Through a collaboration with her peers, Lower School teachers, and Arts teachers, Episcopal Dance Master Seminar and Senior Thesis student Christine Myer recently got to serve as a dance teacher to 45 first graders. Christine shares that experience as well as a few of the discoveries she’s made as a dancer and researcher that has inspired her to become a vocal proponent of encouraging dance in young children.
I approach around forty-five eager first graders as they wait for my instruction. I begin to lead an age-appropriate warm-up, which precedes teaching choreography to a minute-long song--just enough to get their blood pumping. One kid had just told the room that she hates dancing, another told me he was okay with it, some kids loved it, but most of them did not appear to be beyond thrilled. While these first graders were in the middle of their “healthy selves” unit, I wanted to show them how dance is a perfect example of a healthy habit. The movements within their dance were not overly simplified, but they were not impossible either; they would require practice and motivation, but the goal, in the long run, was to create a sense of pride and confidence among the kids. At such a young age, they are not as prone to the comparison they will soon face in the world, but it is crucial that we establish this self-confidence and healthy esteem in these kids before they try to seek satisfaction from other sources.
Imagine yourself as a teenager, or even tougher-- a tweenager (in-between kid and teenager). You are awkwardly growing into who you are, forming your belief system and developing character traits. You most likely came face to face with true pressure, conflict, and unsureness for the first time during these years. Imagine life back then, but add social media and the internet to the mix. How would you have handled Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter and YouTube when you were younger? Wouldn’t it make adolescence even more complicated than it was?
We frequently hear that kids and teenagers are a vulnerable group, but why? Well, their brain development is complex. They face two major developmental tasks over the course of adolescence: forming their identity and making decisions. But both of these tasks, though, rely on brain structures that are not fully developed until after their teenage years, as described by Eugenia Ives. This means that children and teens must navigate their identity and decisions without the development and knowledge that an adult possesses. Instead, kids’ brains are forced to make quick, fight or flight decisions that are not always logical or well-thought-out, especially when it relates to an emotional issue. Therefore, teenagers have a lower capacity of self-regulation, which gives way to peer pressure and risky behaviors among the age group. Adding the fast-paced, spontaneous world of social media to this situation only complicates the teenage brain because it provides teens with an accessible place for their risky behavior. The brain produces dopamine, a feel-good chemical, during technological stimulation, so interactions on social media provoke excitement and instant gratification among users. This is what makes social media addictive. Because it feels so rewarding, it easily influences the vulnerable teenager and is capable of separating them from one another.
With this information, it is crucial that teens are aware of what holds them back, and they should know how to cope with their developing brain. The complexity of a teen’s brain development, especially with the influence of social media, can produce harmful effects including poor body image, low confidence, and overall weak self-esteem. The modern teenager needs a way to stimulate their brain in a healthy manner, in a way that combats the impact that social media has on it. Physical activity successfully does this, and dance, to be specific, has the power to boost self-esteem and help us navigate our life and identity.
When the body exercises, the brain feels stress and releases the same chemicals that are released during interactions on social media. Endorphins are our bodies’ natural pain killers, so they serve as a potent mental health and esteem booster and give exercise its addictive effect.
Here are some more reasons on how dance provides teenagers with more of the simplicity and clarity that they need:
So whenever you think back to when you were a teenager, think of how you coped with stress and compare it to today’s world. Encourage the younger generation to gain satisfaction from more reliable and healthy sources. Social media and the internet help us in our daily lives, but too much dependence on it alters our vision of reality and leads to unnecessary stress, whereas we can find a strong sense of reward and boost of esteem by merely dancing. Like one of the first graders told me after dancing, dance “makes [you] have a big, big, big, big, big smile on [your] face!”
Christine Myer is a senior who has attended Episcopal since Pre-K. She is senior class president and a member of student vestry. As an active student of campus, she is in dance ensemble and is involved in musical theater. Christine is also a writing fellow, student ambassador, and member of National Honors Society. She loves the community and opportunities Episcopal offers through programs like Thesis and the arts.