Dance - An Essential Part of Every Child’s Education

29.4.2019 | BY JOANNA RHODES

'Most children spend twelve of their most formative years in school: crucial years when they are developing physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Education should support them in all of these areas, and dance, properly conceived and well taught, does exactly that. For all these reasons, I welcome the powerful inspiration and practical resources that Challenge 59 is offering to schools….. Challenge 59 encourages teachers and students to explore the power of dance through simple, well-crafted and imaginative materials. More than that, it invites them to use these resources to draw attention to the very issues of health and wellbeing that dance itself is uniquely suited to address. (Schools who engage will) discover too that just like maths, dance should be an essential part of every child’s education’                         
Sir Ken Robinson, Challenge 59 Teacher Resource, 2017

I was fortunate that this was the case for me, attending a school where dance was compulsory from aged 11-14 with options to progress at GCSE and A level. One summer's day in 1999 I was celebrating achieving, much to the disbelief of some of my teachers, grade As in all of my A level subjects. Whilst gathered for a photograph with a local journalist, I vividly remember being pulled out at the last minute by the Deputy Headteacher who told me that dance wasn’t ‘deemed to be a credible subject’. I would argue that dance was the very thing that afforded me the opportunities and potential to attain good grades in a system that may not have best suited me. A thought reiterated by a teacher we collaborated with last year in Challenge 59:

It’s so important for the development of children – to express themselves creatively – and I feel really strongly that so many children do not fit into the rigid curriculum, that maybe they are not thriving at reading or thriving at maths. But if all children were given the space to express themselves in some way, that’s the key for health’ (Chloe Vinnecombe, Teacher) 

Dance has taught me many skills – discipline, imagination, respect, self-esteem, collaboration and autonomy, self-care and awareness, emotional intelligence, empathy, intuition, valuing difference, decision-making, determination, and communication. Skills not limited to, or for the sole purpose of careers in the creative arts, but in any sector – engineering, health, politics… life!

Unfortunately, there has, and continues to be a decline in arts in schools. There is a lack of foresight about the longer-term implications this could have, ignoring the benefits of dance; physical, emotional, cognitive and social benefits, opportunities for social mobility, the creative industries contribution to the economy, pressure on public services with a growing population, and skills required in an uncertain future world of work. I have had the privilege of working in a variety of contexts in dance education for over 18 years. These specific commissions have included increasing boys’ attainment through dance, supporting those with behavioral difficulties, those disengaged in education, to improve literacy standards, in targeted health interventions, in ‘assertiveness’ training to address peer pressure, with ‘gifted and talented’ and for creative and choreographic purposes. I believe wholeheartedly in a cultural entitlement for every child, not as an added extra, but as a core part of the curriculum. In this way we make for a more equitable society, introducing children to new ways of doing and thinking about things, new experiences and people, widening spheres of influence, opening new possibilities and raising aspirations. 

Dance is a uniquely placed art form linking mind and body, this embodied learning to support their understanding of self and issues explored. One teacher talks of the impact dance demonstrated in how students in her class articulated, retained and understood their own learning. Following Challenge 59, in an academic report by the University of Bath, 79% of children wanted more access to creative and artistic activities. 94% of children showed improved personal resource – confidence, self-expression, resilience, overcoming stress and anxiety, feeling calmer, more successful, happy! 78% reported enjoying going to school more, 87% wanted to try new things following the programme and there was a noticeable change in boys’ perceptions of self. Thankfully, we as a sector, are getting better at evidencing the value of what we do. With dance now at the forefront of work with Dementia and Parkinsons and a growing body of work, there is much to be positive about. In the words of children involved:

“I felt really lucky to be here and be as good as I never knew I could be.”
“I didn’t realize that relationships can help your health, or not.” 
“The dance lesson made me remember who I am, and I can be myself more when I exercise.” 
“Today I learned that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was!” 
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel really ready and alive now. I feel like I could do a whole day and do anything.” 
“It is good to work with other people to learn new things and I want to challenge myself to do more things that are new to me.” 
“Before I felt a little bit shy. After I feel happy, joyful and fit.” 
“I learned that your mind can affect your health as well as exercise and diet and that your thoughts can affect your feelings and the other way around.” 
“The best part was having your own ideas and putting your ideas together.” 
“I learned that when you try new things you haven’t done before it makes you feel confident and happy.”

Challenge 59 is a dance and film programme using project-based learning to empower young people in matters of their own wellbeing – by thinking, feeling, relating to one another and finding opportunities to be and express themselves. Children conceive, create and collaborate on a real-world issue that is important to them, using the philosophy for children approach and child led inquiry. Children have shown great agency in sharing and distributing their work and 59-second films in local communities and beyond, including international film festivals and amongst stakeholders who influence young people’s lives including those in public health and local government. Last year their storyboarded films raised issues of:

  • Risks of screen time 
  • Healthy eating
  • Being active
  • Inequality 
  • Lack of safe, open and affordable spaces 
  • Creativity
  • Sense of community
  • Mental health 
  • Importance of free play 

When Challenge 59 was founded, a famous fast food restaurant was promising to serve its’ customer in 59 seconds…. Could you spare 59 seconds of your own time to amplify their voices and share on your own platforms?

We are privileged to join the HundrED community as one of the top hundred education innovations in the world in 2019 assessed on impact, scalability, and innovativeness. We are very humbled to be amongst great company – Lyfta, Tagtiv8, and Chatta to name but a few in the UK alone. 

And to that Deputy headteacher at my old High School, I would like to say……Not only do I now know that dance is ‘credible’; it is also ESSENTIAL!

To learn more about Challenge 59 visit their Innovation Page