This article previously appeared on ARHtisticLicense.
I dance with the Phoenix International Folk Dancers. As our name suggests, we do dances from all over, but we favor folk dances from the Balkan nations of southeastern Europe: especially Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, and Greece.
Kids love to dance. And that’s a good thing, because purposeful movement, especially the kind that involves changing direction and crossing the midline (that imaginary line bisecting your body into left and right), is necessary for optimum development of the brain. Kids should be involved in structured movement every day. Sports provide it. So does dance. So does active play. But when schools are forced to make cuts to P.E. and recess (and music) to make more time for “important skills” like reading and math, standardized test scores ultimately decline because students’ brains aren’t getting all the different kinds of stimulation they need.
Elementary school teachers understand that students need to move. They incorporate movement into their classrooms, even if it’s just allowing students to get up and walk around the room periodically. Movement helps students refocus.
When I taught elementary general music, I included folk dancing in my instruction. I justified it with the music standard concept Understanding music in relation to history and culture. I instituted Folk Dance Friday, which involved folk dancing for 30 minutes whenever your music class happened to fall on Friday. In a district where kids had music once every three days, Folk Dance Friday happened roughly once a month for each class. (Since many weeks are not full weeks, sometimes that pattern was thrown off; I might have Folk Dance Friday on a Thursday or occasionally have a different activity on a Friday so that all my students would have a similar frequency of dance exposure.) Below is a video clip of Alunelul, a favorite dance of elementary general music teachers. Can you see how fun and satisfying it is to folk dance? And doing 30 minutes of dance is an excellent cardio workout.
Some of the boys lost their enthusiasm for dance around fifth grade, but they perked up when another boy mentioned that the grapevine step is very similar to a common football drill. Nevertheless, I coaxed and cajoled them into participating for their own good and athletic prowess if not for the fun.
If your state, like Arizona, tries to scale back education funding to balance the budget or to force schools into being more effective (our state representatives claim that education doesn’t improve by throwing money at it), fight. Quality education involves richness of experience, not bare bones existence. That includes exposure to physical education, art, dance, wood and metal shop, home economics, and music in addition to social studies, science, reading, writing, math, penmanship, grammar and spelling, and foreign languages. Demand it. Your children deserve it.