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Could Dance be just as Important as Math & Writing?

Recently I came across a book written by Sir Ken (an actual British knight!! woo woo!!) on the importance of dance for child development. I wanted to share some insights with you from my reading in this short article. Let me start with a quote by Sir Ken:

ADT Company Dancer Gillian

“Dance — and physical activity — should have the same status in schools as math, science and language. It may even help raise test scores.” Sir Ken Robinson.

A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements.

In 2016, Sir Ken gave a lecture at the London school of Contemporary Dance regarding the role of dance in schools. His lecture was titled “Why Dance Is as Important as Math in Education.” According to Ken, he received a lot of flack about that, including “Isn’t that going to be one of the shortest lectures ever?”

In his book, Sir Ken explains that he was not arguing against mathematics, he was arguing for “equity in educating the whole child. I’m talking about the equal importance of dance with the other arts, languages, mathematics, sciences and the humanities in the general education of every child.”

What is dance? It is the physical expression through movement and rhythm of relationships, feelings and ideas. Nobody invented dance. It is deep in the heart of every culture throughout history; dance is part of the pulse of humanity. It embraces multiple genres, styles and traditions and is constantly evolving. Its roles range from recreational to sacred and cover every form of social purpose.

ADT Alumni Mikayla Gyfteas

Some people have long understood that dance is an essential part of life and education. In Dance Education around the World: Perspectives on Dance, Young People and Change, researchers Charlotte Svendler Nielsen and Stephanie Burridge bring together recent studies of the value of dance in all kinds of settings: from Finland to South Africa, from Ghana to Taiwan, from New Zealand to America. The low status of dance in schools is derived in part from the high status of conventional academic work, which associates intelligence mainly with verbal and mathematical reasoning. The studies collected by Nielsen and Burridge explore how a deeper understanding of dance challenges standard conceptions of intelligence and achievement and show the transformative power of movement for people of all ages and backgrounds. Dance can help restore joy and stability in young people's lives and ease tensions in school.

A number of professional dance companies offer programs for schools. One of them is Dancing Classrooms, a nonprofit based in New York City, which brings ballroom dancing into elementary and middle schools. Toni Walker, former principal of Lehigh Elementary School in Florida, shares this story from working with Dancing Classrooms. “When this young lady first came to Lehigh, the file on her was probably two inches thick,” Walker recalls. “She felt she needed to prove herself and make sure everyone knew she was strong and would fight.” The girl didn’t want to join the ballroom dancing program… but participation wasn’t optional. Soon, she found she had a natural ability. “In the next lesson, she had a little bit of a different attitude and we didn’t have to fight with her to dance,” Walker remembers. “She just got in line.” By the third and fourth lessons, Walker says, the student was transformed: “She carries herself differently; she speaks differently; she is kind; she is respectful; she has not had one [disciplinary notice], not one. Her mother can’t believe what she sees. It’s amazing. Amazing. The program is far greater than people understand.”

Dance education has important benefits for students’ social relationships, particularly among genders and age groups. Many forms of dance are inherently social. They involve moving together in synchrony and empathy, with direct physical contact. In an evaluation of Dancing Classrooms in New York City, 95 percent of teachers said that as a result of dancing together, there was a demonstrable improvement in students’ abilities to cooperate and collaborate. In a survey in Los Angeles, 66 percent of school principals said that after being in the program, their students showed an increased acceptance of others, and 81 percent of students said they treated others with more respect.

Dance has economic benefits, too. As well as being a field of employment, dance promotes many of the personal qualities that employers recognize as essential in a collaborative, adaptable workforce.

One principal was especially impressed by the improvements in reading and math scores among her fifth-grade students after incorporating the dance program into the curriculum. "There are no ifs, ands, or buts about the program’s impact in the academic lives of our children,” says Lois Habtes of the Emanuel Benjamin Oliver Elementary School in the Virgin Islands. “When I first got here, they were failing scores. Last year — our second year in the program — they got up to 83 percent. This year, our fifth grade scored 85 percent on the reading test, the highest in the school.”

Bob Morrison, the founder and director of Quadrant Research believes that teaching dance and other art forms is just as important as teaching sciences and writing. "There is a persistent myth that arts education is for the gifted and talented, but we know that the arts benefit everyone regardless of their vocational pathways,” he says. “We don’t teach math solely to create mathematicians, and we don’t teach writing solely to create the next generation of novelists. The same holds true for the arts. We teach them to create well-rounded citizens who can apply the skills, knowledge and experience from being involved in the arts to their careers and lives.”

Based on this information, we at Alaska Dance Theatre commend you on giving your child a huge leg up on his or her education, an investment in the whole child that will serve them for a lifetime! If you know someone else who you would like to share the benefits of dance with, please refer them to ADT we would be delighted to get them started on their journey.

Kristen Vierthaler

Director of Development

ADT Company Dancer Gillian


Alaska Dance Theatre is a nonprofit school of dance serving Alaskans since 1980. Voted #1 Dance School in Anchorage by Anchorage Press readers and #1 Dance Studio in Alaska by Anchorage Daily News readers.

Variety of dance styles available. Dancers of all ages, levels are welcome!

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We look forward to seeing you at Alaska Dance Theatre!


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