On Thursday this week it is International Dance Day (29th April 2020). This festival celebrates dance as a global ‘language’ and seeks to share the joy of dance with others. All around us we see dance being used as a form of communication and release in troubled times. From NHS workers performing TikTok dance routines, to indigenous dancers in North America uplifting communities by sharing their cultural dances on the Facebook group Social Distance PowWow, to anyone who is dancing in their living room. Dance is indeed bringing us together.
So, what can children learn from dance? In the early years, children often express themselves through movement. Without the inhibitions that come a little later, they move simply for the pleasure of moving. The National Dance Education Organisation (NDEO) says that dance ‘is pre-verbal, beginning before words can be formed’. The joy of movement in response to sound is accessible to infants precisely because it requires no words. From this natural starting point, educators can use dance to support gross motor development, coordination, spatial awareness, self-expression, interpretation and vocabulary.
Amy Swalwell from Theatre Hullabaloo explains that ‘dance is unique in that it blends artistic practice with physical activity’. She says that at Primary school, teachers can use dance to encourage children to explore identity, artistic interpretation, working together, problem solving, looking and listening, evaluating and verbal and non-verbal communication.
Beyond this, there are the benefits dance can bring to wellbeing. An outlet for feelings, a safe way to nurture self-esteem and self-expression, it offers a link between what we feel and how we behave. The NDEO believes: ‘movement provides the cognitive loop between the idea, problem or intent and the outcome or solution. This teaches an infant, child, and ultimately, adult to function in and understand the world.’
This brings me to another point about dance. It is inter-generational. It is an activity that can be shared by babies, children, teenagers, parents and grandparents. Many of the benefits just described for infants and children are almost identical to those provided by dance in the elderly – it is sociable and therefore supports wellbeing, it improves mobility, and the combination of movement and timing help to keep the brain active as well as the body (Aging Care).
The non-verbal, expressive nature of dance makes it accessible to children with additional needs. They can explore body awareness, coordination and the space around them, as well finding ways to understand emotions. In 2015 Volunteer Action Research conducted a study showing the positive impact of dance for children with special educational needs. One child said: ‘The classes bring out what’s already there…whatever you do it’s going to be good. It’s you and it will be good.’
So, come on. Stick on your favourite tune and feel the music, whether it is slow or disco, joyful or more poignant. Dance on your own, with other household members, or video call and dance with some friends. Dance with children still at your setting or send home dance ideas for families. Shake it out, laugh, find your inner child. No words needed.
Edited by Jules