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Dancing for Empathy

I was bullied through public school. My shy personality and difficulty interpreting social cues made it hard to gel with many of my fellow classmates, and some of them took to belittling me, or even becoming physically aggressive.

It wasn’t until I attended Camp Towhee at the end of public school that I finally started standing up for myself. The camp’s motto was to prove everyone can be great at something, and they did a great job of it. In particular, I remember an amazing dance performance put on by two of the group leaders, which eventually led to me becoming an instructor myself.

The confidence I gained from my experiences at Camp Towhee has helped me in too many ways to record here. But it wasn’t until recently that I’ve reflected on how useful dance could have been to those who bullied me as well.

For example, dance is a great activity for incorporating children of different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, and religious upbringings. As the kids work together to accomplish common dance-related goals, they also learn to treat each other with increased respect and empathy.

Okay, I hear you cynics’ poo-pooing me back there. Fine, let’s drop some science: In a current study on Dancing Classrooms in New York schools, 95% of the teachers said that “as a result of dancing together, there was a noticeable improvement in students’ abilities to cooperate and collaborate. Not bad, eh?

But there’s more – 68% of principals in a Los Angeles survey said their students showed an increased level of acceptance towards others. Even 81% of the students themselves said they treated others with more respect.

So, what is dance’s secret? Unlike sports and many other activities, there is no competition: Kids work together to achieve common goals, like completing a set of steps or a routine. As they navigate increasingly challenging patterns, their shared experience bonds them together.

But sometimes the challenges children face have nothing to do with malicious behavior from others. Some kids act out as a result of too much pent-up energy, as with hyperactivity for example. For them, dance provides increased control, coordination, and an opportunity to release that energy in a safe and constructive space.

And did I mention what a boost it is for their confidence? Dance helps children grow more comfortable with their body and how it moves, more so if the dance class culminates in a performance. The process of improving and accomplishing steps previously though impossible can have a powerful effect on how they see themselves.

Even the music itself can have a great impact on a child’s empathy. A study published in The Psychology of Music found that children who played games with a musical component scored significantly higher on empathy tests (like answering the question: “I’m happy that Billy got a present, even though I didn’t get one myself”), than kids who played games with no musical element.

So whether your child is bouncing off the walls, taking away other kids toys, or just needs a little confidence boost, check out your local dance program, or come join ours! Classes for children start at 4pm every day – click here for more information.


Works Cited







About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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