Today’s Guest Post is written by Natalie Soave, a dance instructor from Mid-American Studio. I have worked for the company since I was just 18 as a staff member and now as a judge for their regional and state dance and pom competitions. It’s a great place to send your children for dance and Natalie is here to tell you why….

As a dance teacher, I have the best job in the world. I get to wear sneakers to work, play my favorite music really loudly, and it’s no big deal if I show up in a tutu. But above all, the absolute best part of my job is watching my students grow up in each and every class. It happens right before my eyes: one minute they’re timidly tip-toeing across the floor, the next they’re proudly taking center stage to show off their latest moves. Dance has the ability to bring out the best in people, and that’s what made me want to share it with others. A quality dance education will develop the whole child: physically, mentally, and socially. I’m here to elaborate on some of these benefits and help you find a dance program that’s right for your child.

Dance is great exercise.

Plain and simple! We spend the entire class moving; spinning, sliding, leaping, popping”you name it. To keep up with the variety of demands in class, dancers are trained to be simultaneously strong and flexible. Students cultivate a balanced body fitness that is just as helpful towards other sports activities as it is to their everyday movements.

Dance teaches us to be smart and safe movers.

Two dance-class skills come into play here: a basic understanding of body mechanics and a keen kinesthetic sense. The first tells us how we should be moving to get the safest and most efficient results, and the second allows us to self-check and see if we’re actually doing it. Dance technique is rooted in body mechanics that teach us the best ways to utilize our bodies in any movement situation. We may work on posture in dance class because it helps us be more balanced and agile, but a child who understands good posture from dancing will also know how to safely carry a heavy backpack. Our awareness of the sensations of our bodies, or kinesthetic sense, helps us determine if we’re moving the way we ought to or if something feels off. We can tell right away if something doesn’t feel right, and we’re able to stop and correct it (or seek help) before any serious injury is caused.

Dance helps us discover who we are¦

Dancers develop a close relationship with their bodies that gives them a deeper understanding of themselves. Children in dance come to recognize their emotions by studying the connection between the inward feeling and its outward manifestation. They develop a positive body image from exploring the thousands of unique and always beautiful ways their body can move and shape. Because dance steps take weeks or even years to achieve, students learn the importance of self-discipline in achieving long-term goals. A study performed in 2006 by Karlstad University and the University College of Dance showed that after participating in dance therapy, boys with ADHD became calmer and played better with playmates, and girls that were self-destructive and depressed were better at setting limits, and their depression was alleviated. [i]

¦and how we fit into our community.

Dance class is ripe with opportunities to make connections with other people. Especially during performance preparations, the class functions as a team. Its success depends on each member of the team supporting one another and giving it his/her all. Students learn to encourage one another, to be compassionate for another’s struggles, and the graceful art of giving and receiving constructive critiques. Some class assignments ask one student to lead; teaching their movement to others and providing direction. Others require a group to collaboratively make decisions and incorporate input from all group members. Both sides of the coin are rich with life lessons about cooperation, communication, and compromise.

Although I’ve barely scratched the surface on all the little ways dance can improve your child’s well-being, I hope my passionate plea for dance has you ready to run to your nearest dance studio! Before you do, let’s take a moment to discuss what a truly special studio will look like:

Large spaces that are clean and safe. The best studios have plenty of wide-open space for students to move freely. They’re free of clutter that could get in the way or trip students, and are cleaned on a regular basis. Always ask about the floor; it should be sprung or padded to protect students from the repeated impact that comes with dance.

Teachers that are perpetual learners. Good teachers have extensive backgrounds in the subject they teach, great teachers never stop learning! Look for a teacher that has plenty of experience dancing and teaching, but who also continues to take class, perform, and study dance. These teachers love what they do, and their passion will be infectious.

Teachers with plenty of long-time students. A skilled dancer is not necessarily a skilled teacher. Skilled teachers know how to explain the same thing a thousand ways, how to inspire and engage their pupils, and always think on their toes to take advantage of unplanned teachable moments. Find a teacher with a large, long-time following, and you can trust your child will be in good hands.

A studio philosophy that aligns with your wants and needs. Dance studios can have very different perspectives on the purpose of their teachings. Some are in it for the pure joy of dancing, and others groom students for a professional career. There is no right or wrong in this case, just different! Take time to consider what you want from dance, and find a studio that sees your vision.

There you have it! You know how important dance is, that it’s full of value for growing children, and you’re well-equipped to comb your local listings and find a studio that’s right for you. I’m fortunate to have found my home at Mid American Studio, where my vision for quality dance education is shared and supported by all of my talented coworkers. My hope is that you too will find your dance studio home, where you can enjoy watching your tiny dancer grow into a young adult. Although I won’t dare claim that signing up for a dance class will result in your child growing up to dance or teach professionally as I did, I can promise you, without a doubt in my heart, that she (or he!) will be wiser, healthier, and happier for it.

[i] Erna, Grönlund, Renck Barbro, et al. “Dance/Movement Therapy as an Alternative Treatment for Young Boys Diagnosed as ADHD: A Pilot Study.” American Journal of Dance Therapy. 27.2 (2006): 63-85. Web. 23 Aug. 2012.