18 SES 08, Development in and through Dance
“While I dance, I can not judge.
I can not hate,
I can not separate,
Myself from life.
I can only be
Joyful and whole.
This is why I dance.” - Hans Bos
The above quote resonates with thoughts shared by Neal, a 12 year old boy with learning difficulties and social emotional behavioural difficulties. His disruptive and anti-social behaviours had earned him the label of a troublemaker at school. However, he showed a lot of promise and interest in dance. Participation in dance lessons at school motivated him to do well in other areas of learning. When asked about his dance experience, he smiled brightly and said, “I really enjoy dancing. Dance makes me feel joyful.”
The potential importance of dance for Children with Special Needs (CWSN) has been emphasised in papers by Skoning (2010) and Zitomer and Reid (2011) who make assertions regarding the many benefits of dance. I believe that dance gives children a sense of belonging and enables them to experience the joy of learning. During my Master of Arts (MA) study in India, I tested this hypothesis within a special school where I worked with learners of mixed ages and complex needs. When conducting this investigation, I focused on a group of six CWSN with a diverse range of abilities. I nterrogated my data to seek a connection between dance and the development of social, emotional, learning and communication skills. Participation in dance activities enables CWSN to potentially feel part of the larger society and this could in turn help in their inclusion.
Studies have affirmed the positive role of dance in improving mood and decreasing anxiety. Bongard et al. (2010) did an exploratory study which revealed that dancing has a significant positive role to play in improving health and well-being. The findings also suggested that dance enhances well-being in aspects such as emotional, social, physical and spiritual dimensions as well as self-esteem and coping strategies. Studies have established the positive influence of dance on the well-being of people with social, physical or psychological impairments (Kiepe et al., 2012). Dance when practised as a recreational activity has been found to improve mood and boost happiness and mental health (Zajenkowski et al., 2014).
Dance involves the use of minimal space and equipment and hence it can be incorporated any time in the school timetable (Dow, 2010). Bradley and Overby (2007) assert that teachers who teach through dance promote learning and retention. This view accords with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983). The use of creative movement in the classroom can help students with different learning needs to perform better in school. Children who find reading and writing difficult can make the use of movement to learn and communicate (Skoning, 2008). This encourages expression of ideas, thoughts and helps in problem solving.
The research questions which this study aimed toanswer:
Are dance classes beneficial for CWSN?
How does dance help with the physical, social and emotional development of CWSN?
How does dance improve socialisation, cooperation, communication and learning skills of CWSN?
Aims of the study:
1. To find out the benefits of dance for CWSN.
2. To highlight the positive aspects of dance in the lives of CWSN.
3. To enhance and generate new understandings of the role of dance.
Objectives of the study:
1. To investigate how participation in dance can be used for personal and physical development for CWSN.
2. To enhance knowledge and understanding of the contribution of dance to the education of CWSN.
3. To examine the connection between dance and the development of social, emotional, learning and communication skills.
Approach: This study was approached from interpretivism, a theoretical perspective linked to constructivism as theorised by Gray (2009) who states that interpretive studies seek to explore peoples’ experiences and their perspectives of these experiences. A qualitative interpretivist approach enabled me to gain insight into the dance experiences of the six children with different special educational needs. Methodology: The methodology used included an analysis of data derived through observations and interviews. Aikenhead (1997) states that interpretive research is concerned with understanding the world as it is from the subjective experiences of individuals. This calls upon the use of meaning oriented methodologies, such as interviewing or participant observation, that rely on a subjective relationship between the researcher and subjects. Methods: The methods used for collecting data consisted of participant observations, video observations and semi-structured interviews. The data comprised of fourteen dance session observations where all six children were involved, six one-on-one semi-structured interviews with parents and teachers, children’s dance performance videos, class observations, and researcher field notes. Sampling: The purposive nature of the sample was important as I needed to investigate a group of children who had experience of dance and would therefore enable me to gain answers to my research questions. I had a sample of six children with special needs, one physiotherapist, two special educational needs teachers, one dance teacher and two parents. It was a convenience, purposive, specific sample. Analysis of the data: Interpretive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Saldana (2015) states that thematic analysis is a strategic choice as part of the research design. He describes coding as an exploratory problem solving technique in which a theme can be defined as an extended phrase or sentence that identifies what a unit of data is about and/or what it means. The data in this study consisted of interview transcripts, participant observation field notes, literature and videos. The audio recorded interviews were transcribed by listening to the audio repeatedly and reproducing the spoken words into written text onto a word document in the computer. The transcribed data was written down under three columns - number, utterance and code. After transcription of all the data from the observations and interviews, codes were assigned to the data based on the kind of responses obtained related to the three research questions. The interview and observation data revealed themes relevant to each research question.
