5 Ways Dance and Movement Empower Students

Bringing movement to the classroom is powerful. Here are 5 places to start!

By Ashley Wen

We probably sound like a broken record, but we can’t over iterate the importance that art plays in creating an engaging learning environment and inspiring students to dream big about the future. That’s why we’re continuing our conversation around the importance of arts education and arts activism and zeroing in on the role dance and movement can play in student development. 

Dance and movement can help educators build community, uplift student voice, and support social and cognitive development—all skills that are especially important during this challenging school year! In this issue of Give Me Five we’re bringing you tips and resources to inspire and prepare you to bring movement into your classroom.

Bringing dance into your class does more than just get your students out of their seats. Dance and movement are effective tools to teach Social and Emotional Learning. More importantly, it can help your students express themselves, empathize, and connect across differences. 

Why It Matters: You don’t have to be a pro dancer to teach meaningful movement! Focus on creating a space your students will enjoy and giving them the permission to move. Even simple dance exercises can have powerful effects. Try building movement prompts around skills you want to teach, such as: 

  • Identifying and expressing emotions
  • Communicating with a peer
  • Uplifting the voices of others 

Extra Credit: Philosophy, Standards for Learning and Teaching Dance

We know that the arts can help students find and express their voice, and movement is no exception! Dance invites students to get real about what matters to them and what they’re going through, invite your students to pop it and lock it and learn what matters most to the students in your classroom.  

Why It Matters: During the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic, empowering students is more crucial than ever. XQ had this goal in mind this past January, when we launched our Music and Activism Challenge to support students in making music and processing collective trauma through art. The responses were absolutely incredible, and are a testament to the importance of art in: 

  • Building confidence
  • Creating artistic community
  • Connecting to issues that matter
  • Engaging as activists

Extra Credit: 9 Dancers Using Their Art to Advocate for Change

Sometimes movement and dance, like most art curricula, can seem like an add-on to academic subjects. However, experience and research show that the arts are at the core of a full education. Learning artistic skills, like practicing rhythm during dance class, grows students as thinkers and people.

Why It Matters: The arts get past the surface to support student development at a deep level. Take a look at this analysis of five benefits arts education offers for your students, including:

  • Growth mindset
  • Self-confidence
  • Improved cognition
  • Communication
  • Deepening cultural and self-understanding

Extra Credit: How musical training affects cognitive development: rhythm, reward and other modulating variables

What does the Cha Cha Slide have in common with computer coding? More than you might think! The structured movements and choreographic processes in dances like the Cha Cha Slide can help students with problem solving and systematic thinking, which support activities like coding.

Why It Matters: Use dance to build relevance and ignite student passion around curriculum. Consider how the logic of dance choreography relates to everyday problems posed in high school classes, such as:

  • Essay structure
  • The scientific method
  • Computer coding
  • Design thinking

Extra Credit: How to Engage Your School Community Through Dance

Access to dance and movement education is an equity issue. The arts can make a big difference in increasing opportunities for underserved students. Unfortunately, those students are also the least likely to have access to the arts in the first place. 

Why It Matters: Given everything we know about the benefits of movement for students, increasing access must be a priority. Here are some places to start your advocacy: 

  • Use outcomes-based research to advocate for arts funding for underserved students
  • Understand the role of the arts in academic and holistic student growth
  • Integrate the arts into pre-existing curriculum

Extra Credit: Investigating Causal Effects of Arts Education Experiences: Experimental Evidence from Houston’s Arts Access Initiative

XQ is partnering with world-renowned dancer-activist Misty Copeland to bring you the Dance and Activism Challenge! Students ages 13 to 21 can join the challenge to get access to an exclusive XQ video series, available on any device. With Misty as their mentor, students will choreograph and submit an original dance that highlights an issue that matters to them, with the potential to win prizes and join a community of makers! 
This challenge officially launches May 19th. All genres of movement are welcome. You can encourage your students to sign up here!