Give Dance a Chance
Don’t be fooled by glittery costumes and false eyelashes — competitive dancers are athletes who deserve to be taken just as seriously as members of any other team, such as soccer, swimming, or track. Dance has multiple benefits — often more than other sports. And yes, dance performed regularly and intensively is both a sport and a multi-sensory art form that may raise your child’s self-esteem.
According to the National Registry of Dance Educators, dance provides physical, intellectual, artistic, social and individual benefits that can enrich any dancer’s life. If you are considering dance as an activity for your child, you may want to review the benefits before you balk at the price tag of ongoing classes.
Unlike many sports which are often seasonal, dance practice typically runs all school year or even year-round. Many kids take a variety of sports throughout the year, but dancers tend to take foundational dance classes first and then learn new forms of dance as their skills grow. Ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, acrobatics and hip hop are the most common forms of dance you will find offered at your local dance studio.
When we think of dance, we may think of diva ballerinas or overly meddlesome mothers, but dancers learn many helpful, practical skills that carry over naturally into everyday life. If you visit a few local studios in your area, you will likely find a vibe and set of values that are a good match for your child and family. Here are some of the many benefits of taking continuous dance classes.
Listening better. In order to learn, dancers have to hear and absorb verbal instructions from their teachers, often on the fly. In the practice room, instruction is offered in a variety of ways, which helps children learn to pay attention before, during and after learning something new.
Observing closely. Another way dancers learn is by watching demonstrations. Dancing is a multi-sensory skill, so there are many ways to learn, and watching closely is an important part of the process, especially for more visual learners.
Expanding social circles. Dancers can make new friends in dance class and expand their social circles beyond the neighborhood and the classroom. Friendships tend to deepen over time, and kids who spend a lot of time working on new skills together are likely to form tighter friendships.
Growing more fit. We often think of dancers as dainty and delicate, but dancers are stronger than you might imagine. Regular dancing increases cardiovascular health, builds muscles and, over time, increases physical endurance.
Gaining musicality and rhythm. If you want your child to become more musical, even without practicing an instrument, dance is a good choice. The measured movements kids learn in dance help them intuitively understand and adapt to other kinds of rhythms in life.
Building strength. In my daughter’s 5th grade classroom, a petite veteran competitive dancer routinely beat the football players at arm wrestling. Dancers must be strong, no matter what their size, because they need core strength as well as individual muscle strength to leap, turn and twist without injury.
Becoming more flexible. Don’t worry if your child is not necessarily flexible or agile before beginning dance. Flexibility is something that is approached incrementally as a dancer learns and grows. After a few years of stretching and flexing, any dancer can become more limber.
Focusing on following through. If your child has trouble concentrating for periods of time, dance might be a good way to build this skill. Because dance is kinesthetic as well as musical and rhythmic, children who have trouble sitting still in school can concentrate more easily while learning a complete dance movement, which takes considerable concentration, focus and practice.
Responding to feedback. Dancers receive ongoing feedback from instructors. The onus is on them to received feedback as graciously as they can, and apply it to their routines so they can improve. This teaches responsiveness and collaboration instead of defensiveness and oversensitivity.
Practicing poise. Even if your child often trips or bumps into things, dance can cure the curse of klutziness. Poise in the practice room will eventually translate into increased body awareness and better motor control outside of the studio as well.
Inspiring self-discipline. So many situations in life require us to be able to train ourselves to do things to the best of our ability. By teaching mastery of a routine through practice, dancers learn how to aim for a goal and reach it. Repeated over time, this ability to get things accomplished can be applied to any task or healthy habit.
Finding opportunities for self-expression. Although dance is rarely verbal and routines are often choreographed, dancers express themselves artistically through movement, agility, showmanship, poise and by letting their personalities shine through. Some dances offer a variety of roles and dancers may either be cast in a role or offered a solo based on ability and personality.
Test-driving commitment. Dancers earn dividends on what they invest. When your dancer fully commits, the payoff is great. Half-hearted or lax engagement typically yields poorer results.
Increasing confidence. Confidence comes from doing. It’s one thing to watch a dance recital. It’s quite another to perform in one. Dance is multi-sensory, so don’t be surprised if it boosts your child’s confidence in ways you may not anticipate.
Acquiring excellent posture. Body language experts have proven that by changing our posture, we can change our attitude and our feelings. Dancers practice excellent posture, which has both short and long-term benefits physiologically and emotionally.
Improving body awareness. Dancers’ bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and dancers learn that an active, healthy body helps you accomplish your objectives with greater ease no matter what size you are. Dancers learn first-hand the benefits of eating healthy and fueling their bodies.
Teaching teamwork. Dancers often literally depend on each other to lift each other up, to hold each other up, and to work in unison to make a whole. By working hard together and learning to trust each other, dancers learn to trust themselves in a group.
Emphasizing a positive attitude. When you smile, the whole world smiles with you, so the saying goes. Like posture, tests have shown that smiling makes you feel better whether you want to feel better or not. The dance studio is a place where your child is reminded to put a best face forward.
Reducing stress. Life gets bumpy sometimes, even for kids. Dancers who are experiencing stress in life outside the studio, may find that the consistency, focus and health benefits of dance counterbalance negative effects of any stress in their personal lives. Children experiencing stress typically benefit from expressive outlets for their considerable energy.
Respecting instructors. Parents do not typically coach or volunteer in dance classes. Most instructors are trained, and studios expect kids to be respectful towards their teachers. Dancers who treat instructors with admiration tend to get more out of the process than dancers who behave in a disrespectful manner or act out in class, just like in real life.
Joining an extended community. Dancers are not just part of a class, they are part of an extended community. A studio is composed of the owner, the instructors, the students and the parents and families of the students. Dancers learn that they can be a significant part of the whole and still shine as individuals. They can look to others for good examples and also set a good example. They learn most importantly to work hard, do their best and still have fun.
Author, journalist and writing coach Christina Katz is not the kind of dance mom you see featured dubiously on TV. She believes in the power of the arts to improve and enrich the lives of children and families, and has witnessed the transformative results first-hand.