Music and Movement

Have you seen any of those “Difference-between-your-first-and-second-child” humor posts? Stuff like, your first child gets his own nursery, complete with matching bedding and hangers, while your third child sleeps in a crib underneath his sister’s poster of Ariana Grande.

I’ve been living it this week. My youngest girl has been observing her big sister work on some choreography for a homework assignment, and has now taken to asking her father, the moment he gets home from work, to, “Watch my dance, Dad!” Of course, it’s entirely typical for a 6 year-old to create a dance for her parents. But instead of dancing to Laurie Berkner, or Dan Zanes, like her older siblings, she moves to Shakira and Ellie Goulding.

But move, she does.  Just like her brother and sister before her.  And me before them (to the likes of Michael Jackson), and I’m sure my mom before me.

Dr. Daniel Levitin (I wrote about him in my last blog post, he’s a neuroscientist and musician), in the documentary The Musical Brain, performed some MRI studies on Sting, in order to understand exactly what parts of the brain fire in different musical contexts. In one of the studies, he asks Sting to simply imagine a song playing in his head. What Dr. Levitin noticed was that, despite not hearing anything musical, his body “begins to groove to the rhythms of Miles Davis.” (The Musical Brain, Christina Pochmursky, Matter of Fact Media, 2009, documentary film).

He comments: “The part of his brain that would be moving his body was very, very active, even though he was lying perfectly still. That points to an ancient, evolutionary link between music and movement and dance. . .”

According to the documentary, when we hear music, “the deepest parts of (our) brain(s), are ordering (us) to move.”

The evolution of dance goes far beyond Elvis. Egyptian paintings, dating from 1400 B.C., depict dancing, and history gives us many examples of dancing in Ancient Greece (remember Dionysus from your Greek mythology classes?) as well as in other, non-Western, tribal groups, the traditions of which many cultures continue to preserve.

Historically, there hasn’t been a distinction between music and dance, a division which we sometimes make today (like I am at this very moment, listening to the theme song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, moving only my fingers at the keyboard, and not to any remarkable beat).  As Dr. Levitin states, “Music is movement, for most of the world’s peoples and throughout most of history.”

This is not particularly news. I mean, this video went viral ages ago.

But I am fascinated by the idea that the connection between movement and music it isn’t just cultural, nor is it simply a learned behavior. It has deep, neurological roots that serve to ensure our survival and teach us the experience of human emotion. When we’re in Kindermusik with our little our, we aren’t just having fun lifting them up in the air, we’re teaching them to feel joy. We’re engaging our primal, evolutionary instincts to create a tribe and deepen connections through music and movement

And, of course, it’s a blast for us, too!

The Movement Side of Kindermusik

My daughter attends the Salt Lake Arts Academy and has a class in dance improvisation.  Last night we attended a dance recital where we saw many ways that my daughter and her classmates participate in moving through space and time, aware of their own bodies and those of their classmates.  My favorite dance number was one in which the kids started in pairs, mirroring each other’s movements and taking turns being the leader.  Then, the pairs became groups of four and then eight, with leadership positions shifting regularly (and, on the fly, as it were) as the students turned around and navigated their flocks with respect to the other groups.

Most of my formative years were spent at the piano, so I never took a dance class as a youth.  However, as an adult, I have discovered how much I love to move my body with rhythm.  Zumba is my lifeline, and I have even participated in some dance therapy that has been profoundly moving (see what I did there?).  Still, I don’t know much technique and I am certainly in awe of dancers who can use their bodies to communicate and express emotion.

As a Kindermuisk instructor and parent, I became increasingly aware of the joy that I experienced dancing with my kids.  Letting go of inhibition and showing my kids how to just enjoy inhabiting their skin has been an amazing lesson for me, too.  Each time I skip in public with my daughter, I am grateful to her for reminding me that walking isn’t the only way to get from place to place.  Getting in tune with the sheer joy that comes from a skipping movement often gives me a little boost of appreciation for the fleeting moment with my child—the only moment I have, really.

Research from Tortora, Lerner and Ciervo teaches us that movement has so many benefits for a child’s overall development.  It improves strength and physical health, sure, but it also builds self-confidence and improves emotional stability.  My oldest daughter always comes home from dance class substantially less inclined to fight with her siblings, even though she may be tired.  She’s able to use her words and interact positively with the family.  Children may choose to communicate or solve problems with movement; but, I notice even as an adult, after a Zumba class I often find it easier to deal a particularly frustrating situation or concern.  Finally, movement is one critical way that caregivers can bond with their children, and a child will often move specifically in an effort to be close and connect with a parent or other grown-up.  It only takes dancing with my kids in a Kindermusik class or to some music in the living room to show me how much they enjoy being with me!

One of the great things is that movement doesn’t have to be restricted to dancing.  Rides in the laundry basket, playing around in the Bilibos, or even lap bounces can facilitate all these benefits, too.  Check out this video and see just how many ways we move in Kindermusik class!

The relationship we have with our bodies (especially as adults) can be complex indeed.  Nevertheless, I love how dancing and movement, regardless of our age, allow us to nurture our spirits.  May you all embrace the moment, the next time you find yourself moving with your little one.