Your Brain on Dance

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Your Brain on Dance

“Dance is a non-verbal language with similar places and education processes in the brain as verbal language, thus a powerful means of expression.  Moreover, dance is physical exercise that sparks new brain cells and neural plasticity throughout life.  Dance helps us cope with stress that motivates or interferes with learning.  The brain that dances is changed by it.”

Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D

How many times have I heard students say a variation of their reality, “I only feel whole when I dance”, “This gives me purpose” or a classic, “Dance takes me to another place”.  Literally, it does!  Study after study relates the importance of music and dance on the whole child’s brain.

Yet we see the arts funding cut as the first line of defense in a public school budget, or worse, a family’s potential punitive cuts if a child’s grades aren’t up to what society believes acceptable.

The arts and dance in particular, creates discipline and paths to problem solving for children. In the joy it gives to the dancer, there is actual brain growth, a powerful duo: passion and reality. Music and dance take time, patience and practice.  It is not instantaneous.  It doesn’t fit into a computer.  It is counter to everything else in their day.

Physicality in a text driven world is a challenge. My age group played kick ball or hide and seek under the street lit summer nights until we were exhausted.   The baby boomers raising children now have a challenge with one in three of young people overweight or obese.  Today’s young people converse with the person next to them via screen on their phone.  Conversation and the written word on paper instead of a computer screen, are threatened.

The Partnership for Healthier America sites, “One in three kids in the United States is obese, and another third is overweight. That’s worrisome because heavier children are more likely to remain overweight as adults, spiking their odds of diabetesheart disease, and other conditions. If current patterns don’t change, about half of all Americans will be obese by 2030.”

Our kids are sitting too much.  Our parents wouldn’t let us sit in front of the television.  Why do we promote these behaviors?

Sixty-nine percent of American households have two working parents.  Time is a fragile commodity.  Parents and children alike are expected to hold their own, not rock the boat and move the family entity in the common direction of good.  That sounds great, yet not grounded in reality.  All it takes, while crossing the precipice of daily life, is one bad grade, one “Mrs. Smith, I need to talk to you about Sally’s failing grades” or a host of questionable friends waiting in a car, for the whole thing to blow like a scene from Terminator:Genysis.

Stress on parents and young people is rampant.  The stress to achieve, attend the right preschool to get into the right grade school, to have the highest GPA for honors classes in high school to make sure the graduate has more than a 4.0 so the “right” university will come calling and hopefully with a tuition package allowing a modicum of relief for the over stressed, overworked parental units.  Or if the family falls into the over 50% divorce rate, the parental unit.

Then we tell the over stressed teen, you cannot dance?  What are we doing?   Creating a generation of fast fingered, French fried driven maniacs?

Here are five ways to reason with discipline and not punitively punish:

  1. Talk to your child and really listen. That means, you be quiet while they talk.  Adults have the advantage of a few years and having made the same mistakes, yet, we alienate so easily.  Listen.
  2. Do not take away what they love. This is a sure fire way to lose. Tell the child if this is what you are feeling and acknowledge it isn’t the right way. You need to work together to find the answer.
  3. Be realistic! Remember the world needs all kinds of people with all types of jobs. Happiness is all that matters.  Your child’s happiness, not your happiness for them.
  4. If your memory of your childhood and teenage years was perfect because you were always the perfect son or daughter, keep it to yourself. I don’t think it was true anyway.
  5. Allow natural outcomes to happen. The downfall is swift when parents try to protect too much.  I  don’t mean with life threatening circumstances.  I do mean to stop trying to make Sally’s life exist without heart ache, consequences of not studying for the test or the intense desire to make sure everyone wins.  We do not all win all the time.  To promote this intent is a major dis service to Sally and ultimately all that have relationships with her the rest of her life.

We can raise adjusted young people by giving them outlets for stressors.  It is problematic in our rushing-by world.  Our boys and girls must dance, play music and learn acting in a theatre opportunity.  This grounds their understanding of their world and where they can choose to fit in or rock the world.  Their choice!

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This article was written by Carol Richmond

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