While dance is widely recognized and celebrated as an art form, it often receives a less than fair appraisal of its value as a sport. As a result, parents overlook dance when choosing extracurricular activities for their children. But, don’t be fooled by the tutus, ribbons and glitter; dance is just as much about physical athleticism as it is about artful expression. Children who participate in dance classes partake in a character building experience that fosters physical and social coordination.

“When I was a child I was very hyper,” recalls Carol Crawford Smith, founder of The Center of Dance in Blacksburg. “I used to fall down stairs and climb trees, and my parents wanted to harness that energy and direct it into something more meaningful. By putting me in dance, they molded me into a more graceful person”.

Not only can participation in dance channel excess energy in a constructive direction, but it also corresponds to children’s developmental journeys. “Children move naturally,” says’s founder, Karen Stemen. Their natural proclivity for movement means that dance classes can complement children’s earliest endeavors. “[Kids] move to achieve mobility, to express a thought or feeling, and because it brings them joy,” she notes. “Dance education reinforces a kid’s earliest discoveries about their physical space and enables them to move their bodies within that space to convey meaning and enjoyment.”

Like all sports, dance demands and fosters athleticism; however, unlike conventional athletes, dancers are required to meet additional aesthetic demands. When dancers perform, audiences see beautiful lines and positions; often, the aesthetics of performance conceal the high level of physical prowess that dancers must achieve. Despite its artistic veneer, dance remains grounded in muscular strength and control, making it the ideal extracurricular activity for young children to gain flexibility, poise, body control, coordination, balance and spatial awareness.

While dance education centers on the individual, Stemen and Smith maintain that performance requires teamwork. “Dance education is both an individual and a team sport,” asserts Stemen, “being supportive of fellow classmates and committing to a team or group benefits each one of them.” Smith notes that most dancers are members of a “corps de ballet” at some point ~ a performance where dancers must be mindful of the placement of other people and stepping together. For dance instructors like Stemen, Smith and others, dance serves as a crucial framework within which children can begin physical, social, creative and emotional development.

Katin Tafti danced her way through middle school and high school in Blacksburg, where she took lessons for seven years. She is a senior at the University of Virginia majoring in Foreign Affairs.

By Katin Tafti

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