Why Children Dance for Life (and Yours Should Too!)

by Taresa Schmidt

When your four-year-old child comes to you and says, “I want to dance,” you might find yourself subject to the following reactions:

  1. Eye rolling (There goes our social life!)
  2. Eyebrow raising (Really? Isn’t soccer, like, super popular around here?)
  3. Shoulder shrugging (Where am I supposed to sign you up for that?)

For me? I think there was some squealing and fist-pumping involved.

I am that dance mom – the one that spent years in dance classes and on dance teams. The one who is still always looking for an excuse to dance. Who promised she wouldn’t force dance on her kids, but also always has music playing and leaves tutus lying around the house. Who asks, “Aren’t these tap shoes fun? Should we watch So You Think You Can Dance?”

I’m not trying to live vicariously through my kid (I swear!!) It’s just that I know firsthand the benefits of dance: the physical, emotional, and social advantages to putting on those wretched tights and losing yourself in music.

But don’t take my word for it.

“No matter who you are, you will find many benefits in dance,” says Angie Craft. “There is something to be gained by everyone.”

Ms. Angie, the director of Stage Stars Dance and Acro, states that dancers learn time management skills which builds their confidence. “When you immerse yourself in dance, you find so much joy, but it also forces you to structure your time,” says Angie. “Whether you dance once a week or ten hours a week, you still have to go to school, do homework, practice dances, and find time for other activities. Dancers learn how to structure their day, and that carries them through life. At a young age, dancers learn what it takes to be successful, and that has an amazing effect on their self-esteem.”

But the learned ability to manage their time isn’t the only thing that grows a dancers’ confidence.

“A lot of young dancers try a step or move for the first time and find themselves saying, ‘I can’t.’ We tell them not to accept that,” says Angie. “Dancers must be persistent and push themselves to make adjustments each day through practice. We don’t accept ‘I can’t.’ We teach dancers to say, ‘I can’t yet.’ And when a dancer makes that small change in attitude, they get closer to their goal. Eventually, they say, “I did it!’ And even, ‘Look at me! Watch me! I got it!’ The next time they try something new, they know they just can’t yet, but if they push themselves and keep trying, they will.”

Dance teacher Ralph Elliott agrees. “Dance grows a child’s confidence,” he says. “It makes them stronger physically, and that realization does wonders for their confidence.” Mr. Ralph, a former diver, also feels that dance is an incredible way for young athletes to condition in the off-season. “Even if dance isn’t your full-time sport, taking one dance class a week can help a young athlete’s stamina, flexibility, and agility. Simple stretches and moves teach a child to move quickly, transfer their body weight, and stay limber.”

“…taking one dance class a week can help a young athlete’s stamina, flexibility, and agility.”

And that, adds Ralph, can help keep a young athlete from getting injured. “Conditioning muscles, having more body awareness, and increasing aerobic fitnessare all ways to keep our young students healthy, and instilling the importance of this when they are young helps protect them as they age and as they try different sports.”

“We’ve had many dancers use the skills they’ve learned in our classes in field hockey, in wrestling matches, and on gymnastics mats,” says Ralph. “It is amazing to see dance training translating to other parts of our students’ lives.”
Emily Kohlmorgen, also a teacher at Stage Stars, feels the biggest benefit of dance is the door it opens to her students’ creative minds. “Dance creates this new mind-body connection,” she says. “They’re able to experiment with music and interpret its meaning. They learn about their own expression, and even sometimes find their passion.”

Ms. Emily, who grew up loving music and playing instruments, feels dance provides a creative outlet for her students. “Kids spend all day in school, staying mostly sedentary,” she says. “They use certain parts of their brain. When they come to dance, we offer them an opportunity to use a different part of their brain. And when they embrace that opportunity, that’s when they let go and lose themselves in dance.”

Emily recalls young dancers entering the studio for the first time being timid or scared. “Some kids need time to warm up. They need to observe what’s going on around them at first. But when they finally start coming out of their shell, hearing the music and letting themselves move, you can see them having that moment where they’re thinking to themselves, ‘I really like this!'”

The dance studio also offers students an opportunity to be around like-minded people. “I think a lot of dancers feel like they find their place here,” says Ms. Emily. “Students enter the studio and see their dance friends and know they are around people with a similar passion and desire to be creative. They feel less judged here, and they have the opportunity to work together on something artistic that they care about. And those bonds can be life-long.”

Ms. Angie agrees. “Dance can be a very individual sport, but it also brings people together and teaches them to work as a team, to support each other and lift each other up. You never forget what that feels like, and you never forget dance. Once a dancer, always a dancer.”

And that’s a statement I can get down with. When I hear Vogue on the radio, I think of my best friend and myself practicing our favorite jazz dance in her basement. When my back hurts, I straighten my shoulders, pull in my core, and stretch my arms.

Once a dancer, always a dancer.

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