arts Education Partnership (AEP: http://www.aep-arts.org/research-policy/artsedsearch/) reviewed 62 studies of how dance, music, drama, visual arts and other arts affected student achievement. They found that children that participated in strong arts programs:
•showed improvement in reading comprehension, speaking, and writing skills
•showed improvement in spatial reasoning, conditional reasoning, problem solving and creative thinking
•showed improvement in active engagement, disciplined and sustained attention, retention, persistence, and risk taking
• showed improvement in self-confidence, self-control, self-identity, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy, social tolerance, and community engagement
And dance class will not only enrich your child’s life, it just might enrich yours too. Watch dance videos with your child on Youtube. Listen to different types of music and talk about how you would move to it. When you’ve had a bad day, take a minute to dance with your child and see how much better you feel afterwards. Go see a dance performance. Read a book about a famous dancer. Learning about dance can expand your horizons and open up new ways of seeing the world around you. Maybe you will end up in a dance class too!