Developing Physical Literacy through Dance

The international physical literacy movement has helped to bring a more holistic perspective both on how and what we focus on when teaching movement.

Lesser known than its cousins “literacy” (reading/writing) and “numeracy” (counting), physical literacy is one of the key abilities to be developed in childhood, and fostered throughout the lifetime, so that individuals can effectively communicate, connect with and interpret the world in which they live.

Physical literacy is the competence, confidence and motivation to be active for life. – Canadian Sport for Life.

The goal of physical literacy is for every individual to feel confident and fulfilled by participating in a variety of physical activities over the life span.

It is important to note, however, that physical literacy is not something that can be ‘achieved’.  The notion that ‘I am physically literate’ is inaccurate because one’s physical literacy is constantly changing through the various phases and changes in life.  The role of practitioners, teachers and leaders is to help clients discover, re-discover, challenge and maintain their physical abilities, and the value they place on physical activity, as they navigate through the ebbs and flows of life.

When the physical literacy movement emerged in Canada over the last 10 years, conversations, funding and special initiatives were mainly focused in the sport and education sectors. These have had great success:

In the community sport sector, national and provincial sport organizations were challenged to address the “single-sport” or “specialized training” approach that many coaches and clubs had come to adopt as standard practice. The Long Term Athlete Development model pioneered conversations about physical literacy by helping these groups contextualize sport-specific physical activities within of a lifespan of healthy active living choices.

In the education sector, the physical literacy movement sparked the inspections of the Physical Education curricula. As a result, Ministries of Education, school boards and teachers began shifting the focus of Physical Education programming away from traditional sport-specific units towards the development of fundamental movement skills, transferable strategies and life skills through diverse activities explored in various environments.

The concept of physical literacy has only recently begun to infiltrate the world of dance education and dance studios. Dance institutions have, for a very long time, provided teaching frameworks and methods based on internationally set standards for technique within specific dance genres. Like the paradigm and perspective shifts occurred in the sport and education sectors, the dance sector is being challenge to grow past traditional technique-based teaching towards programming that facilitates the development of all aspects of physical literacy: physical competence, confidence and motivation.

How can dance can develop physical literacy?

Dance develops fundamental movement skills

Similar to how the ABCs are the foundation of reading and writing, fundamental movement skills are the foundations to a healthy, active lifestyle. Skills such as jumping, skipping, galloping, rolling, balancing, throwing, dodging can be integrated purposefully into dance activities and choreography so that students can develop these key skills through their dance experience.

Dance allows people to explore different types of movements.

Hip Hop, Bollywood, African, Belly dance, Jazz, Tap, Ballet – there are many different genres of dance for students to explore, each with its own movement vocabulary and intricacies. Multi-disciplinary learning allows students to make connections and develop transferable skills not only across dance genres but across different physical activities and sports. Don’t believe me? Check out these rhythmic basketballers 

Dance fosters a connection to self

Dance provides an opportunity for individuals to play with and present their stories, ideas and interpretations through music. Creative thinking and self-expression are important aspects of one’s overall health and well-being, and dance is a very effective platform where these skills can be fostered.

Dance allows people to develop a sense of community

Dance is an activity most often learned and performed with others. From dance crews to classroom brain breaks, dance fitness classes to celebrations, people gather together to unite with others in rhythm with the music. These connections foster a sense of connection, community, and belonging all of which are critical elements to one’s positive mental health and wellbeing.

Dance develops confidence…

In a well-taught dance program, all students (regardless of their ability, body type or skills) should be coached to feel confident with dance.  By learning, refining and mastering a challenging skill (including remembering choreography or learning technique) in a positive and supportive context, students develop a sense of achievement, which leads to the establishment of a sense of confidence. This confidence with movement will impact the value that they place on physical activity as an important element in their life.

…and that leads to motivation

The motivation to choose to live a healthy, active life is based on the accumulation of one’s life experiences with physical activity. Dancing is a special type of activity that provides different levels of engagement and styles to choose from. Whether someone prefers individual study or solo performances, group classes or flash mobs, technique or freestyle, popular genres or fusion, the variety of music types and dance genre options can have a significant impact on influencing individuals to choose to make dance part of their life.

Whether through community recreation programs, local studios, competitive dance circuits, individual study or drop-in fitness programs, the dance sector can play an important role in the development of physical literacy as part of a lifelong healthy active lifestyle.  As the awareness of the importance of physical literacy continues to grow, dance program providers have an opportunity to offer meaningful and purposeful programs to children, teens and adults by ensuring that all three domains of physical literacy (physical competence, confidence and motivation) are addressed in any dance program.

Learn more how DANCEPL3Y is a world leader in developing physical literacy through dance