Dance and the Role it Plays in Confidence, Cognitive Skills & Creative Thinking

  • Child Development
  • Health and Wellness
Shawna Riggio


I can’t dance.
I have never heard a Kindergarten student look me in the eye and reveal, “I can’t dance;" however the number of times I’ve heard it from my middle school students and even my own colleagues are countless.

Rhythm is innately woven into the fabric of our being. Response to musical rhythm is an inherent ability and built into our biological makeup. Have you ever seen a toddler immediately begin to dance upon hearing music? They move and wiggle their bodies, saturated with a smile and joy as they shake to the beat of the music. It is the learned behavior of self-doubt and fear of vulnerability that completely suffocates the authenticity of our being. We enter this world fearless, vulnerable and creative beings ready and willing to dance. We then turn into self-conscious adults and upon hearing music or being asked to move, we definitively declare, “I don’t know how to dance.”

But, you do! You do know how to dance! It is our self-doubt and fear of judgement that inhibits our natural ability to express ourselves.

I'm sure you've heard the popular saying, "dance like no one is watching". Well…that’s really hard to do in a dance class when you are staring at yourself in the mirror....and twenty other classmates. I think they had it wrong. We need to dance like everyone is watching. Because isn't everyone?

Dance is vital to stimulating key cognitive skills, motor skills, and creative-thinking.
Dance class is vital to our child’s kinesthetic and gross motor learning and development, while also reaching their artistic needs. In dance class, children develop a multitude of essential skills through concepts like body awareness and control, placement, flexibility and stamina. Dance utilizes both sides of the brain, exercising the linear left side of the brain with choreography execution, levels, patterns, sequential thinking and formation changes. Exercising the right side of the brain develops the students’ creativity, performance facet, “out-of-the-box” thinking, character development and imagination. Stimulating both the left and right hemisphere of the brain, dance class integrates whole body learning and total wellness by providing students with both a physical and creative outlet. This exercise of the right and left side of the brain increases neural connectivity and therefore strengthens and increases muscular capacity in the brain; supporting academic processes and critical thinking.

Participating in the performing arts fosters key cognitive skills: physical, emotional, social, interpersonal, imaginative, experimentation and creation. When students are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they develop a sense of innovation, mindfulness and independence. The performing arts are inherently aligned with the attributes of brain-based learning. Research in this area indicates that the brain learns best in rich, complex, and multi-sensory environments and that expression of emotion, social interaction and vulnerability play a vital role in learning.

Dance class is discovery of one’s self. It’s personal and it fosters resilience.
While these concepts are critical components necessary for a child’s development and directly influence their academic rigor, the character growth and confidence instilled through the artistic and vulnerable journey in dance class is imperative for the future of our children. In a world where social media governs my students’ self-image from photoshopped magazines to Instagram filters; where my adolescent students’ concern is about the number of likes they received on an Instagram post; where a 14-year old boy doesn’t want to try something new out of fear a classmate will snapchat it for his 1,000 “friends” to see and where a fearful 12-year old girl doesn’t want to take my dance class because she doesn’t want to look at her reflection in the mirror, my students are thirsty for self-love.

The value of performing a dance routine on stage is immeasurable. We perform daily in our lives. It may not look like pirouettes, kicks and leaps on a stage, but the element of performing is consistent. Whether it's a job interview, introducing yourself to a room full of people at your new school or simply sitting across from your first date at dinner, we are performing. In a world where we can hide behind a computer and communicate through email instead of looking someone in the eye and where we can even order our dinner through an automated system rather than relaying it to someone, we are losing our ability to be present in front of others. Whether it's just one person or a dozen, the vulnerability of performing is getting lost and suffocated by the veil and ease of technology.

Building Confidence Through Dance
How do we preserve that child-like confidence and belief in oneself I witness in my fearless Kindergarten students? Dance class. We all were once five and six-year olds blowing kisses at are ourselves in the mirror. Perhaps if we had a class that consistently exercised our inherent rhythm, taught us the importance of creative expression and educated us on the value of our artistic voice, we would be a little more self-confident and willing to try new things without fear of judgement or what others think of us?

Dance is crucial for a child’s physical and creative development and directly influences their academic growth, in addition to fostering confidence, character growth, and integrity. The power of vulnerability allows precious space for self-acceptance. Faith to express themselves and use their instrument takes the place of fear. Our children grow into adolescents and young adults who appreciate the person they see when they look at themselves in the mirror when they dance.


About the Author: Shawna Riggio is a Dance Instructor, and Student Leadership & Entrepreneurship Coach at Aspen Academy. Shawna has danced professionally for many years from Los Angeles to the Caribbean to Europe. She deeply values and treasures the relationships cultivated in her dance studio at Aspen. She is impassioned with all things RAWK, the dance studio she owns in Denver--a place where dancers are encouraged to be authentically raw and unveil their artistic voice. Click here to watch Aspen Academy student dance performances. >>