Let’s dance!

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When parents enrol their children in dance lessons, it is usually to learn a new skill, adding on to their extra curricular activities, to keep them active, or to socialise. 

Dance teachers will add that dance is good for health and fitness, enhances creativity, reduces stress and builds confidence. These are all very obvious reasons why parents put children in dance lessons, but in their journey as a young dancer, they will gain so much more. 

“The body says what words cannot” – Martha Graham, choreographer

As a dance teacher, the first thing I notice about very young dancers is that they are able to tap in to their emotional development much earlier. In lessons, when we explore different music and work on improvisation, my baby ballet students immediately start exploring how a certain music piece makes them feel. They then respond to that in movement, and while this is all based on their imagination and artistry, it immediately opens the door to allow them to feel safe to be able to express how they feel. 

dance

“Follow your passion. Find that something that makes you want to work at it. Work hard. Nothing comes without hard work.” — Tomas Schramek, dancer

There is research that dance also improves cognitive performance, and this in turn improves areas of the brain that control memory and skills such as planning and organising. When you start dance lessons, one of the first things the children will learn, is how to organise themselves in the studio and be able to remember how to move in their space from one exercise to another with a dozen other children in the same room.  If a 5-year-old can manage that, then imagine the organisation skills that develop when they start learning how to pack their bags for dance when multiple props are required, how to organise costume changes in recitals when parents are not allowed backstage. In relation to the world outside the studio, how to finish homework or study in time, to be able to slot in rehearsals and dance practice. 

“Dance first, think later. It’s the natural order” – Samuel Beckett, playwright 

Dance also boosts memory. When a non-dancer watches a performance, you will see things being done effortlessly, with ease, style and grace. What goes through the dancers mind in the performance is a thousand-fold to what the audience sees. It is not merely remembering a series of steps, it is also the muscle memory of lines to be achieved, spacing and coordination with other dancers on stage, details such as placement of head, fingertips and even eye-line. Young dancers train for this when they do their dance examinations and these organising skills are important life skills that will transfer over to all other aspects including school, community and work.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s learning to dance in the rain” – Vivian Greene, writer 

Children learn to also be very adaptable in dance, something which once again becomes such an important life skill. Things like learning to work with other students, coping with performance pressures and stress, figuring out use of space and floor in different studios or theatres, persevering and learning a physical skill that could not be done before or standing up and carrying on in a performance if they have made a mistake. All these contribute to an overall positive development of adapting and persevering. This success is seen in recent examination results where some of our top scorers went more than half the year learning syllabus online. The ability to adapt, push forward, remember everything and remain positive is something many adults can also learn to do. 

“Do it big, do it right, and do it with style “ Fred Astaire, dancer

But after putting all my thoughts down for reasons to learn dancing, because I love this art form so much, for me as personal reason, the best thing about dancing is that every now and then, once you have this skill, you will definitely be able to break it down on the dance floor, and just dance your heart out. And what better way to do it when you know for sure, you will be able to nail a triple pirouette, a shim sham tap step, or even a jazz isolation with some popping and locking action.

Shirena Hamzah, the author of this article, is the founder and principal of Dancesteps Studio.

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