Attention all advocates of the arts!
Look no further than the Center for Disease Control for startling data to encourage public schools to keep kids dancing. Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years. At the same time, funding for certified dance teachers and dance programs in public schools has disappeared. With powerful voices, including First Lady Michelle Obama, prioritizing physical fitness to improve children’s well-being, dance education supporters have powerful new allies in public health.
The Value of Dance
You may find some resistance to funding dance education versus traditional physical education instruction. However, dance provides extra benefits to students’ health and well-being beyond activities found in a regular gym class. In addition to getting kids’ hearts racing, it increases flexibility, agility, coordination, and spatial awareness. At the same time, it develops children’s expressive, musical, motor, and auditory skills. And dance offers a noncompetitive alternative to sports—one in which visually, mentally, and physically disabled children can easily engage.
Dance and the Classroom
In addition to the physical benefits, adding dance as a regular part of the school day may actually make learning other subjects easier. Research at the University of Illinois shows that 20 minutes of physical activity per day increases children’s capacity to pay attention, particularly in reading. And dance can be an enriching, classroom-based activity because it can be integrated with study of diverse cultures, math, and sciences such as anatomy. According to Dana Foundation research, dance can benefit children’s ability to learn new information because it stimulates the brain’s visual, auditory, and memory centers.
Dance and Community Partnerships
Although National Education Standards for the Arts in Dance have been in place since 1994, more and more schools rely on physical education instructors to provide the required units. Lack of formal dance training can lead well-intentioned teachers to limit their students’ dance exposure to once or twice during the school year.
Where school-based funding for dance education has been cut, you can seek out community arts and cultural organizations to provide workshops, residencies, and teacher training. Look for companies that help develop or strengthen dance curriculum, especially those that integrate dance with other curricular objectives or physical education and health.
With increased focus on our children’s health and well-being, you may even want to seek out innovative partnerships with hospitals, community health foundations, health clubs, and research institutions.
There’s an abundance of research that shows the benefits of physical activity in general, and dance, in particular. With a little legwork—pun intended—you can find opportunities to help integrate dance education in your children’s schools.