Creative Ballet and Executive Function

by Joan Wolfe, Creative Ballet Curriculum Director

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 movement as sort of one-stop-shop for healthy growth and learning. For over 25 years I’ve been refining my Creative Ballet curriculum. Now, more than ever, research is reinforcing what I’ve known all along; interactive, fun and child-centered movement experiences are essential to a child’s growth.

Specifically, creative movement enhances a child’s executive function, which is their 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 MindInTheMaking.org there are several essential life skills every child needs in order to enhance executive function. I’ve outlined these below along with how your child’s dance class experience influences this learning.

 Making Connections and Critical Thinking

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

Creative Ballet Curriculum Director Joan Wolfe with a group of Creative Ballet students.

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. – Mind In The Making

To prepare our bodies and minds we begin each class with the BrainDance. 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 can include levels, time, shape, line, energy, relationships is space, etc. Students learn about these ideas through seeing and saying the written word, then experiencing it in action. These concepts translate to all areas of their lives so the learning continues outside of the dance room. Creative Ballet helps us think outside the box and make connections.

 Focus and Self Control

Creative Ballet Class

Creative Ballet Class

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. – Mind In The Making

For children it all comes down to motivation. Children instinctively want to play. It’s no surprise that this is how they learn best. Creative Ballet 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 Ballet is child centered and self directed.

Perspective Taking

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. – Mind In The Making

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

 Communicating

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. – Mind In The Making

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 Ballet enhances our ability to communicate thoughtfully and effectively.

Taking on Challenges

Creative Ballet student showing how he can jump!

Creative Ballet student showing how he can jump!

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. – Mind In The Making

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 the movement vocabulary as I demonstrate different ideas. Learning by example and being given the opportunity to try and try again creates a self-assured and confident child. Creative Ballet is empowering.

Self-directed Engaged Learning

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. – Mind In The Making

In a nutshell, teacher guided 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 Ballet engages the whole child.

To see the learning in action, please join us for Parent Watch Week during your child’s regular class time, February 22–27.

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Ballet Austin

About Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin is a professional dance company which also offers professional classical ballet training and instruction through the Ballet Austin Academy, which is one of the largest in the U.S. We're committed to providing the highest quality dance instruction to students, and currently the Academy has more than 800 students. Ballet Austin's Butler Center for Dance & Fitness offers classes for all ages and skill levels. And our state-of-the-art Pilates Center is open 7 days a week and gives clients personalized training with one of the top voted instructors in Austin. Dance and fitness workshops are also available, as well as adult workshops and summer kids camps.

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