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Learning through Free Dance - It's not just a dance party!

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

Some parents and educators can be surprised by the use of free dance to contemporary music in our sessions but are often convinced of its benefits when they see the children’s beaming faces. Here a little insight into why we do it.

An aim of early childhood education is to help children to make meaning of the world around them and dance is a way of knowing. Bradley and Szegda state “we do not know then move, we move in order to know” (2006, p243). There is extensive research linking dance education to cognitive development and social and emotional wellbeing in early childhood. “Dance” often refers to formalised styles of movement in which children are taught steps but there is also a long tradition of dance that is not teacher led. At All the Doo Dah Day, we believe in creative dance which is based on natural movement, allowing children to physically experience concepts to fully understand them, with minimal interruption from educators.

In creative or free dance, the children dance with educators to themes and music which follow their interests and which are representative of their experiences within their families, community and culture. Free dance focusses on children’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing, giving them a sense of identity and an alternative language through which to communicate, where they may not have the words to express themselves. This is especially important in the case of very young children, children with additional needs and children from language backgrounds other than English. Sansom (2013) advocates providing an environment which encourages children to dance freely and create their own dances because by mirroring the child’s actions, rather than teaching them a dance we believe they should learn, we are honouring the child.

I could share with you countless examples of children stunning their educators with their energy, finesse and ideas on the dance floor over the years. Once year I had a student I will call Fred in a Toddler room at a Child Care Centre shaking his “booty” with such tremendous joy one day to Taylor Swift which was the catalyst for him communicating verbally with me every session from then on, when prior to this he was silent. Free dance is a form of play and engenders a sense of agency in children – arguably the two main priorities in early childhood education today. To me it is also a way of making learning music relevant to the children’s experiences and something that will help to improve their confidence, resilience and sense of wonder.

So next time you hear Taylor Swift or Shakira blasting from one of the rooms in your service, I assure you it is not a big dance party! It is an a literacy lesson as we learn to shake the different parts of our body, a numeracy lesson as we count the beats, a community exercise as we learn to negotiate the space around each other and grab our partners to swing them around in circles, a lesson in identity and an insight into the children’s lives outside of childcare as they yell out “I have that song in my mummy’s car!” or “That’s my favourite song!” The children are engaged and feel a sense of belonging, which opens the door for us to introduce other genres of music and learning experiences to them.

Love and Sparkles Lynda xo


Bradley, K. and Szegda, M (2006) ‘The Dance of Learning’ In: B. Spodek & O. N. Saracho, eds. Handbook of Research on the education of young children. 2nd Edn New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates pp243 – 250

Sansom, A (2013) ‘Daring to Dance’ In: F. McArdle & G. Boldt, eds. Young Children, Pedagogy and the Arts - Ways of Seeing. New York: Routledge, pp. 34-49.

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