Improved memory. Refined motor skills. Enhanced brain function. Dancing is linked to a wide array of cognitive benefits. And while (let’s face it) you may not find your child tucked away in a corner proofing quantum theory or refuting the merit of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason after a particularly rigorous dance class, their after-school ballet or hip-hop class may in fact be making them smarter, which spells good news for next semester’s report card!
Re-wiring working memory
The average human brain has about 100 billion neurons which are connected to one another by trillions of synapses. When neurons fire together, the connections between them grow stronger. If a pattern, like a dance sequence, is repeated over and over again, then the associated group of firing neurons will bridge together to form a network which enhances working memory. A child with a well-developed working memory will be better equipped to follow multi-step directions, recognise and re-produce patterns, learn and retain new words and recall incoming information.
Pre-packaging procedural learning
Procedural learning involves skill acquisition through repeated performance and practice of a particular movement or task. When it comes to learning a new dance routine, teachers will typically break down choreographed sequences into bite-sized chunks (yum!) that dancers can then master individually through practice and repetition. This fine-tuning of complex patterns and abstract movements translates into procedural memory, which is linked to the development of fine and gross motor skills. Improving motor control helps children to explore the world around them, and is also linked to cognitive development, since procedural learning utilises the same part of the brain as problem-solving, planning and sequencing.
Re-booting brain function
Physical movement helps to energise the brain by directing blood flow, oxygen and nutrients straight to the source. This in turn increases alertness and concentration which has a positive effect on children’s academic success and personal development. The psychological benefits of dance, as they relate to stress and depression, also indirectly impact overall intelligence. According to a recent study, children enrolled in a dance class reported “significantly reduced anxiety” due to endorphin release and the bonding effects of music. As a result, these children were able to shed negative, restrictive emotions through dance, subsequently improving performance in all other areas of life, including cognition.
Eliciting experiential learning
Performing a simple exercise like a small ballet jump can help children to grasp complex phenomenon like anatomy and physiology (leg extension and muscle coordination), physics (weight transfer and balance) and rhythm (matching movement to music), helping them to learn about complex phenomenon that they will eventually encounter in school through experience and application. In this way, children are able to internalise knowledge through embodied learning. This can lead to increased interest in any given subject (such as music theory or mathematics), which in turn will lead to improved academic performance.
While dancing leads to many other benefits, including physical, emotional and spiritual (if you’re into that kind of thing), the cognitive benefits are difficult to refute.