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SEL Spotlight

How to Engage Your School Community Through Dance

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Dance can be a powerful way to foster Social Emotional Learning (SEL), celebrate cultural diversity, and promote parent involvement. Read on to explore this SEL strategy for family and community engagement.

Sometimes parents are reluctant to participate in school activities, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent whose heart doesn’t melt the day their own child invites them to dance as their partner.

When it comes to promoting community engagement through culturally enriching experiences, dance is an under-utilized solution with the power to simultaneously engage students, parents/caregivers, and school staff in an activity that creates joy and unity.

Beyond the obvious health and cultural benefits, research indicates a strong connection between dance and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The most successful SEL programs use active forms of learning to teach students, and evidence suggests that dance out-paces other forms of physical activity AND other forms of arts learning when it comes to measurable SEL outcomes.

family engagement dance-along
Dance creates joy and promotes a special bond between parent and child

Two Left Feet? No Problem!

In many schools, the greatest barrier to bringing in a dance program is a lack of comfort with dance on the part of the adults in charge. For most students, permission to move, and especially moving to music, offers considerable stress relief and an immediate boost to their sense of optimism and joy.

Using dance and movement activities to foster learning is not as hard as it sounds, and a number of resources exist to take the pressure off of teachers and program facilitators to lead the activities.

SEL Journeys gets schools moving
Get your school moving with EduMotion: SEL Journeys

Offering an easy and engaging solution, EduMotion: SEL Journeys is a digital experience that allows groups of participants to explore the world while focusing on themes like diversity, empathy and kindness. Each journey starts with participants choosing a cultural destination and then following along to learn simple movements inspired by a dance from the selected culture. By the end of the journey, participants are engaged with one another in movement, playing the roles of “Joymaker” and “Peacemaker” as they dance together.

How Schools Can Integrate Cultural Dance with Family Engagement

With the right approach, dance can contribute to a positive school culture through integration during the school day as well as during out-of-school time and family engagement events. Your school’s parent organization can be an ideal catalyst to introduce a dance program that benefits the entire community.

During the School Day

Invite teachers to be part of the experience. Provide resources that enable them to explore/learn/create a dance with their students without placing pressure on them to teach dance steps. Classroom teachers can include this activity in morning meetings, during social studies, or at another transition time. It can also be a great end of week reward (Friday dance party, anyone?). Additionally, physical education and music/art teachers are likely advocates for a community engagement-oriented dance program.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? Teachers who embrace this strategy will see a boost in student morale, improved peer relationships, and better academic performance. Multiple studies prove that active students learn better, so time taken to integrate dance into the weekly schedule is time well-invested.

TO SHARE THE EXPERIENCE:

1. Classroom Dance-Along: Teachers can invite parents or another classroom in for an interactive dance exchange.

2. Assembly program: Classrooms can practice and present different dances in an assembly program. Most parents won’t pass up an opportunity to see their child perform!

After-School & Family Engagement Events

Schools can host an after-school club or incorporate dance into an existing after-school program. Working with a community partner who specializes in dance is one common solution. Alternately, a program like EduMotion: SEL Journeys offers online content that a parent volunteer or OST program leader can facilitate easily — no dance experience required!

For special events, you can host a parent-child dance, or incorporate a dance activity station at an event such as a Multicultural/International Night, Health Fair, etc. Dance can even connect to STEM (make that, STEAM…the A stands for Arts). Students can think about coding as a series of dance steps they can put together to create different outcomes. With a little imagination, you can connect dance to all kinds of themed events you may host throughout the year!

How Dance Connects to SEL

SEL Core Competencies

Schools across the country are prioritizing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and looking for ways to embed SEL into all aspects of school culture and climate. Dance is a proven strategy for fostering positive outcomes in the three major dimensions of SEL.

1. Intrapersonal SEL Skills: Self-Awareness and Self-Management are fundamentally rooted in the body, making dance an excellent tool for building such competencies as emotional awareness, accurate self-perception, and impulse control.

2. Interpersonal SEL Skills: Many dance and movement activities promote teamwork and cooperation and provide rich opportunities for developing Relationship Skills and Social Awareness.

3. Responsible Decision-Making: Dance and movement can also be a wonderful way for students work on problem-solving, develop the ability to evaluate and reflect, and consider their responsibility to help make the world a better place.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Considerations

When choosing resources to use for dance or movement-based activities, keep in mind that cultural dance, in particular, can be useful in fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect. By studying dance forms that originate in other parts of the world, students gain understanding of the history, identities, and values of others.

Dance can also help students and their families overcome cultural and linguistic obstacles due to its focus on nonverbal communication. For English language learners, in particular, dance provides the opportunity to express oneself through the body and is shown to bolster self-esteem.

Just like trying anything new at your school, the first few steps are often the hardest. While adding dance and movement to your programming may sound intimidating, the potential benefits are well worth it. Please reach out and connect if you’d like some moral support to implement this SEL strategy for family and community engagement at your school!


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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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