Making the case for dance

Written by: Dame Darcey Bussell | Published:
Dame Darcey Bussell
You are preaching to the converted here. How can people get involved? Cheers Graham

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Using dance as a way to boost the fitness and health of all children, no matter their level of skill, is an approach advocated by world-famous ballerina Darcey Bussell, who has launched a not-for-profit initiative to support schools

We are all born as creative, inquisitive and curious individuals. As we grow, so do our inhibitions, which in turn restricts our willingness to be creative and inventive.

The creative arts, both performing and visual, help to keep these innate qualities alive. In a more complex society, we increasingly depend on the creative individual.

Dance not only enables a young person to retain these qualities, it also gets them moving and being physical.

The many attributes of dance include: musicality, communication, logical sequencing, memory expansion, appreciation of diversity, self-confidence, physical strengthening and aerobic fitness, co-ordination and spatial awareness, and social interaction. If it was a pill for wellbeing it would be a pharmaceutical blockbuster.

Most importantly, the release of endorphins while moving to music makes you feel great, and the child realises how good it feels to be physical, and that can stay with them for life.

Dr Peter Lovatt, of the University of Hertfordshire, says: “Dancing stimulates us physically and emotionally, while there are also cognitive and social elements to it. You appear to get a much bigger release of endorphins when you dance than during other forms of exercise; it also connects with the emotional centres in the brain.”

So if dance has all these important qualities, how do we give every child the opportunity to experience and enjoy dance?

Currently, where dance is taught in secondary schools, it is genre-specific, like ballet or contemporary. It is a skilled qualification, subject to examination, like chemistry or learning history. This is appropriate for the relatively few students interested in specialised dance, which is great and I endorse this.

But we are missing out on a huge opportunity, one that can benefit all children, both in primary and secondary school.

To receive the benefits of dance, every child should have exposure to multiple dance styles and not be subject to examination. I believe they should gain this exposure via a simple and easily taught diverse dance fitness programme that is part of physical education.

So I have created Diverse Dance Mix (DDMIX) and made DDMIX for schools a not-for-profit enterprise. It is a dance fitness programme made to be part of PE – easy to teach, high time on task, adhering to national curriculum guidelines and inclusive. So even if a child doesn’t think they are any good at dancing, it doesn’t matter, it is fun, physical and entertaining.

DDMIX has more than 30 genres: Chinese, Arabian, Greek, African, the American line dance, Arabian, Bollywood, Scottish, Irish, Japanese – even the Haka from New Zealand. So you get exposure to cultures from around the world and we have, of course, the iconic eras, like 1950s rock’n’roll, 1970s disco and 1960s twist.

Each genre is just 2.5 minutes long and structured around four key moves, making it easier to teach and easier to learn – and we have especially created music to immerse everyone in the style.

A well structured dance fitness programme is different to specialised dance in that it is inclusive, allowing for every child of every ability to participate fully without intimidation.

I have witnessed that children enjoy diverse dance fitness so much, with the important release of feel good endorphins, that they don’t even notice they are getting fit at the same time.

To try DDMIX, we have plug and play DVDs and online services, we have schemes of work for key stages 1, 2 and 3 and we provide INSET. We provide teaching back up and we have peripatetic teachers.

With dance fitness producing more physically active children, we will have a much larger pool of children interested in sport, in the arts and having the confidence to explore their own creativity in other fields.

According to Dr Steven Mann, research director at not-for-profit health body UK Active: “Movement has been stripped out of modern living (for children), meaning Generation Inactive are driven to school and fed a staple diet of sofa play and screen-time, while being starved of outdoor activities.”

I endorse the calls for physical literacy to match the mathematical and English literacy requirements. This should include four lessons a week and I believe dance fitness should be central to that expansion.

When celebrities like Ed Balls or Joe McFadden leave Strictly, they all say that dance has changed their lives for the better. This should not be restricted to a lucky few, but made available to every child by injecting dance fitness directly into our school PE curriculum.

  • Dame Darcey Bussell is a retired ballerina, the President of the Royal Academy of Dance and a judge on the BBC reality television programme Strictly Come Dancing.

Further information

You are preaching to the converted here. How can people get involved?



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