The New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker is a winter tradition for many local children. It’s a marvelous spectacle with 125 children, 90 ballet dancers, 62 musicians, and a 41-foot Christmas tree. But for kids, dance is more than dazzling. As soon as babies can stand, they’re wiggling and wobbling and dancing in their own unique ways. Dance is a natural part of physical development, but it’s also one worth cultivating formally, as there are numerous mental and physical benefits of dance for children (and adults, too, if you want to join the fun!). Continue reading to learn about some of the fascinating studies pertaining to studying dance in childhood.
Engagement and Joy
Babies find rhythm, tempo, music, and dance more engaging and enjoyable than plain speech. University of York researchers also found “the better the children are able to synchronize their movements with music, the more they smile. What better way to share joy with your child than a daddy or mommy and me class?
Can dance wire the brain to cope with hardship and open up paths to learning? The short answer is: yes! Intensive arts programs in music, dance, and visual arts can lower the cortisol levels in chronically stressed, economically disadvantaged preschoolers, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Child Development. The dance classes not only developed children’s artistic abilities, but also promoted learning in math and literacy.
Better Academic Performance
Researchers are always looking for affordable interventions to help impoverished youth rise up and achieve better outcomes in school. It turns out, enrolling in dance and music study improves a child’s grades all the way through eighth grade, no matter the socioeconomic status, according to George Mason University Arts Research Center.
Dancing engages multiple brain functions at once to increase neural connectivity and flexibility. Dancing strengthens connectivity between the central and cerebral hemispheres, modifies white and grey matter in various brain regions, and integrates different brain areas to improve neuroplasticity, according to a January 2019 study published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioural Reviews. This neuroplasticity is what allows the brain to strengthen connections, rewire, and relearn as necessary – all fundamental components to developing a growth mindset.
Balance and Fine Motor Control
We all want our kids to move well and with great coordination. Not surprisingly, dance programs “significantly improve” a child’s balance, fine motor skills, and the neurological processes that support movement, according to researchers in Brazil who studied 85 children in 1st to 5th grades. What surprised researchers was that the benefits of dance persist — to some degree — for months, even after a formal dance program ends.
Diabetic children between the ages of 8-16 were able to improve cholesterol and reduce BMI by 1.7 units with two hours of playing “Dance Dance Revolution” per week with their families. By comparison, the control group increased BMI by 1.6 units and gained an average of 17 pounds over the same time period. Yale researchers found dance more effective at reducing weight, body fat, and insulin sensitivity than traditional clinic-based weight counseling.
As kids get older, it can be more and more difficult to engage them in regular physical activity, especially with the ubiquity of video games. However, video games can also be part of the solution, say researchers. The Universite de Montreal reported that games like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Sports actually increased teen activity levels from less than 60 minutes per week to more than 100. “As less than 15% of children and adolescents currently participate regularly in physical activity, we are pleased to report that exergaming can add to regular physical activity to attain physical activity guidelines,” concluded researchers.
Join Our East End Dance Party!
If you’re interested in dance lessons, there is no better place than the brand-new Shine Studio. In studio 3, we’re pleased to feature artists-in-residence Our Fabulous Variety Show. Their classes include tap, ballet, jazz, musical theatre, acting, and improv – with a mission to help kids learn, express themselves, hone their creativity, and grow. Contact us for details.