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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Dance is a type of art that takes many forms. “Different dance styles and techniques value different characteristics, but all involve interplay of kinesthetic and aesthetic abilities that distinguish dance talent as a communicative art form from pure athletic talent. The role dance plays in different cultures and its connections to body image, sexuality, gender, and spirituality make a universal definition of talent particularly difficult to agree upon” (Kerr, 2009, p. 238). However, dance is not constrained to the necessity of having music or set choreography, but rather can embody any creative movement and/or movement pattern. The benefits of dance as stated by the National Dance Education Organization (2015) include physical development, emotional maturity, social awareness and cognitive development. As these aspects are very important in childhood development, we find many children involved in dance during their formative years in schools ranging from competitive dance academies to recreational community centers.


Dance and the concept of movement has a long standing foundation in history. Most ancient civilizations danced before gods in important ritualistic ceremonies (History World, 2015). Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks or Hindus from India utilized some form of dance to honour a deity or higher power. Through the years dance became more coordinated and by the 16th and 17th centuries we began to see choreography in performances for aristocracy and dance as “an elegant form of exercise and an expected social skill for the nobility” (Living History 1605, 2014, para. 1). Dancing remained fairly static until the 19th and 20th centuries. By the late 1800s there was less of a focus on ballroom etiquette (Library of Congress, 2015). Instead, many new different styles of dance were gaining traction. As North American culture has become more diverse in the past 50 years, there has also been a greater influence from other cultures (including Bhangra from India and Latin Ballroom dancing) on North American dance styles.

Types of Dance

The values and technique of each dance style differ depending on history, context, and geography. African forms of dance “value rhythmic acuity, the ability to perform intricate locomotor patterns, and spatial awareness in complex directional and axial dimensions” (Kerr, 2009, p. 238). “Asian cultures focus on more subtle and structured movements” (Kerr, 2009, p. 238). Dancing styles like tap or flamenco have more of a focus on foot speed and precision.

Some popular dance styles include:

  • Ballet: Is a type of performance dance that started in the Renaissance and focuses on basic foundational techniques
  • Ballroom dancing (including: Swing, Waltz, Jive, Foxtrot, Quickstep): Partner dancing that began in Europe but gained popularity in North America
  • Belly Dancing: A dance originating from the Middle East that is done as a solo (usually improvised) with heavy movements of the torso
  • Bhangra: A style of dance that originated in India/Pakistan and is a folk dance that has been reinvented in recent years
  • Contemporary: Developed in the mid-20th century and mixes the styles of jazz, modern and ballet
  • Creative: Typically a dance for children to allow them to explore fundamental movements and improvisational skills
  • Flamenco: Is a Spanish folk dance that involves musical instruments with stomping and heavy use of arm movements
  • Hip Hop (including: Breaking, Popping, Locking, Crumping): A type of street dance that is usually performed to hip hop music
  • Jazz: Originally came from African American vernacular dance. Has modified into a high energy dance with strong arms, a low sense of gravity, and a lot of jumps and turns
  • Latin Ballroom (including: Samba, Salsa, Merengue, Pasodoble, Cha Cha, Mambo, Rumba, Tango): Partner dancing that began in Latin America and involves different Latin rhythms and typically lots of technical footwork
  • Line Dancing: Commonly found in elementary schools as a form of dance. Began in the USA and involves repeated sequences of steps in large lines and rows
  • Modern: An off shoot of ballet that takes some ballet movements but allows for more freedom and expression than ballet
  • Tap: Involves the use of tap shoes to strike the ground in order to create percussive sound

Motor Learning and Motor Control in Dance

Motor control is defined as "a set of [internal] processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for responding" (Schmidt, 1998, p. 346). In dance, motor learning refers to accuracy and the smoothness of movement while motor control depends on functioning the brain, skeleton, joints, and the nervous system as an integrated unit to conduct movement (Krasnow, 2007). Young children typically have difficulties mastering motor control of their entire body. Movements are completely novel to young children and they must “rearrange their repertoire of motor skills to learn how to execute them” (Sacha & Russ, 2006, p. 341). However, with the common repetitive movements found in dance, their bodies have a chance to develop these basic movements (outlined below). Creative dance programs are a good way for a child to develop because they gain an understanding of movement and the body, such as the concepts of time, space, and force (Kerr, 2009). Sacha & Russ (2006) also suggest that for preschool aged children, utilizing imagery activities lends to more creativity in minds where fantasy is at its peak.

Fundamental Movement Skills

These skills can be introduced to young dancers in fun ways that relate to each particular dance style.

Simple Locomotor Skills

Locomotor movement skills are the ability to move from one place to another (Sariscany, 2010). These are the building blocks of specific skills that will get developed later on.

