Dance is a terrific form of self-expression, exercise and creativity for all. Here, two parents of children with special needs discuss how dance classes have benefited their kids.
In what ways is dance class beneficial for children with special needs?
Carol Greenstein, parent of Hannah, age 6, Down syndrome: Dance class is beneficial because it is social, fun, and gives children a way to express themselves. Hannah loves to move to music, it makes her happy.
Michael O’Donnell, father of Kiera, age 6, Down syndrome: Dance aids with body awareness or a comfort with/understanding of one’s abilities. Dance also helps with confidence and social skills. Despite society’s acceptance and the myriad programs now available to children with special needs, there is still a stigma associated with special needs. Interacting with others of like needs, in a non-judgmental setting, with a trained a patient instructor, enhances and encourages both social integration and confidence. On a more artistic note, dance allows creative expression, both individually and in a group setting, encourages exercise, and promotes healthier living. An argument can be made that dance stimulates the intellect and learning as well.
How, if so, does it help with social, physical, and learning skills?
Carol Greenstein: Children with Down syndrome have many motor delays so movement is good for them to practice skills.
Michael O’Donnell: According to Dr. Reuven Feurstein, a world-renowned cognitive psychologist, known for his groundbreaking research in cognitive modifiability, the “Mind-Body approach … advocates activating the body in order to more readily access and focus the mind.”
As a parent of a child with special needs, I have seen this at work firsthand. When children are engaged with the world around them, they are more prepared to interact with it, learn from it, and contribute to it. Dance is a vehicle that stimulates this engagement.
Why should parents of young children with special needs put their children in dance class?
Carol Greenstein: Dance is a beautiful activity for all children. This class is special because there are children without disabilities in the class that serve as peer models. Ms. Julia has created a class that is fun and where the children experience many different kinds of movement. The main reason to put your child in dance is because it is a fun activity for them. In this case children with special needs will also benefit from the social and motor skills they will be exposed to. For the parents, it is a joy to watch [your] child dance and to connect with other parents in the community.
Michael O’Donnell: Because dance is fun! But there are many reasons: the social interaction, the discipline required in learning and reciting dance movements, and the creative expression. On a personal level, [Kiera] has some instability in her neck region—not uncommon for children with Down syndrome. Dance replaces such activities as gymnastics as a low-impact form of exercise.