The impact of dance on health, wellbeing and empowerment

Yorkshire Dance, the dance development organisation for the region, alongside researchers from the University of Leeds, have published a report on the impact of dance on the health, wellbeing and sense of empowerment of young people. The research, funded by Arts Council England’s Research Grants programme, focused on two groups of young people, aged between 10 and 20, living in a deprived area of East Leeds.

Over ten months, the young people took part in free dance sessions for up to two hours every week, and researchers from the university’s School of Biomedical Sciences used a combination of interviews, participant observation, informal conversations and questionnaires to collect data. At first glance the study results suggest that the young people experienced improved perceptions of their quality of life because of dance, a widely held view by those in the sector made all the more compounding with solid results.

Dance was shown to help the young people feel happier, increase confidence, develop social skills, express themselves in creative ways, and promote active lifestyles and healthy habits. It also reduced stress by helping them to cope with difficult issues they faced in their lives, by channeling their energy elsewhere. Dance therefore offered an opportunity to empower young people to take charge of their own health and wellbeing.

It is clear that this kind of research demonstrates how dance can support young people in meeting a growing number of challenges as well as proving stimulating learning. It strengthens the case for investment in dance within schools and in healthcare in order to support wellbeing. Going forward, a key challenge remains in providing opportunities for young people who live in deprived communities to participate in health-enhancing activities, however it is clear that the participation in a community-based recreational dance programme greatly improved perceptions of quality of life, across psychological, social, and physical domains of wellbeing.