When we consider the benefits of dancing, we often think about how it supports physical development in students. Dance increases their flexibility and range of motion as well as improves their balance, coordination and muscle strength.

But what’s often overlooked are the ways dance can promote important social-emotional skills. Through movement, students can learn acceptance, respect, teamwork and cooperation. By extension, students also develop empathy, which is the key to building healthy relationships with others.

How Dance Impacts Social-Emotional Development

Many schools and organizations have realized the social-emotional benefits dance offers, and have put it to the test. One organization in particular, Dancing Classrooms, brings ballroom dancing to schools in underserved communities across the country. The mission is to cultivate essential life skills - like respect, teamwork and confidence - through the art of social dance.

And it works. In a 2014-2015 survey of L.A.-area school principals, 66% reported increased acceptance among their students, while 81% of students said they treated others with more respect, following the program. What’s more, a two-year study of the program found that 95% of teachers noticed improved cooperative and collaborative skills in program participants.

5 Ways Dance Improves Social-Emotional Skills

From hip hop to ballroom, all forms of dance can play an important role in fostering social and emotional development in students. Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which dance can boost social-emotional skills:

Creative expression. Dancing gives students a chance to express themselves freely and creatively. In other words, it serves as an outlet for emotional and physical release. This is especially beneficial for students who’d prefer to use movement rather than words to communicate, or express, their feelings.

Effective communication. Many dances, like Rumba and Swing, require students to work as partners or teams to complete the moves. To do so, students must learn to communicate effectively - verbally and nonverbally - to follow cues and coordinate their moves. This also fosters cooperation and teamwork among students.

Self regulation. Learning to dance requires increased focus and discipline. Over time, dance can help students focus their attention, control their emotions and manage their behavior when tough situations arise. This skill is also an essential tool for learning. Students with good self regulation can pay attention to activities, ignore distractions, carry out tasks and resist impulses.

Acceptance of others. Dance is a universal language and can transcend all cultures. It allows students to forget about their differences and focus on one thing they all have in common: dance. It also gives them an opportunity to explore cultural dance forms from across the world, which also fosters acceptance and understanding of others.

Self confidence. Dancing promotes a general sense of well-being in students. As they master new skills, perform in front of others and receive positive reinforcement, their confidence reaches new levels. And self-confident students believe in their abilities, get along well with others and are better equipped to handle challenging situations.

On the surface, dancing is a great way to have fun, burn energy and learn about movement. But it can also build key social-emotional skills in students. Find creative ways to incorporate dance into your program. Invite a dance instructor to show your students a few dance moves. Or simply have a dance break session with kid-safe songs or this Dance Your Way to Fitness CD Set that includes salsa, swing, soul and more.  The key is to use dance in a way that fosters social-emotional development in your students.