Written by Margo Ward, CEO and Founder of KidsXpress
It’s over 35 years old now, but one of my all-time favourite movies is the 1984 film ‘Footloose’ which tells the story of a city teenager who moves to a small town where music and dancing have been banned. As far- fetched as that sounds, the film is said to be based on the real life farming town of Elmore City, in rural Oklahoma, USA which had banned dance for 82 years from 1898 to 1980. When a group of 700 high school students petitioned community leaders against the ban, they were met with resistance, with one of the most quotable opponents being their church minister, Rev. F.R. Johnson, who famously remarked “No good has ever come from a dance.”
Good Lord … SERIOUSLY?? Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth!
Whether you’re 2 or 102 years old, engaging in physical activities that involve music, movement and dance have been proven time and time again to boost your physical and mental health. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that shows we’re born with an innate ability to dance with one recent UK study by the University of York revealing that babies as young as 5 months old respond to the rhythm and tempo of music, and find it much more engaging than speech. The same study also found that the better the babies were able to synchronize their movements with the music, the more they smiled. And who doesn’t melt when babies a baby smiles?
To see someone dance is to witness release, self-expression, and more often than not, pure happiness. By being a safe outlet for creativity and an effective method of accessing a happier frame of mind, dance movement has been incorporated into therapeutic practice with mental health professionals as far back as the 1800’s recognising that dance can go beyond a simple pastime to being used as a form of communication and expression within a therapeutic setting. Dance Therapy in fact has become a highly respected & evidence based modality to engage children& adults alike.
For children with anxiety – which is the second most common mental health condition in Australian children aged 4-11yrs – dance is a particularly powerful tool in helping to manage their symptoms. These children can sometimes find it harder to get their anxious feelings under control and often live in a perpetual state of hypervigilance or worry. The synchronised coordination of movement and breathing helps to deflate hyper-aroused and hyper-vigilant thoughts. It helps young minds to breath & focus on their body, their presence and their gestures instead of the worrying thoughts that usually dominate their thoughts.
Additionally, dance helps to build sensory awareness and non-verbal communication which is particularly useful for younger children who don’t have the words to express how they’re feeling. Moreover, many children who deal with anxiety disorders often experience crippling low self-esteem and it is well known in dance can help to build confidence with each new routine they master or performance show that they participate in.
Children who dance in a group or as part of a troupe learn teamwork and develop vital interpersonal skills that gives them a strong sense of belonging and provides an opportunity to build their social circle outside of school. I believe introducing a child at pre-school beyond the family unit to this sense of belonging can create a strong foundation of connectedness for life. And never underestimate the powerful role a dance teacher has in a child’s life. They will forever more remember their Miss Jade or Miss Glenda that gently guided them through the wonders of dance.
I could go on forever about the benefits of dance. After all, the very essence of KidsXpress is based on the healing powers of the creative arts for the promotion of growth and healing for children. But I’ll instead leave you with a quote which despite being only 18 words long, sums up everything I’ve spent the last 550 words trying to explain:
“Tell me the last time you danced, and I will tell you the last time you were happy”. (Author unknown)