Does dance improve reading and build on an enthusiasm for reading? This does seem like a strange connection but many of the skills of dance and reading are similar.
There are many linguistic connections to dance. The creative processes for writing and choreography are parallel many ways.
Here are some examples of how they are similar. Dance can be representational or abstract and is open to subjective interpretation. In addition, when we view dance, we use interpretative processes, making inferences as we discuss the movement and the artist’s intent.
Also, making dance, uses divergent thinking abilities to create patterns of movement as the body moves in 3 dimensional space. Reading involves the same cognitive processes as we look at the symbols and find patterns of meaning.
Similarities between reading comprehension and dance can include thinking metaphorically, interpreting and making references as we make meaning (Kyriaki Makopoulou et al, 2020).
In Early childhood dance education classes, we ask children to draw or write symbols when describing their dances. These are part of the development of literacy through pictures, symbols, and letters.
By discussing movement options, recording choreographic ideas, and interpreting the movements of others, children in the early years of schooling, make connections between the symbols of movement and interpreting ideas.
However, does this early link between dance and literacy translate to a connection between dance in Years 3 to 6 and improved reading comprehension?
What does the research say?
There have been some programs developed as part of research into this area of inquiry. In these projects, specifically designed dance programs, have been used to increase literacy and reading in particular. Some examples are Dancing Books (Arts Council, England 2017) and Bringing Books to Life (West End in School, 2017).
However, more recently, Kyriaki Makopoulou, R. Neville & K. McLaughlin (2020), conducted a two year study into Year 4 students to evaluate the associations between dance and reading.
Among other research questions they were looking to establish,
What worked well and how they could improve the program?
What were the pupils’ perceptions on the links between dance and reading?
The study had moderate but significant results. Despite some limitations of the study, namely that it was a small sample size and that the research samples were unequal, it had some interesting results.
Students’ ideas about reading and dance
The majority of students improved in their dance outcomes and their reading outcomes. However, their observations of their own progress are of interest when considering how we plan for a dance program with literacy as a secondary focus.
Firstly, the students felt that after the program they were more likely to use their imaginations and be more creative with reading. They could visualize what the characters looked like, how they moved and how they felt.
Secondly, they identified being more immersed in the book as they could empathise with the characters. They thought dance really put you inside the characters and that it helped you understand some of the more difficult text.
And finally, some results also suggested that students felt they should try harder to interpret the text and that the dance activities helped them to express their own feelings.
How could your school dance program further support reading?
Clearly these results show the benefits of these kinds of dance-based reading programs. Although not the only single way to help young readers, this could be a weapon in your teaching literacy arsenal.
The role of dance in comprehension in the primary classroom.
There appears to be strong links between dance literacy and comprehension. Comprehension means understanding text whether that is spoken, written and or visual.
This complex process is about extracting and constructing meaning at the same time. The meaning is constructed through problem solving and thinking processes and then situated socially and culturally.
Visualizing is an important part of this process, as are the asking and answering of questions that may be abstract by nature. Synthesizing this information may involve retrieving prior knowledge, interpreting ideas, reflecting on these interpretations, and then evaluating it.
This is where dance is useful as students make a brain- body connection. Dance education encompasses direct instruction and idea sharing. In addition, it has the potential to be flexible in teaching a variety of reading levels, prior knowledge, and abilities to collaborate creatively.
Literacy in your dance classroom
Here are some ideas for making the links between reading and dance in your dance classroom.
- Use diverse and age appropriate material to inspire dance choreography. If students are having problems understanding the text, they will struggle to interpret it as a dance.
- Challenge students to find meaning in reading texts through whole class discussions as a part of the choreographic process. As artists, discussion and brainstorming are key skills.
- Incrementally unfold dance composition so that the students have a deeper understanding of how we translate written texts to original movement.
- Teachers need to model rich, descriptive language as a part of their dance practice. This acts to enhance their student’s language capabilities when describing their own work and improve their reading comprehension.
- Develop a range of questioning techniques to encourage children to reflect critically on their own work as a way of developing metacognition.
- When dealing with difficult texts, break it up into different colour sections, and devise a dance task for each section. This assists students in seeing the text in small parts rather than as a whole that may be daunting.
Some final thoughts
These are a few ideas for how dance may support reading comprehension. However, what remains essential is that when considering dance based education that the students are being supported in learning about dance.
Central to learning about the processes of choreography is a knowledge of dance language and choreographic tools. When devising dance activities for Years 3 – 6 consider how you are teaching ABOUT dance not just HOW to dance.
The knowledge of the language and processes of dance will in turn broaden how children respond to their reading texts.
Bonbright, J., K. Bradley, and S. Dooling. 2013. Evidence: A Report on the Impact of Dance in the K-12 Setting. Silver Spring, MD: National Dance Education Organization.
Giguere, M. 2006. “Thinking as They Create: Do Children Have Similar Experiences in Dance and in Language Arts?” Journal of Dance Education 6 (2): 41–47. doi:10.1080/15290824.2006.10387311.
Janet H. Adams (2016) Dance and Literacy Hand in Hand, Journal of Dance Education, 16:1, 31-34.
Kyriaki Makopoulou, R. Neville & K. McLaughlin (2020) Does a dance-based physical education (DBPE) intervention improve year 4 pupils’ reading comprehension attainment? Results from a pilot study in England, Research in Dance Education.
See, B.H., and D. Kokotsaki. 2016. “Impact of Arts Education on Children’s Learning and Wider Outcomes.” Review of Education 4 (3): 234-262. doi:10.1002/rev3.2016.4.issue-3