Can dance training have a positive effect in adolescents’ development?

Can dance training have a positive effect in adolescents’ development mainly in a psychical way through teenage years to adulthood?

By: Sara-Maria Pirhonen
Position: BA Dance Pedagogy, DOCH, Stockholm University of the Arts, Sweden

In this research assignment, I have reflected on how adolescents while growing up can benefit from dance training. My interest lays in which ways and in what purpose dance can effect the development. I have used an article from the magazine Research in Dance Education; vol. 11 written by Becky Dyer and interviewed a second year dance pedagogy student at DOCH about her experiences in teaching adolescents to build up my data for the essay. From these perspectives, I have discussed the importance of including more dance teaching in the educational system.

The paper can be downloaded here


Introduction, intention and methods

I chose to analyze in my research assignment in the course ‘Dance for children and adolescents 2’ how dance itself and dance teaching can be a helpful tool for adolescents while growing up to adulthood. Could dance be a way of dealing with self-esteem, insecurities, troubles in and outside the school environment, finding better who you are as individual and what you want to stand for in life. Also an interesting aspect is, can dance help dealing with misfortune that adolescents have faced in their lives and be a tool to work through these happenings. 

I used interview as a method and an article from the dance research field to reflect on. For this assignment, I have interviewed a second year candidate student in dance pedagogy from the School of dance and circus, DOCH and asked questions around topic of teaching adolescents and its impacts. I have also chosen an article as my resource from the dance magazine Research in Dance Education: “Ruminations of a road traveled towards empowerment: musing narratives of teaching, learning and self-realization”, written by Becky Dyer.

Discussion, research article and interview

It’s familiar to all of us while growing up from a child to a teenager and further on to a young adult that it’s a sensitive period and a lot is happening both in our bodies and mentally during that time. This is why the experiences in the education and its surroundings play a big role in how we find ourselves working as a part of a group and as individuals. In the article of Becky Dyer she reflects about the dance teachers’ role in an inner city high school in United States and what were the challenges for her at this specific time in the role and position as a dance teacher. Dyer had to work through a confrontational environment that included a lot of apathy, disrespect, hostility and lack of incentive to learn in her classes. She realized that she had been very naïve as a new teacher towards the happenings of the classroom and that reasons for the students behavior raised for example from gang activity, situations where students had to take care for their families, work night-time jobs to support circumstances at home and that they faced violence at school and in the neighborhood daily. She tried to ease the situation by unconsciously treating these troublesome students differently and by that way indeed signaled them as ‘different’.

Dyer had to find new ways of interacting and teaching the students. She had a strong desire to better understand their lives and to engage them in processes of sharing and creating stories of empowerment, hope and change. Together with Ed Groff, a faculty member from a local state university, they started to organize and direct an after-school arts project where the students could be involved in art-making, performing and also discuss what was meaningful to their lives and how could social tensions open in the classroom situations as well as extend to larger student body.

In this case the art form of dance was the key for young adolescents to handle their emotions, to define their learning environment, breaking down social barriers and building a supportive and stimulating learning community. Many students began to recognize a connection between the dancing they participated in and their emotional wellbeing. Dyer and Groff became facilitators for students’ desires and goals that established from the group.

A student reflected after the experience:

“I’ve found peace within myself. If more people could learn to express their emotions in a ways other than violence and depression, it would change our society.” (Research in Dance Education, volume 11, number 1, 2010, s.12)

The interview with the candidate student at DOCH focused in the following three questions:

  1. How have you experienced teaching teenagers? Which have been the tricky parts and which moments have felt easier to accomplish?
  2. Have you been involved in a situation or in a longer period when you have noticed a (significant) change in students’ well-being through dance training?
  3. Which tips would you give to a young dance teacher to get more out of teenage dance students and to create a safe environment to accomplish this?

For the candidate in question the context plays a big role in the teaching situation. The reflection about what are students there for a “personal contact to an older person to talk to” or “dance teacher” is brought up. There is a balance between being too private or in another hand being too personal in the teaching situation towards the students. There is no simple solutions for this and it’s also up to what is the wanted outcome from the teaching and practicing itself.

From the view of the candidate even during a shorter time of teaching the same students, she could already see some differences in their behavior. An example came up of a student whose attitude was first cocky and who wasn’t interested to dance at all but then during the term changed to more humble and open-minded dancer who became interested to try out and create her own material as well and was craving for more from the teacher to deepen her skills in dancing.

From the interview rises the importance of group work and making the environment safe and comfortable for everyone to then being able to explore more things and feelings together through dance. 

Result

As a result of this research assignment it is obvious that dance training can affect adolescents development and help them dealing with their own growth. View of the world we are living in extends and also the individual reflection opens up. How much of an effect it has variates of course from one person to another.

In my own teaching is this perspective very central. How can dance be used as a tool to get a better connection to yourself and surroundings? Which are the tools that are relevant to my work and the students I’m meeting? This is all an ongoing process that opens up through experiences in the actual teaching situation. It is a notable discovery that dance could be used even more during education for teenagers and that it has great potential of being a working tool to improve adolescents’ wellbeing.

References

Dyer, Becky (vol. 11, no. 11, p. 5-18, 2010) Ruminations of a road traveled towards empowerment: musing narratives of teaching, learning and self-realization. Research in Dance Education.

Interview with a second year candidate student in dance pedagogy from the School of dance and circus, DOCH