Dance teachers have long acknowledged the power of dance to develop physical skills, promote creativity and develop children’s ideas about their place in the world. Learning through the body is intuitively part of how children play, as they jump, climb, and run as a way of experiencing the world around them.
Dance learning develops the child’s ability to communicate through the body. It builds artistic and aesthetic expression, connecting with a deeper self through kinaesthetic consciousness and body thinking. (Deans & Wright 2018)
Current research, however, identifies how dance drives interpersonal coordination and how it uses neurobehaviors to increase intra and inter brain synchrony. (Basso et al, 2021)
Neurocentric views of dance
Dance has for many years been identified as having neural and bio behavioural functions (Christensen et al, 2017).
However, new research published in 2021, sets out to see dance as a human behaviour that emerges from the brain.
So why could this be important for dance in a school learning context?
The brain spontaneously creates coordinated activity that links to the experience of consciousness. This acts to stimulate and enhance children’s ability to learn and remember information.
“As the physical body becomes tuned to either external (e.g., music) or internal (e.g., breathing) rhythms, these rhythms entrain regions of the brain connected to the external world (auditory and sensory) and subsequently recruit other, more internally focused brain areas (motor, cognitive, and emotional).” (Basso et al, 2021)
Findings of research into dance and the brain
From our first experience of standing as babies we are engaged in connecting our body with rhythms and movement. We have all seen babies, pulling up to stand, bouncing along to the music.
We experience joy when we dance to music. Humans are intuitively made to dance.
“When humans hear music, they are driven to move in tune or entrain to the beat, with this rhythmic entrainment leading to positive affective states.” (Phillips-Silver et al., 2010; Trost et al., 2017)
The synchronicity between music and movement indicates that the brain-body connectivity is bidirectional. Oscillatory rhythms in the brain induce movement and movement drives oscillatory rhythm.
“…we engage in dance for the purpose of intrinsic reward, which as a result of dance-induced increases in neural synchrony, leads to enhanced interpersonal coordination. This hypothesis suggests that dance may be helpful to repattern oscillatory activity, leading to clinical improvements in autism spectrum disorder and other disorders with oscillatory activity impairments.” (Basso et al, 2021)
The benefits of learning to dance
The physical benefits of using dance as a central activity in your Primary classroom include improvements to strength, flexibility, balance, gross, and fine motor control. These are essential for the development of healthy bodies in growing children.
Dance as a performative art form, not just a physical activity, acts to enhance aesthetic, communicative, emotional, and social development.
Including dance in Primary education experiences is important in that it crosses several cognitive domains. These include, but are not limited to, children’s abilities to recognise patterns, time sequences, and their ability to respond to others in the space. By comparing dancers to non-dancers, researchers have identified enhanced brain changes. (Burzynska et al, 2017)
Basso, Satyal and Rugh (2021) have also suggested that
“… (dance)improvisation (defined as the de novo generation of non-learned sequences) activated a similar set of brain regions as the leading condition but activated the additional areas of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and bilateral putamen—areas involved in decision making and motivation. Collectively, these neuroimaging studies suggest that dance training may lead to the reorganization of brain systems…”(p14)
Using dance in the Primary classroom
Dance supports sensory, motor, cognitive, social, emotional, and creative behaviours. For teachers, this means that by using dance activities in your classroom you will provide wide ranging benefits for your students.
They have opportunities to connect socially and join together to create and learn. They develop a joyful and motivated approach to learning that is not only about creativity but supports the development of strong community and citizenship skills.
The social aspect of dance is why it is often referred to as the ‘universal language’. Found across all cultures around the world, it has diversified, through a range styles, to encompass cultural differences.
Dance is one way to enhance the collective conscious experience and drive it towards a shared, pleasurable reality. Basso et al, 2021
Basso, Julia, Satyal, Medha, and Rugh, Rachel. (2021). Dance on the Brain: Enhancing Intra- and Inter- Brain Synchrony. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Jan 7, 2021.
Burzynska, A. Z., Finc, K., Taylor, B. K., Knecht, A. M., and Kramer, A. F. (2017). The dancing brain: structural and functional signatures of expert dance training. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:566. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017. 00566
Christensen, J. F., Cela-Conde, C. J., and Gomila, A. (2017). Not all about sex: neural and biobehavioral functions of human dance. Ann. N Y Acad. Sci. 1400, 8–32. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13420
Deans, Jan & Wright Susan. (2018). Dance-Play and Drawing-Telling as Semiotic Tools for Young Children’s Learning. Routledge.
Phillips-Silver, J., Aktipis, C. A., and Bryant, G. A. (2010). The ecology of entrainment: foundations of coordinated rhythmic movement. Music Percept. 28, 3–14. doi: 10.1525/mp.2010.28.1.3