Why Dance is Possibly the Best Activity for Kids

Dance classes are low in physical activity, study says, but there's more to the story.

When I was growing up, the kids (mostly girls) in my school who studied dance seemed even more athletic than the jocks and the gym class heroes. They were slender, but solid, with long, strong limbs that could contort in ways that defied everything I'd learned about the limitations of the human body. Surely, those abilities were the result of a strict practice regimen that required physical endurance and raw talent.


A new study from UC San Diego paints a different picture. It says that typical dance classes for children and adolescents only involve "moderate-to-vigorous" physical activity for less than one-third of their total duration. The study considered seven different types of dance, including hip-hop, ballet, tap, and jazz. These classes lasted an average of 49 minutes, meaning that students would engage in about 17 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity while in attendance. This figure falls short of the CDC-recommended 30 minutes of exercise that kids should receive outside of school.

"This is a very commonly used opportunity for young people, especially girls, to be physically active and we find that they are inactive most of the time during dance classes," said James Sallis, professor of family medicine and public health. "We see this as a missed opportunity to get kids healthier."

Even though I have about as much aptitude for dance as the computer I'm typing on, I know that merely measuring the amount of physical activity undertaken in classes doesn't tell the whole story. Learning to dance is not like running on a treadmill; it's an artform that requires focus, precise technique, and attention to detail. The study notes that when dance students are not engaged in physical activity, they might be "standing, listening, or stretching." Dance classes require students to learn from a teacher's expertise, and, often, to work in a group. While doing so may not be physical, it certainly benefits a child's communication, cooperation, and ability to follow directions.   

Indeed, the study acknowledges the non-physical advantages of studying dance. "Though there are important social, developmental, cultural, and aesthetics benefits of dance that should be maintained and strengthened, it should be possible to increase physical activity," said Sallis.

That may be true, but increasing physical activity could negatively impact other aspects of dance instruction. Dance gets kids moving, but it's also important that they maintain proper choreography and technique. Most dance teachers draw on years of experience in their field, and have a sense of how to balance the artistic and athletic elements of the craft. And while the times recorded in the study left children about 40 percent short of their recommended daily exercise, the research failed to consider the time that students spent practicing outside of the classroom.

Visit EurekAlert for more, and check out Christopher Wheeldon's perspective on what it takes to be a dancer.  

Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Human beings are psychologically hardwired to fear differences
  • Several recent studies show evidence that digital spaces exacerbate the psychology which contributes to tribalism
  • Shared experiences of awe, such as space travel, or even simple shared meals, have surprising effectives for uniting opposing groups
Keep reading Show less

10 common traits of self-actualized people

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is updated for the 21st century in a new study.

Pixabay
Mind & Brain
  • Maslow's famous "Hierarchy of Needs" describes different levels of human motivation.
  • A new study updates the hierarchy through modern methods.
  • The research shows that self-actualized people share 10 specific traits.
Keep reading Show less

10 philosophy books to develop a diverse metaphysical perspective

There are many ways to posit the fundamental nature of reality.

Mind & Brain
  • After thousands of years, and an infinite amount of novel experiences, there are today many dueling schools of philosophical thought.
  • A great philosophical background takes into account a number of metaphysical positions and ideas.
  • These 10 philosophy books all take on the questions of existence in a unique and varied manner.
Keep reading Show less

How sexual fantasies affect your relationship

There are two main types of sexual fantasies. One, however, is more destructive than the other.

Sex & Relationships
  • There are two main types of sexual fantasies.
  • One of them is more harmful to the a relationship or marriage than the other (by a lot).
  • Sexually fantasizing about somebody else, though, neither hurts a relationship nor helps it; instead, it has the same mental impact as random daydreaming.
Keep reading Show less