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Adolescent Girls Report Dance Has Positive Influence

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

Parents looking for worthwhile activities for their children may want to consider dance classes, especially for daughters who don't seem interested in sports that come off as "too physical," or may be experiencing low self-esteem or lack confidence.

Researchers found that dance intervention had a positive influence on self-rated health for adolescent girls in Sweden, which lasted up to a year after the program ended.

Some 140 girls, ages 13 to 18 years, participated in the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics. The girls selected for the study had visited the school nurse with complaints often associated with stress or low self-esteem, symptoms not serious enough to warrant a mental health referral. About half of the girls were randomly assigned to the intervention group, where they were given dance classes twice a week for 8 months. Each class lasted 75 minutes with an emphasis on the joy of movement, rather than performance, the study says, with various themes like African dance and jazz.

By the end of the program, 48 girls remained and were surveyed on their experience, with 43 of the girls rating it as a positive experience, three girls rating it neutral, and only one girl who found it to be a negative experience.

Adolescence is the time of life where everything seems awkward, and all that can go wrong, seems to go wrong. This and other stressors have an effect on how young people perceive themselves, and according to Statistics Sweden, girls are three times more likely than boys to rate themselves to have poor health.

This study's suggestion to use dance as a preventative health measure is also supported by another study which looked at the prevalence of dance participation in the United States, and its contribution to total moderate-to-vigorous physical exercise in adolescents.

The Swedish study does acknowledge some limitations to its research however, noting that evaluating self-rated health is very subjective and the participants may have reported higher values to please their instructors.

Regardless, the potential influence dance has on young girls who are experiencing emotional problems appears to be significant. It's also important to consider the factors that make dance an appealing physical activity to girls.

Based on survey responses, the study found three possible key factors explaining why the girls reported feeling better:

• The dance intervention was enjoyable and undemanding,
• There were opportunities for girls to offer input in music selection and dance choreography, and
• The opportunity allowed them to make new friends who had similar interests, which may be the most critical factor in maintaining interest in the program or activity.

While all physical activity of some kind is important for the overall well-being of a child, dance programs may be the ideal ticket for some parents who have children—daughters and sons—who want to participate in a social activity without the overbearing competitive nature of sports like soccer and basketball.

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