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SEL Spotlight

The Power of Dance for Diverse Learners

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Dance and movement-based activities offer powerful therapeutic benefits for students of all ages and abilities. For this reason, high-quality dance and physical activity programs are well-suited to meet the needs of diverse learners. In this post, we’ll highlight the key benefits of dance for diverse learners and then share some insights about how movement activities benefit students with a variety of special needs.

Key Benefits of Dance for Diverse Learners:

  • Build Self-Confidence: Students develop an ability to regulate their body and emotions, build awareness of their own strengths, and take pride in their identity.
  • Focus on Non-Verbal Communication: Dance is a particularly powerful Social Emotional Learning tool for English Language Learners (ELLs) and non-verbal students.
  • Develop Relationships & Empathy: When partner or teamwork is involved, students practice specific skills to help them build relationships and develop more awareness about others.
  • Improve Cognitive Development: Dance and movement are shown to improve the ability to focus and stay motivated
  • Relieve Stress & Anxiety: Activities provide specific strategies for managing stress. Movement boosts endorphins (sense of well-being) and music reduces cortisol (stress hormone).
  • Develop Gross Motor Skills: Movement activities support development of balance, flexibility, strength and physical coordination.
  • All Ages. All abilities. With the right approach, anyone can participate in dance regardless of ability, shape, size, age, background, gender.

EduMotion’s SEL Journeys curriculum provides an easy way for educators who work with Diverse Learners to bring dance into the school day. Take a look at one special education teacher has to say about his experience with the program:

How Dance Uniquely Meets Various Special Needs

ADHD: Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder typically thrive in movement activities as permission to move is often a key to success for children with this diagnosis. Dance activities can be presented in a structured and predictable way, while still leaving space for student input and creative self-expression. When offered, dance activities often become a favorite part of school for children living with ADHD.

Autism: Students on the autism spectrum can be encouraged to acclimate to a dance activity by observing before participating. When lessons are presented with a highly predictable sequence, children with autism can thrive when engaged in dance. Be aware of student-specific sensitivities to sound and music, as well as physical touch. Talk to students about their comfort level and make adjustments as needed.

Physical Mobility Impairments: Many dance activities can be modified for students who use wheelchairs or those with other physical mobility impairments. For educators who are facilitating dance and movement lessons for students living with a mobility impairment, here are some suggestions:

  • Footwork patterns can be marked by tapping hands on lap/desk, or clapping the rhythm of the steps. If arm movement is also impaired, rhythm can be marked with head nodding.
  • For partner work, able-bodied participants can pair with students who have physical impairments and modify movements to focus on upper body and arms.

ELL: Movement activities provide a wonderful opportunity for English Language Learners to engage with classmates through non-verbal communication. Because movement is largely a visual learning process, dance is a wonderful way to help ELLs develop social and emotional skills.  EduMotion’s dance curriculum addresses national English Language Development Standards # 1, 2 and 5.

This post provides just a few examples of how dance and movement activities can benefit diverse learners. If you have questions or more suggestions, we’d love to hear from you!


Like this post? Join EduMotion for a bi-monthly SEL Spotlight newsletter and Dance of the Month membership!

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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