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Are Dance Classes Letting Down Our Girls?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Agata Kowalewska, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

As a young girl, I took six—yes, six!—years of ballet. (I emphasize the number of years because those who know my klutzy ways today might be surprised!) Although I remember the basic foot positions and some of the jumps and turns, it sometimes seems that those hours in dance classes have faded away like so much mist. Still, all that exercise must have been good for me—right? (I was not otherwise an athletic child.)

How Active are Children in Dance Classes?

I thought about my time in dance classes when I read a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The research looks at whether kids in dance classes actually get a significant amount of physical activity. Researchers are especially interested in this question because dance is so much more popular with girls than boys. Girls’ level of physical activity is a concern, because they’re less likely than boys to get the 60 daily minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

In the study, researchers used special devices called accelerometers to track the actual physical movements of about 150 children and 110 teenagers taking various dance classes at private studios and community centers. Dance styles included ballet, hip-hop, Latin flamenco, partnered dance (such as swing or merengue), Latin ballet folklorico, tap, and jazz.

Results Varied by Style and Age

Overall, students averaged only about 18 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per lesson, though this varied quite a bit by age and style of dance. For instance, hip-hop classes were vigorous, providing a workout, and flamenco was pretty sedentary. In general, children (ages 5-10) were more active than adolescents (ages 11-18) in dance classes, with the sole exception of ballet, which can become quite strenuous and serious in the teen years. (Young children taking ballet were not especially active, however.) In the end, only about 6-8% of the children and teens got even 30 minutes of exercise. This is concerning!

Team Sports Do a Better Job

When we look at similar studies of active time during youth sports practices, we find that these practices generally do a better job of providing vigorous activity (although they don’t always measure up, either). In other words, girls’ tendency to enroll in dance rather than sports may contribute to the “exercise gap” between boys and girls.

Dance is a culturally and artistically enriching activity that reaches millions of children (mostly girls) every year. There’s no question that it means a great deal to many. However, childhood obesity is a major concern, and we’re learning more and more about the many physical and psychological benefits of exercise.

In light of this, dance instructors and organizations may wish to modify teaching techniques and methods to keep kids truly active while at lessons. Parents may also want to visit and observe lessons at a variety of venues to see which classes engage children and give them a real opportunity to move and dance—and which keep them standing still.

References:

Cain, K.L., et al. (2015). Physical activity in youth dance classes. Pediatrics, 135(6), 1066-1073. http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2415

Photo Credits: Fuse/Thinkstock