Introducing Children to Dance at an Early Age – A True Social and Cultural Need
Posted on August 30, 2012
Introduction of the new generation to what is widely considered, (wrongly, I believe), “high culture” and dance and motion in particular are a necessity rather than a desirable choice.
Today, as the concepts of emotional intelligence and multiple intelligences are frequently used and skills such as interpersonal and intrapersonal communication are widely considered the key to success and fulfillment of one’s potential, one would expect art education and acquaintance with culture and art to become an integral part of our lives and the lives of our children. Yet unfortunately, perhaps due to the various challenges and difficulties encountered by the educational system, it appears as though the importance of introducing children to culture and the arts in general and particularly dance and motion from an early age has yet to be acknowledged.
Almost each and every one of us can recall the magic of their kindergarten’s rhythm and music lessons. Yet today, these weekly lessons have gradually become rarer even in kindergartens, and, obviously, considering the very limited lessons provided to elementary school children, one cannot expect dance and motion – even if only as spectators– to be part of the schedule of every pupil.
I believe that introducing children at a very young age to culture classified (wrongly, I believe) as “high” is more of a necessity than of a desirable choice. The world of creation, culture and the arts must be accessible to each and every child. This has various explanations and accounts based on multiple theories – psychological, educational, social, cultural and of course, ones related to dance and motion.
Dance as an Empowering Experience
To realize the great value of the dance experience only few children are lucky to be introduced to, all one needs to do is watch the four and five year old at the end of the school year show. For them it is a primal experience which connects them to internal energies and powers, allowing them to connect their bodies and souls and provides them with powers that only in later years will they be able to grasp.
Today’s education systems encounter unprecedented difficulties: more children are diagnosed as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder; discipline and boundaries, which used to be so clear and explicit in the past have turned vague; parental authority is experiencing a severe crisis and children are more exposed to multiple distractors and stimuli, spending time in passive activities, in front of screens within their homes, with less motion and direct communication.
In contrary to that, let us go back to the excited child, as the stage lights turn on and they are required to apply what they learned and exercised, use their body strength and intelligence, combine them together, be courageous, concentrate, be accurate, listen, look around, fit in a group – and they manage to do so successfully – how delightful must they be!
One of the main difficulties we encounter today is the overload of information, combined with great uncertainty – at the personal, familial, occupational, public and national levels. Making decisions is complex, complicated, requiring innovation, originality and ability to “think out of the box”, while fully understanding the systems and their limits, reality and its formal and informal rules. Dance is, it seems, the essence of this so-called clash between emotional discharge, creativity and originality on the one hand and rules and limits of systems on the other.
In her book An Invitation to Dance, Zofia Naharin writes: “how can one combine methodology and creativity, freedom to create and boundaries? The answer is: you always walk a tightrope. Creation occurs between the freedom to experience on the one hand and the boundaries set by the teacher on the other (An Invitation to Dance, p. 16)
It seems, then, that the importance of developing those skills from a very early age cannot be exaggerated. Creative thinking goes beyond the boundaries of art. It contributes to every aspect of one’s life – at work, in interpersonal relationships and personal happiness – motion is one way, among many others, to develop better creative thinking. (p. 16)
Naharin also write: “Dance is, first and foremost, a social activity. People strengthen their sense of belonging through dance, expressing emotions shared by the entire group – love, happiness, grief – they express their individual feelings and communicate with their environment” (p. 13).
If we fail to teach the younger children this language, we shouldn’t be surprised if they fail to understand it as adults. We should not introduce them only to the particularly talented, gifted and skillful few, and those whose parents can afford it – to this fascinating rich world of dance. Rather, we have to find a way to provide all children access to it. Today’s children are tomorrow’s culture consumers. They are the audience we will find in next years’ dance premieres and festivals. Moreover, they are tomorrow’s citizens – who we would like to be enlightened, open-minded individuals, who will turn the society where we live into a better, more benevolent, high quality one.