The Case for Dance in Public Education

         Each day students enter schools, sit at desks and get ready to learn.  They read, they write, they use computers, and they take standardized tests that are used to determine the effectiveness of the educational system.  They are told things like, “You can’t think while you’re moving,” or “You’ve got to be still to learn things.”  In walks the dance educator, the radical thinker, who actually believes that movement aids learning and encourages higher order thinking.

            In addition to the obvious physical benefits that integrating dance into education would provide, dance reaches the kinesthetic and tactile learners.  A large portion of today’s educational approach uses verbal and written skills, which are primarily left-brain hemisphere functions.  Kinesthetic learning primarily involves the right-brain hemisphere.  There is a strong belief that higher order thinking in one hemisphere increases higher order thinking in the other.  Doesn’t it make sense to strengthen the entire brain by engaging both hemispheres?

            Learning through movement makes the approach both active and experiential.  These types of learning are believed to double the educational impact.  In Seattle, Washington, a program that used movement to teach Language Arts to 3rd graders saw a 13% increase in reading scores over a 6-month period, (1) and a program based in Chicago, Illinois, saw similar results.  Between 1998 and 1999, first graders were taught letter sounds through the use of body shapes in the Basic Reading Through Dance Program and scored significantly better than their peers on reading assessments. (2)

            Integrating dance in the classroom involves using movement to illustrate and solve various learning problems and puzzles.  This integration often involves teamwork and encourages students to learn to work together and appreciate others’ solutions as they watch the problems being solved.

            Moreover, the arts promote high levels of self-esteem and self-confidence since they encourage creativity.  The actual dance creation can never be wrong.  Although it must satisfy given parameters, there is no standardized answer that judges the solution right or wrong, and the creations showcase multiple approaches to solving the same problem.  A 1992 study showed that students who were taught concepts through the use of music and movement scored higher on tests of creativity than those who were taught conventionally, (4) and in 2002, Sandra Minton found that high school students who studied dance had higher creative thinking scores in the areas of fluency, originality and abstract thinking than their peers. (3)

            Imagine the difference dance can make when the concepts of parallel, symmetry and area come to life in geometry class.  Imagine how interesting a study of another country becomes if it culminates in a festival that features students doing authentic cultural dances.  Imagine the students illustrating the three branches of government, the structure of the solar system or the concept of fractions through a dance.

            Integrating dance into traditional education may seem like a radical change, but aren’t the radical changes the ones that lead to radical progress?

1. Gilbert, A.G. (1977). Teaching the 3 Rs through movement experiences. New York: MacMillan.
2. McMahon, S. D., Rose, D. S., & Parks, M. (2003). Basic reading through dance program, the impact on first-grade students. Evaluation Review, 27 (1), 104-25.
 3. Minton, S.  (2000). Assessment of High School Students’ Creative Thinking Skills: A Comparison of the Effects of Dance and Non-dance Classes
Unpublished Manuscript, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO.
4. Mohanty, B., & Hejmandi, A. (1992). Effects of intervention training on some cognitive abilities of preschool children. Psychological Studies, 3, 31-37.