I was teaching class of 7-8year olds and it was a challenging class.
Lots of various needs amongst the students from a little one with a troubled home, to another who was struggling to fit in socially and the rest, well they were just tired and ratty.
I had pulled out all my tools of the trade to get through, from using fun aids like therabands & yoga blocks, making games of steps, lots of imagery, and a couple of my daggy jokes.
I was exhausted and glad to get to improvisation, our favourite time at the end of class. I love it and often join in, we flit, float, leap, bourree, pose and just plain old dance like no one is watching. This particular class I did not join in, I sat and watched. I watched as my little treasures told their own story, expressed their own desires and sparkled in their own way.
I caught the eye of one of my little dancers, one who had been particularly struggling earlier in the class. Her eyes twinkled, she was free. She smiled, I smiled. She knows what I know. Dance is freedom, an escape from the world. Even if it is fleeting it is a recharge, a reset and a chance to reconnect with yourself, mind, body & spirit. Dance is better than any therapy.
There is a popular quote that has been shared on many Pinterest boards and Facebook pages, it is one of my favourites. It holds the truth of what I experienced teaching that class and also what I experience with my students at all levels.
“Dance enables you to find yourself and lose yourself all at the same time”
I am generally not overly interested in my students becoming professional dancers.
Don’t get me wrong I am deeply committed to a high level of technical training but let’s be honest, there is not a great deal of work for dancers and it is a pretty tough career path. I am much more interested in creating a space for kids to experience all the benefits of dance. I take great joy in passing on the skills and opportunities that were afforded to me by my dance teacher, to my own students.
Dance helped me find an inner strength.
All those hard moments in class, just like the ones my little afore mentioned dancers were having, were pivotal moments in my development. Dance taught me how to connect with my body, to keep trying, to never give up. Dance taught me to be courageous and step outside of my comfort zone.
Dance also provided me with a safe haven to disconnect from the real world and create relationships with like-minded people that shared a passion for dance.
Going to school can be tough as a tween and teenager, we have to go whether we like it or not. We are lumped in with another group of kids that we really have nothing in common with other than living near the school. The dance studio for me became the place where I felt the most connection and value. My dance friends are still some of my closest and dearest friends 30 years on. It is creating this social connectedness and resulting deep sense of self-worth and purpose that I find the most rewarding aspect of running my studio.
Watching the students form bonds, cheer each other along and create friendships, I know will last a life-time, provides me with a deep level of satisfaction.
My assertion that dance provides life changing benefits is not just based on my own observations and anecdotal evidence. There are so many studies that have been done into adolescent participation in extracurricular activities like dance, and the effects on academic and personal feelings of self-concept and life satisfaction. Extracurricular commitments can keep kids busy, and occupied offering potential preventive effects for teens considered to be “at-risk” for negative developmental outcomes.
A longitudinal study in Iceland provides strong evidence of the need to keep young people active and engaged in activities like dance. Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The decline in drug and alcohol abuse and addiction has decreased significantly since the Icelandic government introduced a strong program of activities including music, dance, hip hop, art and martial arts. The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids’ brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life.
It is deeply rewarding to know the potential life-long impact you are having on students.
I know that during their time with us our students gain life skills and a solid foundation for adulthood. We’re more than just a dance school. We’re passionate about churning out decent, well-rounded human beings who go on to have happy, healthy and productive lives.
You can check out much of this research HERE and Google the reports of Silliker & Quirk, 1997; Cooper, Valentine, Nye 1999. )
ABC Article: ICELAND TEEN SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Structured extracurricular activities among adolescents: Findings and implications for school psychologists