Creative Dance and Executive FunctionFebruary 21, 2018

Making connections is at the heart of learning…..

Is my child over scheduled? Not doing enough? Should we add gymnastics or soccer to their list of activities?  It can be confusing, but ultimately we all want to offer our children the most beneficial and balanced extracurricular experience possible.

The latest research in developmental psychology – the study of neural, cognitive, and socio/emotional human development – points to creative dance as sort of one-stop-shop for healthy growth and learning.

For over 25 years I’ve been refining my Creative Dance curriculum.  Now more than ever research is reinforcing what I’ve instinctively known all along – that interactive, playful and child-centered movement experiences are essential to a child’s growth.

Specifically, creative dance enhances a child’s executive function – one’s capacity to learn and achieve goals. It directly influences the life skills children need for optimal learning and growth – socially, emotionally and cognitively.

According to Mind in the there are several essential life skills every child needs to enhance executive function.  I’ve outlined these below along with how your child’s dance class experience influences this learning.


‘Making connections is at the heart of learning—figuring out what’s the same, what’s different and sorting these things into categories. Making unusual connections is at the core of creativity. In a world where people can google for information, it is the people who can see the connections who can go beyond knowing information to using this information well.  Critical thinking is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions.’

To prepare our bodies and minds we begin each class with the BrainDance – eight fundamental movement patterns human beings are programmed to move through from 0-12 months that wire the central nervous system. I then introduce our ‘magic word’ for the day.  The magic word is the concept that ties the class together.  It creates meaning and focus.  Concepts include place, size, level, direction, speed and rhythm, shape, line, relationships in space, energy, rhythm and flow.  Students learn about these ideas by seeing and saying the written word, then experiencing them in action.  These concepts translate to all areas of their lives, so the learning continues outside of the dance room.  Creative Dancehelps us make connections and think outside the box.


‘Children need this skill in order to achieve their goals, especially in a world that is filled with distractions and information overload. It involves paying attention, remembering the rules, thinking flexibly and exercising self control.’

For children it all comes down to motivation, and like all young animals children instinctively want to play.

It’s no surprise that this is how they learn best. Creative Dance engages children through fun and challenging dance activities and games.  Because of the playfulness of my classes children are naturally motivated to focus, listen, and respond with original ideas and movement vocabulary.  Creative Dance is child centered and self directed.


‘Perspective taking involves figuring out what others think and feel, and forms the basis of children understanding their parents’, teachers’ and friends’ intentions. Children who can take others’ perspectives are also much less likely to get involved in conflicts.’

Every class includes time for observation and reflection.  We respectfully watch our friends dance then we take time to offer ‘positive’ feedback.  Creative Dance develops empathy and understanding.


‘Communicating is much more than understanding language, speaking, reading and writing – it is the skill of determining what one wants to communicate and realizing how our communications will be understood by others. It is the skill that many teachers feel is most lacking today.’

Every activity I present requires students to listen carefully and interpret my instructions.  I have a saying in class, “We listen, learn and have fun.”   We are also aware of each other’s personal space and are often reminded how to respectfully ask for what we need.  Creative Dance enhances our ability to communicate thoughtfully and effectively.


‘Life is full of stresses and challenges. Children who are willing to take on challenges (instead of avoiding them or simply coping with them) do better in school and in life.’

Through out class I use the phrase “Show me how you can ….” These are prompts that meet the child on their level.  Students also get the benefit of seeing various movement vocabulary and ideas as I demonstrate. Learning by example and being given the opportunity to try and try again creates a self-assured and confident child.  Creative Dance is empowering.


‘It is through learning that we can realize our potential. As the world changes, so can we, for as long as we live — as long as we learn.’

In a nutshell, teacher guided discovery and self-directed learning is my approach to dance education.  It involves listening, interpreting, trying new ideas and repetition.  It involves novelty, play, thinking outside the box, observing and reflecting.  Creative Dance engages the whole child.



Brain-Compatible Dance Education by Anne Green Gilbert

Play, How it Shapes the Brain by Stuart Brown, MD


Joan Wolfe is the Creative Ballet Curriculum Director at Ballet Austin Academy 

and founder and director of Creative Dance Adventures