Heart Rates of Elementary Physical Education Students during the Dancing Classrooms Program

By Nelson, Larry; Evans, Melissa et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, June 2011 | Go to article overview
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Heart Rates of Elementary Physical Education Students during the Dancing Classrooms Program


Nelson, Larry, Evans, Melissa, Guess, Wendy, Morris, Mary, Olson, Terry, Buckwalter, John, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


We examined how different types of dance activities, along with their duration, influenced heart rate responses among fifth-grade physical education students (N = 96) who participated in the Dancing Classrooms program. Results indicated that the overall Dancing Classrooms program elicits a moderate cardiovascular heart rate response (M = 124.4 bpm), in which 4 7 % of class time was spent above a 60% maximal heart rate threshold. The swing dance in particular (M = 143.4 bpm) stimulated a much higher heart rate level than all other dances in the program, with a mean heart rate change of 52.6 bpm. Girls (127.3 bpm) achieved marginally higher heart rates (p =. 059) than boys (121.1 bpm).

Key words: cardiovascular response, dance education, heart rate monitors

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Due to evidence of increasingly high levels of adult and childhood obesity in the United States, there has been renewed effort to identify the etiology of this epidemic. While poor nutrition has emerged as one contributing cause, the increasing prevalence of a sedentary lifestyle is also a major factor. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce one's likelihood of becoming obese. Research has shown, however, that by the end of elementary school 70% of children reported participating in health-enhancing physical activity on a regular basis, and by the age of 21 years, their activity level had fallen to 42% for men and 30% for women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1999). Thus, it is important to develop habitual physical activity in children. Physical education can play a critical role in helping children establish a foundation for an active lifestyle. Unfortunately, traditional physical education practices have been called into question in regard to the amount of vigorous physical activity the class actually provides. Therefore, it is possible that traditional physical education curricula are deficient in providing the kinds of robust physical activity needed to combat these sedentary behavior trends. In this light, researchers and professional organizations have called for innovative and well designed physical education activities that achieve health-enhancing fitness (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008).

Many schools have risen to the challenge of incorporating new and innovative activities into their physical education curricula. In particular, Dancing Classrooms is one such program gaining in popularity and spreading rapidly into cities and school districts across the nation. Featured in the award-winning 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, Dancing Classrooms was created in 1994 and introduced in the New York City public schools by ballroom dance champion Pierre Dulaine. Today, the program is offered in over 500 schools and includes over 52,000 children. The primary mission of the program is to address fundamental social development characteristics, such as social awareness, mutual respect, teamwork, and diversity, through dance. These objectives are constructed through group dance circles that use sequential rhythmical skills while working with a multitude of partners in "dance frame." Participants learn basic American style meringue, foxtrot, rumba, tango, swing, and waltz. In addition, the students learn two-four "fun dances" that do not require a partner, such as the stomp, electric slide, and cha cha slide.

The Dancing Classrooms curriculum is made up of 20 uniform lessons that fifth-grade students at a participating school receive twice per week via physical education class. Guest teaching artists who have been trained specifically in the Dulaine Method instruct the program. Qualifications for teaching artists include stage presence, vocal command, and prior work experience with children. While previous dance training is preferred, it is not mandatory. For this study, the two cooperating guest teaching artists had more than 5 years of previous dance instruction.

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