Walking: Each foot moves alternately with one foot always in contact with the floor. The arms swing contralateral to the legs. Posture is upright. Swing Phase: This portion is where one leg is in the air. Support Phase: Begins with a heel strike and ends with a toe-off.

Ages 1-2: Should be learning the basics of walking

Age 3 & up: Should be capable of walking in all directions

Running: Similar to walking except there is a flight phase between the toe-off and the heel strike. Arms swing contralateral to the legs with a slight forward tilt of the upper body. The rear leg will have more flexion during the swing phase (close to 90 degrees).

Age 3: Should be able to run around obstacles and corners

Age 4: Should be able to take sharp turns and handle a wide variety of surfaces

Age 5: Can stop with a signal and run both forwards and backwards

Leaping: This is an exaggerated run with more distance travelled in the air and a longer flight phase.

Age 3-4: Begin leaping

Age 5-7: Can leap over objects

Age 8 & up: Doesn’t need the help of objects

Jumping: Prepare by bending knees and pushing the arms behind. Take off with both feet and land on both feet with your knees bent. Stretch your arms forward as you take off to increase momentum.

Age 3: Jump off the bottom stair

Age 4: Can jump approximately 60 cm from a stationary position

Age 5: Can jump approximately 80 cm from a stationary position

Hopping: Involves a take-off and landing onto the same foot.

Age 3: Learning to hop on their preferred leg

Age 4: Starting to hop on their less preferred leg

Age 5: Can hop on either leg and in a straight line

Combined Locomotor Skills

Galloping: Stepping with one foot then sliding the rear leg forward behind it. Weight is transferred to the back foot for a brief time until the front leg takes the next step.

Age 4: Can perform a gallop with preferred leg in front

Age 5: Can gallop on either leg and can start sliding

Sliding: This is galloping but moving in a sideways direction.

Age 5: Starts sliding

Skipping: Combination of a hop with a walk.

Age 5: Should be able to skip (boys may take up to a year longer to learn than girls)


Non-Locomotor alternatively refers to no appreciable movement from place to place (Sariscany, 2010).

Balancing: Postural control of the body. Static (without moving) and dynamic balance. Affected by growth and developmental changes Foot length, height of the center of mass over the base of support are all important factors in your ability to balance. Requires visual stimulus to balance statically.

Age 3: Children can walk along a wide balance beam

Age 4: Children can walk part way along a narrow balance beam

Age 5: Children can walk all the way across a narrow balance beam

Boys and Dance

Even though the population’s view of dance has changed over the last decade, there is still a heteronormative influence in many of the dance styles. Berlant & Warner (1998) state that heteronormativity is the worldview that heterosexuality is considered the normal and superior form of sexuality. In dance programs within many schools there is still the overriding shadow of heteronormativity in that many partner dances are done with a boy partnered with a girl (Robinson & Whitty, 2013). Though it may be considered normal practice to have two girls partner for these dances, it is considered to be homosexual and not socially acceptable to have two boys dance together (Robinson & Whitty, 2013). Dance is often considered a feminine activity so all males who dance regardless of their sexual orientation may be classified as feminine or not “real men” (Risner, 2009). Boys are stigmatized in this regard but in Risner’s (2009b) study of adolescent male dancers, meaning and perseverance have kept them dancing, their biggest support systems being their best friends in dance and best friends at school. They also received affirmation from their mothers and favourite dance teachers. Support systems, giving boys dance styles where they will succeed and trying to detach the stigma will help to convince boys to dance from a younger age.

Girls and Dance

Heteronormativity, as discussed above, pertains to girls as well as boys. Robinson & Whitty’s (2013) article states that within Canadian culture you can see elements of sexism. They say that evidence can be seen in the unequal pay of women, the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, and terms used to relate to the power of men (“sugar daddy”, etc.). Robinson & Whitty (2013) also argue that this is also an issue in partner dances, considering that most of the time males “lead” and females “follow”. This continues the notion of girls being submissive to a boys in a leading role. They finish with the conclusion of improving focus on equal opportunity for both boys and girls to be leaders. It may help to promote improvement for both sexes to learn opposite parts (Robinson & Whitty, 2013).

Another issue faced by girls being dance training at a young age are eating disorders caused by preferred body images. In a study by Ackard, Henderson, & Wonderlich (2004), they found that childhood dancers had higher scores on measures of bulimic behaviours, had a greater drive for thinness, and reported greater perfectionism and a smaller idea body size than non-dancers. It seems these bulimic behaviours are more common in sports and recreational activities that are aesthetic in nature including dance, gymnastics and swimming (citation). In particular, adolescent ballet dancers are more likely to be preoccupied with their weight due to a perceived thin body image of professional female dancers (Bettle et al., 2001). A societal change is beginning to occur with regards to female body image and will continue to change over the coming years.

