Does Dance Education Help Academic Achievement? the Experts Weigh In

Article excerpt

Does arts education lead to achievement in other subjects? It's a question frequently asked, yet rarely addressed by sophisticated research experts. But a two-day gathering at the Getty Center in Los Angeles examined a careful inquiry, with the possibility of further investigations to come.

"Beyond the Soundbite: What the Research Actually Shows About Arts Education and Academic Outcomes" was the topic addressed by thirty invitees last August. Hosted by The J. Paul Getty Trust and the Harvard University Graduate School of Education's Project Zero, the conference brought together representatives from universities, museums and arts organizations in the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The conferees looked at a synthesis of existing studies on the relationship between teaching and learning in the arts and measures of academic achievement. The detailed Reviewing Education and the Arts Project (REAP) study appears in The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 34, Nos. 3/4, Fall/Winter 2000, University of Illinois.

Claims that education in the arts leads to achievement in other academic subjects have been used to justify arts education in schools. REAP investigated the validity of such claims through a statistical examination of prior studies that met scientific criteria, including experimental designs with control or comparison groups.

History reminds us that all dance is processed through culture and that the arts have usually been in the service of something else, such as religion, morality, group identity, stress relief or recreation. The outcome of dance education may be better dancing or increased knowledge about dance. But in addition, the specific ways of thinking and learning essential to acquiring competence in dancing may transfer to other domains, such as math and reading.

The seven studies of dance that met the scientific criteria considered three (out of more than a dozen) ways of offering dance education. Two studies involved activities not considered dance education by certified dance educators: students making their bodies into the shapes of letters of the alphabet and students repeating the pronunciation of letters after the teacher and then moving with a quality linked to that letter. Additionally, in some studies the duration of instruction was less than six weeks.

In four of the seven studies, REAP's Mia Keinanen, Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner found a small relationship (relationships were statistically weighted) between dance education and improved reading in 5- to 12-year-olds. The other three studies showed that dance education improved achievement in nonverbal reasoning (visual-spatial skills, both moving and visualizing in space). …