Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dancing: The 800 LB Gorilla Executive Function Skills Tool

Dancing is underrated as an executive function skills tool, and is a cornerstone EF booster in the life of anybody. I have danced much of my life and introduce it as a pivotal part of my executive function skills coaching, when applicable. I see what it has done for me in my life and in the life of my sisters. I have photographic memories of both my parents dancing throughout my childhood as well as memories of extended family, including grandparents dancing. This ingrained in me as a routine lifestyle activity and I became, and am accustomed to freely dancing without feeling bashful, or 'less than' for attempting to dance.

What kind of family dynamic would begin to show if dancing was valued over television and movies as a way to bring family together? How does this happen? What does this look like? Well, parents have to make the first moves with each other to set the tone. Do you need an excuse to dance for 2 minutes in your own home with your husband or wife? How would young kids react to the image of Mommy and Daddy dancing? Do it in front of them and look at their faces. They will seem like they are shocked, spellbound, happy, bashful, and most likely come closer to you, if not run straight for you. Dancing parents literally become defacto executive function skill coaches to a very heightened degree at these times. 

Introducing dancing to children at infancy, such as seeing Mom and Dad dance, as well as family-driven opportunities for dancing, like during an end-of-the-week 'family happy hour' cements key life skills in our children early on.  Singlehandledly, this tool directly zeroes in on every single executive function skill tool in a simultaneous way that is breathtaking.

Consider some of the following EF skills...Mental flexibility is the ability to shift and transition from a task, activity, emotion, mindset to another. Sequencing is the ability to divide a large task, project, or steps towards a goal, and the abilities to focus and sustain attention lead us to be able to bring our attention in a concerted way upon a problem, task, or goal.  When you are dancing, you do all of these. Dancing tends to happen according to the beat and rythm of music, although I would argue that one can dance without music. 

This requires the ability to focus and sustain attention as one attempts to move their body in synchronicity in a goal-directed persistent way. Not only that, but a dancer goes through a variety of 'sequences' as they transition into dancing and moving their body to the beat from one way to another. All of these are executive function skills, and each of these is used across one's life. Strengthening them in one area will have 'spill-over effects' onto another area of that person's life when done consistently.

For example, dancing requires behavior modulation, emotional control and impulse control, all EF skills. When one is dancing, one is going through an expressive series of physical expressions that integrate functional balance (another EF skill) and these emotional intelligence attributes in a more or less choreographed way. One DOES have to control their emotions, and use foresight (anticipate/ predict) even if a dancing sequence calls for strong expression. Thinking before acting upon an idea (impulse control) works in tandem with one's ability to self-monitor how one is dancing, what transition may be instituted on the spot, and how much emotion gets channeled and expressed. Children learn to self-monitor their dancing by using their parents as the standard. This tends to be way better than if kids self-monitor their dancing according to a music pop icon's  risque dance moves, and $ex image that is wrapped up in any image a child sees. Dancing is portrayed in music videos in a very sexual light that simply muddies everything. Case in point, Miley Cyrus and her 'twerking,' or the new raunchy Beyonce video...what is that!?? I won't link to it.  So be the dancing standard in your child's life as long as you can. You will be strengthening their executive function skills, strengthening your family, and teaching way better behavior modulation than they may get by default by viewing Miley Cyrus twerk here and their with her tongue out. 

Children become more confident from the social experience of expressing themselves through their bodies. It is said that 93% of all communication is non-verbal. This activity can be viewed as a tool that should be used consistently over time. It can become part of a larger family strategy that strengthens children's key life skills, while providing fun and enjoyment that brings everyone together.

Can two be upset with each other for long if they dance often together? The dancing itself will not fix an issue that needs to be talked about, but the dancing softens each others rhetoric as common ground is found. That is to say, we measure how we say and what we say when we know we will invariably be in close, physical contact with each other. Dancing can be intimate and the experience of sustaining this appropriate intimacy leads us to guard our words and actions towards our fellow dance partners. The blows are softened, and the tough times are made not so tough with this self-regulation tool.  

All that just from dancing. 

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