However, in a study conducted in Sweden they found in adolescent girls (13-18 years of age), dance helped to improve self-health scores after an 8-month dance intervention of two classes a week (Duberg, Hagberg, Sunvisson, & Möller, 2013). They noted that these improvements continued for over one year after the conclusion of the study and emphasizes that exercise can incur health benefits.


Although younger children are typically less prone to injury as their bodies are fairly malleable in early age, injuries still occur to those partaking in a wide variety of dance styles. According to Roberts, Nelson, & Mackenzie (2014) in adolescents aged 3 to 19, 55.0% of dance-related injuries occur in more traditional dance styles (ballet, jazz, tap and modern). They also found that 59.6% of injuries happened to children and adolescents aged 14 and under (Roberts et al., 2014). There are multiple reasons why dancers get injured. From the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (2010), these include:

  • Type of dance and frequency of classes, rehearsals, and performances
  • Duration of training
  • Environmental conditions such as hard floors and cold studios
  • Equipment used, especially shoes
  • Individual dancer’s body alignment
  • Prior history of injury
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Most injuries to dancers occur in the lower extremities with 58.1% of all injuries being from the lower extremities (Roberts et al., 2014). Of these injuries, sprains and strains were the most common injuries (52.4%) and 44.8% of the injuries were caused by falls (Roberts et al., 2014). There are ways to prevent these injuries from occurring. Parents should be cognisant of their child’s health and should be encouraging them to stay within their comfort level. Teachers are also equally involved with ensuring the child stays healthy by being approachable to children and making sure to include a warm-up and cool-down in their dance routine. Here are some other ideas for preventing injuries in children, from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (2010):

  • Wear properly fitting clothing and shoes
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Resist the temptation to dance through pain
  • Pay close attention to correct technique
  • Be mindful of the limits of your body and do not push too fast too soon
  • Perform proper warm-up and cool-down

Dance and Disabilities

In recent years there has been a way for people with disabilities to dance in the form of inclusive dance troupes (Burch, 2009). In the 20th century, dance commits to the concept that anyone should be able express themselves through movement (Burch, 2009). Whether it be a physical, mental or emotional disability, children should be able to explore the power of creating rhythm, moving bodies through space and establishing fundamental movement patterns. This is why there has been a push for improvisational dancing as a form of therapy for children with varying levels and types of disability (Burch, 2009). This is especially true with children who have Austism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). As Scharoun, Reinders, Bryden & Fletche (2014) acknowledge, dance therapy is holistic and is able to provide physical, social and cognitive benefits for children with ASD. They develop better balance, flexibility, muscle tone, endurance and spatial awareness (Scharoun et al., 2014). This cultural shift away from the notion that dancers must fit an image has allowed disabled children and adults alike to continue to dance and create movement. Goodwin (2009) states that participants who have disabilities actually enjoy performing in physical activity with those who are able-bodied. That being said, society still views disability in two modalities: “function, which emphasises inability to do something such as walk, and appearance, which reacts how disability is seen leading to emotional reactions such as fear, pity, compassion or avoidance” (Cooper-Albright et al., in Zitomer & Reid, 2011, p. 138). Even children in kindergarten have the ability to recognise differences that are physical, cognitive or social in people with disabilities (Suomi, Collier & Brown, in Zitomer & Reid, 2011). The issue that comes up with programs for children with disabilities is that media can label those dance programs, tokenizing them as “special” (Burch, 2009). This is tough for the children who may or may not know the difference between how they dance and how someone else may dance.

Practical Application

Jacque Rossum (2001) compared dance to Benjamin Bloom's three stages of development. Bloom's first stage from ages 5-12 involve exploration of movement and consistent training of about 3-8 hours per week (Kerr, 2009). The second stage from ages 12-16 is characterized by a marked increase in training time, commitment, and the transition to a more demanding teacher (Kerr, 2009). The third and final stage involves the personal choice of the young artist to dedicate her-or himself to dance either as a professional or as a passion (Kerr, 2009).

How do we develop programs that are not only safe, inclusive and properly fitted for the development of children in the first stage?

  • Allow them to explore the style of dance you are teaching and the basic fundamental movements that are required for that style.
  • Do not overwork the children and do not set them up to fail but to succeed.
  • Interest boys in dance early on and show them it is fun.
  • Have community centres run all boys dance classes.
  • Develop ways to help girls not develop a skewed view of body image
  • Provide dance classes for those with disabilities and help them achieve their goals.
  • Give opportunities to children with different skill levels to learn with other children of equal ability.

Improving Fundamental Movement Skills: Tips for Teachers

When teaching dance to children under the age of 12 there are a few things that must be considered before going forward with a lesson.

Lesson Plans

It is always important to prepare a lesson plan for the class. Lesson plans allow a teacher to “identify a course of action that can effectively reach goals and objectives” (Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy, 2012, para 1). When teaching younger students the goals must progress from simpler Fundamental Movement Skills to more complicated actions. This should include a mixture of locomotor and non-locomotor skills to develop different kind of skills simultaneously.

