Moving Matters !

                                By Elizabeth Luff, Director, Moving Studios



Dancers are athletes working to improve physical strength, endurance, and flexibility throughout their lives.  They are artists who express emotion, tell stories, create beauty and communicate through their art.  Integration of the mind and body is the essence of dance, which is why dance is an invaluable component in general education.

Today dance is at the forefront of three important issues in schools and communities today: 

               - preventing obesity
               - improving cognitive function
               - and providing play opportunities

Teaching dance in preschools enabled me to share my love of movement and dance. Having a modern dance background served me well because preschool boys and girls had few preconceived notions and approached dancing with great enthusiasm and originality.  There were always many answers to the movement problems we were exploring:  there is more than one way to move like an elephant, turn on one foot, or to balance.

Dance class gave my students a chance to improve gross motor skills, develop spatial and body awareness, and to express themselves and their emotions.  My classes were structured (they may not have looked that way) with a warm-up, across the floor movement and a cool down.  

Over the years I developed a variety of favorite lesson plans. (See for ideas.)  I worked with stories like Will It Rain? by Holly Keller and themes like Under the Sea.   One of my favorite lesson plans is a leaf dance to Mozart; one of the children’s favorites is jumping in leaf piles (hula hoops) and then being chased away by the mean grown-up (me).

I am constantly adapting my lesson plans in the middle of a class.  I an able to go with the flow more because of my vast repertoire and experience.   I must do this because children have many needs.   They need to move in order to develop physically.   But, more now than in the past, they seem to need to play and to communicate with me.   With selected dance activities they have a chance to create their own scenarios with stories and props, and work out their differences without my intervention.   I structure and supervise the creative process but allow them time to explore and develop a concept before moving on to another activity.

This approach was validated  when I trained with the 
I am Moving, I am Learning (IMIL) crew last April.  Children need to move.  They need structure, and they need open play. 

Workshop leaders presented staggering numbers about the increase in the obesity of children  in the United States.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), "Approximately 17% of children and adolescents aged 2-10  years are obese...Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled."

The CDC recommendations for physical activity for children over 2 years old are 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity each day.  "The National Association for Sports and Physical Education recommends that preschoolers accumulate at least 60 minutes daily of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes per day of unstructured physical activity and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a  time  except when sleeping."
So Moving Matters for physical health.   Moving Matters for mental health as well.

John J. Ratey, M.D. was one of the first doctors to write about Attention Deficit Disorder.  He has summarized for the layman the scientific proof that movement helps the mind in his new book, Spark: the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.    Ratey states:
  “… physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage
       brain cells to bind to one another.  For the brain to learn, these connections
       must be made; they reflect the brain’s fundamental ability to adapt to
       challenges.  The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the  
       clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating 
                   an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn. “ 

Ratey claims exercise is better than Valium.   He explains how movement helps cognitive function but also aids emotional health.   The most recent confirmation of that for me was reading some of my colleagues' comments during their dance residency in New Orleans  where they work with children who lived through Katrina.    Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective has been visiting the same community for 5 years.  The children in their workshops release emotions, develop self confidence, learn discipline and focus, and ........laugh. 

Check  out:

This fall when I start teaching in preschools again I know the children will enjoy dancing.   But I  see a larger picture.  I am promoting physical health.  I am improving brainpower.   I am encouraging emotional resiliency. 

Moving Matters!