The intrinsic value of dance is not separate from its instrumental benefits. The byproducts of learning dance include the instrumental benefits of physical health, emotional maturation, social awareness, cognitive development, and academic achievement. Learning and growth in each of these areas are embedded in the standards.
Physical Health: Dance was first included in educational curricula at the turn of
the century to promote physical well being. It found its home in girls’ physical
education as a non-competitive activity that promoted flexibility, strength,
coordination, and gracefulness. Today, we know dance also beneficially
addresses cardiovascular health, childhood obesity, bone formation, joint
stability, neurological development, and other physical childhood issues.
Emotional Maturation: Participation in dance is an enjoyable experience for most
students, and it promotes self-confidence, self-esteem, and a strong sense of
self-identity. When students are able to express feelings and ideas through
artistic movement, they gain self-awareness and often self-acceptance. Creative
movement experiences promote both self-reflection and a deeper appreciation for
others. The communal nature of dance learning often helps students who might
otherwise feel isolated or alienated in group settings.
Social Awareness: Studying dance increases students’ social awareness and
skills on many levels. Students become more aware of the values and beliefs of
their own and different societies by performing and analyzing diverse dances.
When dancing together, students learn to be united as a group through
coordinated action and rhythms. Students learn to cooperate with one another
toward mutual goals when working on collaborative movement projects. They
learn to respect one another’s efforts and appreciate one another’s diverse
Cognitive Development: There is anecdotal evidence that early motor
development involves sequences of movements that develop neurology for later
learning. As infants roll, sit, crawl, and walk, cross-lateral movement patterns
engage cross-hemispheric brain functions that stimulate vestibular activities in
the brain and the growth of the corpus callosum. Skill in spatial patterning and
even reading has been known to be affected by this development.
It is now recognized that core dance experiences involve understanding
the “language” of movement. As an artist, a choreographer makes sense of the
world, organizes it, and communicates a point of view through movement.
Content is embedded in the form and structure of the dance and clear meaning
is developed through the creative process and expressive movement. Students of
artistic dance learn how to both create and communicate meaning through
movement and understand and respond to meaning in the dance of others. The
uniquely human capacity to understand and create symbols matures gradually
from the concrete and physical expression of a child—the infant’s first symbol
system being bodily movement—to the abstract conceptualization of adults.
Experience creating and interpreting movement vocabulary promotes learning
and maturation in these higher-order thinking skills.
Students of artistic dance also develop and use creative higher-order thinking
skills while inventing solutions to movement problems. Just like an artistic
choreographer has to be an inventive problem solver, weaving aesthetic
movement to find logical solutions to kinesthetic issues, students of artistic
dance have to engage higher-order thinking skills when completing
choreographic movement assignments and exercises that present kinesthetic
and spatial problems.
Academic Achievement: A correlation has been observed between students who
dance and higher standardized test scores (College Board statistics). Through
dance education, students develop focus, concentration, discipline, creativity,
problem-solving skills, self-assessment skills, and the desire to do well. In
addition, students learn to remember patterns, sequences, relationships, forms,
and structures. These transfer into other areas of learning and achievement.
Many of the Multiple Intelligences proffered by Howard Gardner are addressed in
the core dance experience. It has been demonstrated that children who are
kinesthetic learners learn effectively through movement experiences. It has also
been found that many children from multi-cultural or minority populations are
kinesthetic learners (Park, 1997, 2000, and White, 1992). As these populations
expand in American schools, dance education can help close the gap to
equalize academic achievement among students.