There is a good deal of research, including experiments, qualitative studies, and anecdotal reports, which informed the development of the project and suggest its potential impact. Dance is beneficial not only as physical exercise (which is known to have cognitive and emotional benefits), but also as creative expression and for social cohesion. Observing dancers generates “kinesthetic empathy” in which the observer can experience a version of the dancer’s movements and emotions (Behrends, Muller, & Dziobek, 2016). Moving in synchrony with other people makes us feel close to them. Dancing also helps in developing body schemas/spacial awareness (your sense of your body in space) and in expressing or communicating emotions.
Movement-based digital games (“exergames”), including those based in dance or rhythm, can help players reap the benefits of physical activity in a way that may feel more engaging, motivating, or entertaining (Staiano & Calvert, 2011). Our class developed movement and dance systems that were designed as games or game-like experiences to not only engage and challenge players, but also to allow for difficulty progression as a marker of skill building, and to flexibly accommodate players of different abilities.
Dance/movement therapy (DMT) uses movement to integrate the cognitive, emotional, and kinesthetic experiences of individuals with a variety of disorders. DMT has been used effectively in special educational settings with children with a number of different disabilities (ex, Devereaux, 2017). Integrating dance and movement into general education curricula as another way of learning and assessing school subjects (as opposed to using movement in between times of traditional instruction) is proposed to have academic benefits for students with and without disabilities (Skoning, 2008).
DMT was important in informing this project because it has been used as an intervention for a wide range of conditions and disorders since it was first developed. Although we discussed autism spectrum disorders in class, we were less interested in creating an intervention for a specific condition than we were in improving a range of symptoms. A meta-analysis of studies on DMT (Koch et al., 2014) describes the different symptoms that DMT shows promise in mitigating while also acknowledging the way in which diagnosis impacts the effectiveness of these interventions. Koch and colleagues found empirical support for increased quality of life, well-being, mood, affect, body image, and clinical outcomes in participants who participated in dance/movement therapy. They found a notable decrease in depression and anxiety in participants as well. These results were found across the board, regardless of specific diagnosis. Conditions that showed improvement from DMT were as varied as autism, breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, dementia, fybromyalgia, arthritis, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and generalized stress, among others. Further, some studies suggest that DMT also improves interpersonal competence, social relatedness, and interpersonal sensitivity (Koch et al., 2014). Subsequent studies offer further support for DMT’s positive effect on body awareness, self-awareness, and social skills, as well as psychological well-being in populations with autism spectrum disorder in particular (Koch et al., 2015; Scharoun et al., 2014).
Based on this collection of evidence, we present the following ideas and documentation for movement-based games and activities which are appropriate for children and young adolescents both with and without cognitive impairments; which may be implemented in educational settings; and that are theoretically likely to help support the development of motor skills, cognitive functioning, and social-emotional skills.
Behrends, A., Muller, S., & Dziobek, I. (2016). Dancing supports empathy: The potential interactional movement and dance for psychotherapy. European Psychotherapy, 8(1), 99–131.
Devereaux, C. (2017). Educator perceptions of dance/movement therapy in the special education classroom. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 12(1), 50–65. http://doi.org/10.1080/17432979.2016.1238011
Koch, S., Kunz, T., Lykou, S., & Cruz, R. (2014). Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: A meta-analysis. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(1), 46-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2013.10.004
Koch, S. C., Mehl, L., Sobanski, E., Sieber, M., & Fuchs, T. (2015). Fixing the mirrors: A feasibility study of the effects of dance movement therapy on young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 19(3), 338–350. http://doi.org/10.1177/1362361314522353
Scharoun, S. M., Reinders, N. J., Bryden, P. J., & Fletcher, P. C. (2014). Dance/movement therapy as an intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Am J Dance Ther, 36, 209–228. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10465-014-9179-0
Staiano, A. E. & Calvert, S. L. (2011). Exergames for physical education courses: Physical, social, and cognitive benefits. Child Development Perspectives, 5: 93-98. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00162.x