Research Catching Up with What We Know

February 1, 2018

Research is Catching Up with What We Already Know

There is a growing collection of research that demonstrates how arts education is vital and impactful on student success in academics and beyond, and we completely agree.

Compelling information was compiled in 2013 by Karen Bradley, Jane Bonbright, and Shannon Dooling of the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) and presented in “Organization in Evidence: A Report on the Impact of Dance in the K-12 Setting.”  One section of the report references the work of esteemed arts and creativity researcher, the late Dr. James Catterall: 

His (Dr. Catterall’s) results show specifically that children-at-risk (those with lower socioeconomic statuses, less family stability, etc.) benefit from arts-rich experiences in that they earn higher grades, are more likely to graduate from high school and further their education, and become engaged learners and citizens. The arts make education more equitable for all, regardless of external circumstances.”

Photography by Charles-Ryan Barber

We know this to be true in our everybody dance! program. We recently hosted an alumni event and 17 out of the 18 attendees, ages 19-26, were either currently in college or had graduated with a 4-year degree.  These successful young people came from underserved communities, and most were the first in their family to have the opportunity to pursue higher education.

While general arts education research is important, here at The Gabriella Foundation (TGF) we want to dig deeper into the specific arts discipline we believe in so strongly.  The NDEO report also included this:

“In an experimental research study of high school age students, those who studied dance scored higher than non-dancers on measures of creative thinking, especially in the categories of fluency, originality and abstract thought. One study demonstrated that when a group of 60 such adolescents, ages 13 to 17, participated in jazz and hip-hop dance classes twice weekly for 10 weeks, they reported significant gains in confidence, tolerance, and persistence related to the dance experience.”

TGF’s teachers, staff, students and parents know that long-term sequential dance training has many other positive effects.  We experience it in various ways every dance season; we witness the steady growth of our students’ dance skills, confidence, physical fitness and motivation to succeed.  Our students tell us how dance class is the only safe place where they can clear their minds of stress, and their parents tell us that dance training teaches their child about discipline, concentration, responsibility, commitment, punctuality, and motivates them to achieve more in their lives.

“From all of my teachers I took away a little lesson of how I should carry myself as I matured. Whether that was discipline, grace, or mindfulness, taking class was always much more than just technique and combinations, but more a life lesson for my adolescent self.” -TGF Alumna, Evelyn S.

Photography by Charles-Ryan Barber

Social interaction is important for our students at TGF; we often hear about students who don’t fit in well with their peers at school or are bullied, yet we see them flourishing socially in our dance training community.  Our students tend to be very supportive of one another and form long-term friendships over the course of training at TGF.  The average length of time a dancer usually spends in our program is seven years, and since we offer year-round classes, that is a considerable amount of time.

All of this research is excellent, but we could benefit from more extensive data on the impact of dance.  The more we can reference the science behind why dance works, the more we elevate the dance discipline to the place of respect it deserves.  Did you know that of all the art forms, dance is the most neglected in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools?  Only 29-32% of LAUSD elementary and secondary schools offer some form of dance education, while visual arts are taught in 63% of elementary schools and 82% of secondary schools.  Source: Los Angeles County ARTS EDUCATION PROFILE: Report on public schools, 2015-17

What can we do to further this area of study and continue to make the case that dance needs to be more accessible?

I am taking one small step by submitting a research request proposal to LAUSD’s research and data department, with a goal to conduct a study during the 2018-2019 school year that compares grades and test scores of TGF’s after-school students with the overall academic report of the schools they attend, and the district at large.  I expect to find that the majority of our students are more successful academically than their peers, and I bet the success rate increases the more time they have spent in our program.

I encourage anyone out there with a research skillset, or even a budding interest, to submit your own proposal.  Let’s work together to increase the data that speaks to the impact of dance education, so that more schools and community partners will fund quality dance training for young people.

Lauren Deck, everybody dance! Program Director



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