Observation and interview data answered the first research question in the affirmative about dance being a beneficial activity for CWSN. The six students who participated in the study reported feelings of satisfaction and self-confidence during dance sessions. Interview evidence indicated that dance helps in physical development as gross motor skills improve simultaneously with other areas of development. CWSN enjoy participating in dance activities as it does not feel like physical exercise but more like a fun activity. Dance promotes skill development through various kinds of movement, exploration and manipulation. Another interview finding indicated that participation in regular dance classes helps to fight inactivity and teaches discipline. The findings from my research in India are similar to some of those from other research conducted in Europe. Interviews with professionals who used dance in their teachings identified dance as a medium which facilitates holistic development. Social development is encouraged as dance is like a group activity where there is turn taking, teamwork and social interactions. Dance promotes emotional balance and self expression as a result of which CWSN are able to express and emote better. Children imitate each other in their movements and learn to work and cooperate in a group so socialization occurs naturally. They gain confidence in their body image, self-esteem improves and they feel at par with their non-disabled peers. Interviewees felt that dance is helpful in improving communication and interpersonal skills. Many concepts like numbers, colours and shapes can be taught through dance movements. The findings of this MA study were encouraging and reassured me about the positive impact of dance in the lives of CWSN. Having successfully completed this study, I am now building upon this research in England with a different sample of children in order to gain insights for a European perspective.
Aikenhead, G. S. (1997) Toward a First nations cross-cultural science and technology curriculum. Science Education [online]. 81(2), pp. 217–238. Becker, K.M. (2013) Dancing Through the School Day: How Dance Catapults Learning in Elementary Education. Journal of Physical Education. Recreation and Dance. 84:3, 6-8. Dow, C.B. (2010) The Performing Arts: Music, Dance and Theater in the Early Years. Young Children and Movement:The Power of Creative Dance, 0, 31-35. Freire, I.M. (2001) In or Out of Step : The different person in the world of dance. Research in Dance Education, 2:1, 73-78. Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences (1 st Ed.). New York: Basic Books. Gilbert, A.G. (2002) Teaching the three Rs through movement experiences. Silver Spring, MD: National Dance Education Organization. Gray, D. E. (2009) Doing research in the real world. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Kiepe MS, Stockigt B, & Keil T. (2012). Effects of dance therapy and ballroom dances on physical and mental illnesses: A systematic review. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39(5), 404-411 Lorenzo-Lasa, R., Ideishi,R. I. & Ideishi, S.K. (2007) Facilitating Preschool Learning and Movement through Dance. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35:1, 25-31. Munsell, S.E and Davis, K.E.B. (2015) Dance and Special Education, Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 59:3, 129-133. Murcia, C.Q., Kreutz, G. , Clift, S. and Bongard, S. (2010) « Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being », Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice, 2:2, 149–163. Rajakumar, P, Shiv Kumar, Uppal, S., Ganguly, G. and Banerjee, B. (2006) Position paper: National focus group on: Education of children with special needs. New Delhi, India: Publication Department by the Secretary, National Council of Educational Research and Training. Reid, G. and Zitomer, M.R. (2011) To be or not to be - able to dance: Integrated dance and children’s perceptions of dance ability and disability. Research in Dance Education. 12:2, 137-156. Robson, C. (2002) Real world research. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers. Skoning, S. (2010) Dancing the Curriculum, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 46:4, 170-174. Zajenkowski, M., Jankowski, KS, Kołata, D. (2014) Let’s dance–feel better! Mood changes following dancing in different situations. European Journal of Sport Science 15(7): 640–646.
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