Fun and Personability

Fun should be incorporated into the activities to keep children engaged. This will assure listening from your children and that the class will be successful. Weiner & Lidstone (1969) say that experience is not the most important part of being a successful creative dance teacher but it is more important to be personable. It is important to be personable as students will have different challenges and weaknesses that require the personalized feedback and encouragement from the teacher (Weiner & Lidstone, 1969).


Props can be used as a fun way to introduce dance concepts to children and to change the routine by getting the students to think outside of the box (Schwartz, 2011). These inspire use of various Fundamental Movements or even creative movement patterns. Utilizing shakers and tambourines can also be useful tools for promoting rhythmic exploration. For extremely young children it can be useful to signal the beginning and end of a class or use the prop as a positive reinforcement. Good behaviour earns the class playtime with that particular prop.


Music is important for children as they dance. It allows them to develop rhythm and timing. In certain styles of dance, the music can be chosen by the teacher. In order to make the dancers more excited and eager, it is a good idea to use modern music or popular music in classes.


Ackard, D. M., Henderson, D. M., & Wonderlich, A. L. (2004). The associations between childhood dance participation and adult disordered eating and related psychopathology. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(5), 485-490. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2004.03.004

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (2010). Sports Tips: Dance Injuries. Retrieved from

Berlant, L., & Warner, M. (1998). Sex in public. Critical Inquiry, 24(2), 547-566.

Bettle, N., Bettle, O., Neumarker, U., & Neumarker, K. J. (2001). Body Image and Self-Esteem in Adolescent Ballet Dancers. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 93, 297-309. doi: 10.2466/pms.2001.93.1.297

Burch, S. (2009). Dance. In Encyclopedia of American Disability History (Vol. 1, pp. 228-230). New York, NY: Facts on File.

Duberg, A., Hagberg, L., Sunvisson, H., & Möller, M. (2013). Influencing Self-rated Health Among Adolescent Girls With Dance Intervention a Randomized Controlled Trial. JAMA Pediatr. 167(1), 27-31. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.421

Goodwin, D.L. 2009. The voices of students with disabilities are they informing inclusive physical education practice? In Disability and youth sport, ed. H. Fitzgerald, 53–75. London, NY: Routledge.

History World. (2015). History of Dance. Retrieved from

Kerr, B. (2009). Dance. In Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent (Vol. 1, pp. 238-239). Washington, DC: Sage Publications.

Krasnow, D. (2007). Motor learning and motor control in dance. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 11(3), 69.

Library of Congress. (2015). Nineteenth Century Social Dance. Retrieved from

Living History 1605. (2014). Dance. Retrieved from

National Dance Education Organization. (2015). Standards for Dance in Early Childhood. Retrieved from

Risner, D. (2009). When Boys Dance: Moving Masculinities and Cultural Resistance in Dance Training and Education. Dance and the Child International. Retrieved from

Risner, D. (2009b) Stigma and perseverance in the lives of boys who dance: An empirical study of male identities in Western theatrical dance training. Mellen Press, Studies in Dance Series. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd.

Roberts, K.J., Nelson N. G., & McKenzie L. (2014). J Phys Act Health: Dance-related injuries in children and adolescents treated in US emergency departments in 1991-2007. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 18, 45. doi:

Robinson, D. B., & Whitty, A. M. (2013). Heteronormativity and Dance Education. Physical & Health Education Journal, 79, 42-45.

Sacha, T. J., & Russ, S. W. (2006). Effects of Pretend Imagery on Learning Dance in Preschool Children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(5), 341-345. doi: 10.1007/s10643-006-0103-1

Sariscany, M. J. (2010). Fundamental Movement Skills and Introductory Activities. New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.

Scharoun, S. M., Reinders N. J., Bryden, P. J., & Fletche, P. C. (2014). Dance/Movement Therapy as an Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Am J Dance Ther, 36, 209–228. doi: 10.1007/s10465-014-9179-0

Schwartz, S. P. (2011, January 5). Props for Dance Class [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Schmidt, R.A. (1988) Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy. (2012). Fact Sheet: Effective Lesson Planning. Retrieved from

Van Rossum, J. H. A. (2001). Talented in Dance: The Bloom Stage Model revisited in the personal histories of dance students. High Ability Studies, 12(2), 181-197. doi: 10.1080/13598130120084320

Wiener, J. & Lidstone, J. (1969). Creative Movement for Children: A Dance Program for the Classroom. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Zitomer, M. R. & Reid, G. (2011). To be or not to be–able to dance: integrated dance and children’s perceptions of dance ability and disability. Research in Dance Education, 12(2), 137–156. Retrieved from