From balancing on their toes to raising their arms, dance utilizes the entire body and all of its muscle groups. Dance improves flexibility, coordination, balance, range of motion, stamina, muscle tone, strength and posture. But physical fitness is just one of many benefits of dance that can enhance your child’s life in so many ways.
Dance helps children develop emotionally, socially and cognitively, and the dedication, discipline and focus children must learn and practice are important life skills that will transfer over to school, work and other aspects of their lives.
Committing to a dance class involves showing up on time, every time, fully prepared, with hair fixed and in proper clothing, and instills great habits and accountability. Children learn that their actions not only affect themselves, but others as well. The dedication involved in showing up for rehearsals also shows kids that being committed to something can bring many positives into their lives.
Through perseverance and self-motivation, children can be encouraged to solve problems through experimentation. It is important that children learn that if they don’t succeed, they need to try again. Being able to make mistakes, ask for help, accept constructive feedback and make improvements are great skills to have. When they master a complicated movement, they have a sense of accomplishment that will encourage them to conquer other challenges throughout their lives.
Children strengthen their cognitive abilities and memory skills through learning choreography. They develop enhanced sensory awareness and learn nonverbal communication, which represents two thirds of all communication. By understanding body language, they learn how to portray a message using body movements, and how to interpret body signals from others.
Dance helps build self-confidence with each new routine they practice and master. It also enables children to develop interpersonal skills, which is vital to a child’s cognitive development. When children are part of a group activity, such as a dance routine, they learn the importance of teamwork and develop skills to work successfully in a group setting. This helps children learn how to listen well, lead others and be patient.
Two local dancers, sisters Emily and Connie Schaffer, have been dancing since they were toddlers. Emily (15) and Connie (12) dance ballet, pointe, tap and jazz. They love dance and would like to share their thoughts with you.
Which is your favorite dance style, and why?
Connie: I like jazz because it is fun and not as strict as ballet. Jazz dances are usually faster and more upbeat, and we usually dance to current pop music during class. Also, our hair never has to be in a bun for performances and the costumes are often really sparkly and fun.
Emily: Tap and ballet. Tap is fun because it is rhythmic, and ballet is just so beautiful and graceful that I love dancing it, especially lyrical ballet.
What is your favorite thing about dance?
Connie: Definitely the performances. I love performing in front of an audience and I love all of the costumes and the stage makeup. As we get older, we get to be in more of the show. We perform in more dances and get to wear more costumes. I have had as many as five costume changes in one performance. I have had a few costumes that I wasn’t super crazy about, but mostly I have loved my costumes, and I have loved every jazz costume I have ever had! We perform each show four times, but I still wish that we could perform more often!
Emily: The performances because we get to show off all of our hard work. I also love the costumes, hair and makeup. I have liked some costumes more than others, but I have never had one that I didn’t like or wasn’t comfortable in. My other favorite part about dancing has been the friends. I have made a lot of great friends through dance, some of whom I have known and danced with since preschool. I met many of my closest friends through dance. I think that we have special friendships because we work so hard together to create something special (a show), and then we get to share the experience of performing that show together, sharing it with our families and friends.
What do you think the benefits of dance are?
Connie: It is great exercise and improves strength, flexibility and balance. I think dancers are more creative because we learn to interpret music and tell stories through our bodies. We also get exposed to a lot of different kinds of music. With all of the choreography dancers have to quickly learn, I think that dance improves concentration and memory, too.
Emily: Dance is great exercise, and dancers are usually fit and flexible. Every part of your body has to be strong, including core, legs and arms. It encourages good posture, which is second nature to most dancers – even when not dancing. Performing in front of an audience is a huge confidence builder. I started getting on stage in front of a lot of people when I was very young, so while I still get nervous sometimes, I am kind of used to it now, and actually really enjoy it. Every dancer will make a mistake on stage at some point, or have a costume or prop malfunction, but you learn to keep going and pretend like it didn’t happen. Dance teaches you to pick yourself up and keep going, and to learn from your mistakes. Dancers also learn to be disciplined. We have to show up to class on time, be neat with our hair, tights and leotard, show respect to our teachers, follow instructions and work very hard to perfect technique, which can be repetitive sometimes. I think the benefits from learning to be disciplined, even if it gets boring, stay with dancers even when they stop dancing.
Here are some outstanding, reputable dance studios in the metro area.
Alexandria, Fairfax, Mosaic
Ballet, Tap, Jazz and Wiggletoes
Joy of Motion Dance Center
Bethesda, Multiple locations in Washington, D.C.
Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Modern, Hip Hop, Flamenco, West African, Creative Movement, Stretch & Conditioning
Ballet, Jazz, Modern
Sterling Ballet Academy
Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Lyrical, Hip Hop
Sterling Ballet Academy
sterlingballet.com Sterling Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Lyrical, Hip Hop
Vienna Dance Academy
viennadanceacademy.com Vienna Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Lyrical, Hip Hop
Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance
culkinschool.com Bethesda, Glen Echo, Rockville, Silver Spring Traditional Irish Dance
Maryland Youth Ballet
Silver Spring Ballet, Creative Movement
washingtonballet.org Washington, D.C. Ballet, Creative Movement
City Dance School &Conservatory
citydance.net Bethesda, Rockville, Washington, D.C. Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Flamenco, Modern, Creative Movement, Hip Hop, African, Afro-Pop, Bollywood and more
Berrend Dance Center
berrenddancecentre.com Olney Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Modern, Hip Hop, Music & Motion
The Kirov Academy of Ballet
kirovacademydc.org Washington. D.C. Ballet
BalletNova Center for Dance
balletnova.org Falls Church Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Modern, Hip Hop
Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy
mbtdance.org Gaithersburg Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Modern, Hip Hop, Creative Movement, Adaptive Ballet for dancers with special needs
Bethesda Conservatory of Dance
bethesdaconservatoryofdance.com Bethesda Ballet, Creative Dance, Hip Hop, Tap, Lyrical, Jazz, Contemporary
Creative Dance Center
cdcdance.com Ashburn, Old Towne Ashburn and South Riding Acro, Ballet, Contemporary, Lyrical, Hip Hop, Tap, Pointe, Jazz, Musical Theater, Modern