The Importance of Dance in Schools

I am always going on about the creative and performing arts being an essential part of the curriculum because it develops the whole person so it was good to read the article (and watch the Ted talk video) by Sir Ken Robinson about dance. He titled his talk, provocatively, ‘Why Dance is as Important as Maths’. You can imagine the uproar! The complaints came especially from maths teachers, naturally, but they came from others as well. They didn’t get what Sir Ken was talking about. He certainly wasn’t dismissing the importance of maths or any other subject, academic or otherwise, but rather being provocative to make people sit up and take notice. What he actually said was, ‘Creativity is not limited to the Arts. Creativity is a function of intelligence. Creativity puts your imagination to work. Creativity is an essential part of our humanity. We have created an education system that suppresses these powers.’ Furthermore, ‘ … it sometimes feels as though we have “education from the neck up” rather than embracing personal, social, spiritual, instinctual, emotional and physical learning.’

Anything to do with Arts education stimulates the imagination and allows us to use that imagination in any endeavour, whether that is in maths, the sciences, technology or anything else. Our imaginations enable us to problem solve. It makes sense then to do everything within the curriculum to stimulate the imagination. What is the point of learning to write, for example, if you have nothing to say?

I see my grandson – now in year 1 – excited about going to school each day. How good is that? He has had very positive experiences in pre-kindy, kindy, pre-primary and now in year 1. In all those classes, typically, he has been exposed to lots of music, dance and art (and now drama too). This is essential in the early years. I would argue it is essential right across the board, in all levels of education and this is what Sir Ken is also advocating.

Learning maths doesn’t necessarily lead to you becoming an engineer or mathematician of some sort and yet we all know the importance of maths in life so of course it should be taught at school. The same can be said of language – we need it to survive not necessarily in order to become authors. In the same way, all the creative and performing arts subjects should also be taught – not because you are going to become a professional dancer, singer, musician or artist but to enable you to become a whole person, one who is able to problem solve, to use the imagination creatively, to enjoy life, to find a purpose in life. And it might just go a long way to addressing the obesity and mental health problems of today.

In this vein, Sir Ken mentioned a program in the UK to address social problems among youth, those called NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). They were ‘sentenced to dance’. The outcomes were astonishing. These young people, after only 12 weeks of full-time training, were sent out to primary schools to teach dance to the children and perform in public.

I found this passage from an article in The Guardian about the dance program very moving –
For Sarah Staves, an ethnographer and social anthropologist who has been auditing the progress of the dancers, the change in the young people is palpable. “What is striking is when they first come they have no sense of caring about learning and ­everything is boring. They do not care about anything as they are so dis­engaged,” she says. “By the end of it they have learned that they can achieve.”

If you would like to read the full article Click here for details.

In my grandson’s pre-primary class the teachers didn’t feel confident to teach dance themselves so they hired a professional for a class once a week. The children loved it and loved performing for the parents and grandparents at the end of the year, not that they were ‘rehearsing’ for a performance, as such, but simply demonstrating what they had been doing all year. It was delightful to see their enjoyment. And this class was just as valid as anything else they were doing in school. Not all schools can afford a professional dance teacher but there are plenty of great pieces of music (such as in the kidz-fiz-biz books) for teachers to do this themselves. You just need a reasonable space – any under-cover area will do. Then encourage them to keep dancing throughout their school lives – and playing music, singing and acting and taking art lessons.

Don’t take my word for it – read or listen to what Sir Ken Robinson has to say on the subject. The lecture I was referring to specifically was the Cohen lecture delivered on 21/6/2016, although there are many others from him in the same vein. Then just start doing something in the Arts if you are not doing so already. Anything is better than nothing. Remember that you don’t have to be the expert to teach in the Arts. The children need it and they won’t be critical.

About Kidz-Fiz-Biz

Marlene Rattigan is teacher in Early Childhood & of English as a Second Language & from 1987-2000 was an accredited fitness leader.
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