by Sadie Yarrington
I am a teaching artist who works with a wide variety of communities and schools, and I'm often asked about the benefits of dance in education. Now, to me that is like asking about the benefits of brushing your teeth, reading a book or looking both ways before crossing the street? Sure, you could survive without it, but with it you're a more healthy, intelligent and engaged community member.
Dance in education aids the development of kinesthetic intelligence and teaches the values of problem solving, creativity and risk taking. Students develop physical fitness and gain body awareness. Each contributes to a well-rounded education and individual development. I have observed these undeniably positive effects in my classrooms, when teaching students of all ages, from 4 to 75 years old.
There are two benefits that stand out to me most when working with young people:
increase in self-expression and increase in self-confidence.
For so many hours of each day students are ranked and graded based on subject-specific scales created by someone else. In a creative dance environment, this scale of judgement is removed. Students are left to decipher their own individual successes and growth.
For example: I might ask each student to travel across the floor as their favorite animal. From this simple suggestion, students need to...
1. Decide what their favorite animal is (or perhaps what it is that day)
2. Acknowledged how that animal functions in the world (does it fly, crawl, swim?)
3. Transfer that information from thought to movement (how can I fly, crawl or swim?)
I have not asked them to be a certain animal and move a specific way. Instead, it is up to them to decide how they travel across the floor. If the movement they are investigating doesn't meet their expectation, they can adjust it or pick a new animal until they feel confident in their exploration. Before you know it, I'm surrounded by a jungle of
creatures who have all successfully achieved their goal.
Providing students with the agency to express their own thoughts, ideas and stories
encourages confidence. Many students are initially nervous in their first dance class and close themselves off. The real magic of creative movement occurs when each student finds what sparks his or her individual creativity and shares that with the rest of the group. I'll never forget the moment one of my most introverted students found her
confidence. She performed her dance signature in front of the entire class and as we applauded, she sat down and quietly exclaimed, "I guess I have a talent after all.”
Dance has the ability to create a supportive environment for self-expression that paves the way for an increase in self-confidence. Not only does dancing help to develop basic skills: it ignites appreciation in students for themselves and the people around them.
Let's dance and find another reason to love ourselves and each other!
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Invert/ED is Invertigo's education program. We recently finished a 10-week residency with 4 first-grade classes through the wonderful Music Center Education Program. Next up: a partnership with Culver City High School in conjunction with our full-length production After It Happened. More information on Invert/ED can be found here.