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Bodily movement is an adaptive necessity as well as a human birthright. As humans, we move for many reasons. We move for pleasure, communal bonding, ritual, and self-expression. When movement becomes consciously structured and is performed with awareness for its own sake, it becomes dance.
Dance is basic to human nature and is a basic form of individual and cultural expression. It is pre-verbal, beginning before words can be formed. It is innate in children before they possess command over language and is evoked when thoughts or emotions are too powerful for words to contain. Dance can celebrate play, prayer, courtship, recreation, entertainment, and the human need to communicate the meaning of life in art. Just as all societies create forms of visual representation or organize sounds into music, all cultures organize movement and rhythm into one or more forms of dance. Dance can be a powerful artistic medium for communicating values and beliefs about the human experience.
To study the art of dance is to learn the language of bodily movement as it expresses and communicates the essence of humanity. Artistic dance education serves to stimulate conscious understanding of the language of movement and to develop aesthetic knowledge and skill in movement expression.
Education in the art of dance provides students with deep, thought-provoking experiences that combine many art forms and disciplines. The act of choreography is akin to sculpting with the human body in mobile space--a visual arts endeavor. Musicality with rhythm, phrasing, and a full partnership with the musical accompaniment is demanded. Dramatic skills and techniques are necessary to choreograph an interesting work and perform it. Learning the art of dance is a full, enriching, and physically joyful experience.
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.
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.
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.
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 cultural heritages.
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.
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 multicultural 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.
The Standards for Learning and Teaching Dance in the Arts: Ages 5-18 are important because they