The 1984 film ‘Footloose’ tells the story of a city teenager who moves to a small town where music and dancing have been banned. Although it may seem far-fetched, the movie is based on the real-life farming town of Elmore City in rural Oklahoma, USA, which banned dance for 82 years from 1898 to 1980. When 700 high school students petitioned against the ban, they faced resistance, with one of the most quotable opponents being their church minister, Rev. F.R. Johnson, who famously remarked, “No good has ever come from a dance.” However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Engaging in physical activities that involve music, movement, and dance has been proven to boost physical and mental health, regardless of age. Babies as young as five months old respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech. The better babies synchronize their movements with the music, the more they smile. The growing body of evidence shows that we’re born with an innate ability to dance. Dance movement has been incorporated into therapeutic practice since the 1800s, recognizing that dance can go beyond a simple pastime to being used as a form of communication and expression within a therapeutic setting.
For children with anxiety, which is the second most common mental health condition in Australian children aged 4-11 years, dance is a powerful tool in helping to manage their symptoms. These children often find it harder to get their anxious feelings under control and often live in a perpetual state of hypervigilance or worry. The synchronized coordination of movement and breathing helps to deflate hyper-aroused and hyper-vigilant thoughts. It helps young minds to breathe and focus on their body, their presence, and their gestures instead of the worrying thoughts that usually dominate their minds.
Dance also helps to build sensory awareness and non-verbal communication, which is particularly useful for younger children who don’t have the words to express how they’re feeling. Moreover, many children who deal with anxiety disorders often experience crippling low self-esteem, and dance can help to build confidence with each new routine they master or performance they participate in.
Children who dance in a group or as part of a troupe learn teamwork and develop vital interpersonal skills that give them a strong sense of belonging and provide an opportunity to build their social circle outside of school. Introducing a child to this sense of belonging beyond the family unit can create a strong foundation of connectedness for life. Never underestimate the powerful role a dance teacher has in a child’s life. They will forever remember the teacher who gently guided them through the wonders of dance.
Dance has numerous benefits, and the very essence of KidsXpress is based on the healing powers of the creative arts for the promotion of growth and healing for children. In summary, “Tell me the last time you danced, and I will tell you the last time you were happy.” (Author unknown)
Margo Ward is the founder and CEO of KidsXpress Life. Her vision and inspiration for this world-first program was bestowed on her by the children she worked with as Head of Play Therapy at the Sydney Children’s Hospital.