How Dance Helps Kids with Special Needs


That sense of belonging. That feeling that you’re no different to anyone else. We all want to feel that. Dance is one of those activities that allows you to be in the moment, to get caught up in the music, and escape the daily challenges, if only for a short while. Dance incorporates the balance, understanding and coordination of the body. For decades the evidence reports that dance is an integral art for children to be involved in because of the endless benefits. So how does dance help kids with special needs? Read on to understand what dance offers children with special needs and how this helps their physical, social and emotional development.


There are many benefits of dance for children with special needs such as improved health, and prevention of chronic disease (Barr and Shield, 2011).

Physical benefits include:

• the increase in physical fitness (May, et al., 2019). The child can get to and maintain a healthy body weight. Dance can be quite a vigorous activity, increasing endurance whilst having fun! Children can come to class, get their heart rate up, burn off the chocolate they had an hour prior, whilst having a good time and feeling included.

• the improvement in flexibility, balance, strength, and coordination. Dance has a positive influence on the mobility of the body. Being stationary is common for children with disabilities, consequently causing concern for their bodies. Dance may reverse muscle deterioration and assist in body strengthening and flexibility. Motor skills are also developed with dance because it focuses on strength and coordination, therefore impacting on posture and balance. All crucial elements for children with special needs.


Dance benefits them socially by:

• encouraging independence. Children with special needs feel like they are a part of their learning; encouraged to do something for themselves. This growing independence enhances their confidence and self-esteem and may assist in social interactions with their peers.

• increasing their confidence and self-esteem. Being a part of a group environment where learning dance and having fun is encouraged increases positive thoughts about themselves. So, self-esteem and confidence increase and contribute to helping children cope with mistakes.

• learning in a fun and non-threatening environment. An environment where children with special needs feel safe and included assists them to learn and grow as an individual.

• assisting them to connect with others. More than likely other children around them are in the learning process and have not yet mastered particular skills. This helps them connect with other children to strive for that shared result, so may promote better social and interpersonal skills. This also allows children to expand their social circle and create space for peer acceptance (Zitomer, 2016).

• building resilience. With peers as role models, children with special needs have the opportunity to watch other children repeat steps and try again, which can support their growth in resilience and empowering them to have another go.


Often children with disabilities live in the shadow of their regular peers. This may lead to overlooked and preventable exclusion, that can have a detrimental effect on the child’s wellbeing. They sense deeply and begin to understand that they have difficulty with some things whilst observing that others do things with less effort.


The gift of dance can support the emotional development in children with special needs by:

• involving music, space and time. These three elements combined with movement supports and develops the cognitive and emotional state as well as improve the sensory state of dancers with disabilities.

• developing self-expression. Music combined with an idea of how to move can turn into a beautiful display of creative expression. Where a child with special needs may have difficulty with speech, math, and science, dance will activate their imagination and light up their brains in new and exciting ways.

• providing an outlet for creativity and imagination. Yes, there is technique in dance, however no rules are broken when a child tweaks choreography that they’ve learnt. Dance allows a child to convey their emotions that can sometimes be challenging to communicate verbally. It promotes the use of their imagination. It supports children visualizing themselves moving in a particular way, and then actioning that movement with their bodies.

• offering stress relief and relaxation. Many children with special needs need an outlet to help self-regulate and try to forget about their anxiety and pain. What better way to get rid of strong feelings or emotions and contained energy? Dance enables them to self-regulate, alleviate stresses, while doing it in a safe and creative environment. Once the music is heard it can immediately trigger excitement and joy. Couple that with body movement and you have the perfect combination for elation, a state that can have lasting positive effects.



The benefits of dance for children with special needs go beyond the studio and positively affect their daily lives. Dance can boost self-esteem and confidence, leading to children having more self-belief and beginning to take calculated risks in other areas of their life. By following directions, developing hand-eye and foot-eye coordination, and above all, giving each child a sense of belonging, dance can be a transformative activity for children with special needs.


Voula Valanidas is the Founder at Lift Off Early Intervention in Sydney NSW and has a Master of Special Education and A Master of Autism. Voula is passionate about educating, supporting, empowering and advocating for individuals with special needs and their families.

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