Discovering Expression Through Movement

Wiltshire Life - March 2020

Dauntsey's head of dance, Emily Wilkins, discusses the many physical and mental health benefits of dance and describes the school's pioneering approach, proving that it's for everyone from the hesitant to the elite.

Developing a love of dance from an early age can encourage children to stay active as they grow into adults.  Dance movement can increase flexibility, physical strength and stamina, which can then contribute to improved performance in other sports.

Dance can also build children's self-esteem and confidence as they discover a world in which they can channel their emotions and find a way to express themselves. It is a social form of exercise where children learn to work as a team and build on each other's ideas. In a similar way, dance can boost academic studies by increasing children's confidence and making them open to new ideas.

As children grow older, dance helps them to learn self-discipline and understand that, by investing time and practice into something, they can achieve a great result. These are valuable life skills which can then be taken with them into adult life.

There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that dance has significant mental health benefits too. Time spent at a dance class can help improve mood and reduce anxiety. All exercise is thought to be a mood booster due co the effect it has on chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain, but dance is particularly beneficial as it requires brain power to master sequences. This process takes the mind away from daily concerns to focus entirely "in the moment", which can be hugely beneficial for young adults as they go through the tricky adolescent years.

We take dance seriously at Dauntsey's. It is compulsory for all pupils in their first two years and so it becomes a normal part of School life.  The lower school dance show each year is a highlight in the calendar. The opportunity to dance continues in the middle and upper school where there is at least one dance performance each term which allows pupils to showcase their skills. Each December, we stage a major musical production which often features dance sequences. This year, Lin Manuel Miranda's Latin American musical In The Heights, involved both salsa and ballroom.

Two dance clubs run every day and cover many styles, from contemporary, street, hip hop and tumbling, to Irish dancing, ballet and more. There is even a club for first  to fourth year boys called Girls Not Invited that has 24 members. Dance shows on television, such as Strictly Come Dancing have had a huge impact, particularly on boys whose role models are the supremely fit men they see on screen.

Taking a lead role in the annual musical is the pinnacle of our performers' school career. Younger pupils see the older ones deliver brilliant performances and this inspires them to practise hard so that they can audition for these roles when their time comes. We have a strong cohort of upper school dance mentors which include pupils with dance scholarships. These can be applied for in their second and fifth forms. The successful dancers are offered a performing arts' award and are then given rigorous training and more opportunities to perform.

Dance has become so popular that we introduced a GCSE three years ago and an A-level two years ago. The GCSE is 60% practical and 40% academic, covering dance movements, biology in order to prevent injury and maths for choreography. The A level is more focused on the history of dance and an analysis of how it developed. So far, three pupils who have taken the A-level have been accepted at top dance schools, including the London Contemporary Dance School.

Dance has come a long way in just a few years - and there is no doubt that it's going to go a lot further.

Emily Wilkins is Head of Dance at Dauntsey's.