To Raise Happy Kids: Dance!


Walking out on the faire site today, I was listening to music. One of my projects during the quiet December days in the office was to upload all of my old CDs onto my iphone- stuff I have not listened to in years. Really, years. Old Amy Grant, Eric Clapton, and Beatles tunes now have a place in my playlists alongside Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars.

With the sun shining in a blue sky and my breathing ever so slightly elevated, my mind was drifting along, unknotting some tricky work questions, when BAM! The swinging, groovy strains of Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” started, and I was instantly transported. It’s what happens with music, I think.

Suddenly I was in the living room of our tiny rent house in 1993 Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, bare walls streaming with sunlight, dancing with my two year old son and four year old daughter. Silly, goofy dancing. Fingers pointing randomly at the ceiling, feet flexed awkwardly, and our voices raised to the roof, we danced with complete abandon (sometimes we danced when Daddy was home, but I never let myself get quite so…weird…looking then. I danced really weird with the kids- like Julia-Louis-Dreyfus-on-Seinfeld-weird).

dance 3

When my kids were little, we had lots of these silly spontaneous dance parties. Even though I was always doing workout videos (anyone else have that Cindy Crawford workout on VHS? The one where she wore a crimson leotard and perfectly tousled hair and never broke a freaking sweat), my best calorie burn came from these moments.

Dancing really is great. Kids do it instinctively, even boys (until we tell them they have to stop because dancing is only for girls and put a football in their hands instead. Sorry- I got off topic a little).

dance 1

The National Dance Education Organization says: “Dance embodies one of our most primal relationships to the universe. It is pre-verbal, beginning before words can be formed. It is innate in children before they possess command over language and is evoked when thoughts or emotions are too powerful for words to contain.

Children move naturally. They move to achieve mobility, they move to express a thought or feeling, and they move because it is joyful and feels wonderful.”

It is! It’s joyful! And what could possibly be better than joyful kids? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Joyful kids and a good cardio workout are not the only things you get from dancing with your young children. Here’s what silly dancing with your kids gets you:

  1. Kids that see an adult being unafraid to look foolish. Rich lives are built on risk-taking. Trying out for the spelling bee, swinging at that curveball pitch, asking for that dream date, applying for that seemingly out-of-reach job, sending that novel off to a publisher- those are all risks on the same continuum. If we want our kids to have courage, to be brave enough to live even when suffering egg on their metaphorical faces, we show them that from the very earliest age by being silly and awkward and breathless.
  2. Relief. That means looser shoulders, a smoother forehead, and a relaxed jaw. It’s impossible to stay tense and stressed when you’re cutting a rug with little ones. We do carry so much when we’re parenting: bills, job expectations, home repairs, health concerns…well, you get the picture. When kids see too much of that in Mom and Dad, they become fearful. Adults can show kids how to let go and get down.
  3. Kids that love music from an early age. Music is awesome. We all know it. Every culture ever has found ways to create music. Get them singing and humming and banging from day one! Oh, and the better music you choose, the better their taste will be (for the love of Pete, no Kidz Bop!)
  4. Memories. Precious, life affirming memories. In my acting training and teaching, we often draw upon the concept of “sense memory” to evoke the responses we want from an actor. How many times have you smelled a scent or tasted a food and been immediately transported to a beloved location, if only in your mind? When you dance with your wee ones, especially if you choose some special songs to always dance to, you and they will always associate that music with fun and family and love. Dancing, play, hugs, and kind words lay a firm foundation for a child’s self concept. In those awful schoolyard moments, when their confidence has been shaken or when their heart is broken by first love, those deep early memories, whether recollected consciously or not, hold the frame of the child intact. Yours too, by the way. And someday, when you’re twirling with them on the dance floor of their wedding reception, you’ll remember. And you’ll cry. And you’ll be thankful.
  5. Kids that read. Again, the NDEO: “Dance helps children develop literacy. To the young child, verbal language and movement are entwined. Preverbal movement expression does not cease when a child develops language. The road to literacy involves the translation of movement expression and communication into words. Learning language and learning dance are not separate threads, but are woven together and incorporated into a fabric of communication and understanding.”

dance 2

I tried to find photos of these impromptu dance parties, but discovered I have nary a one. And as I puzzled over that fact, I realized that it’s because I was too busy being connected and truly present with my kids in those moments to bother looking for a camera. I just had to trust that I would remember. And I do. So very vividly.

In the song I mentioned at the beginning of this post, “The River of Dreams,” Joel sings about “something sacred [he] lost.” The childhoods of my offspring are over. Sacred, but lost. But not in my heart, not in my dancing feet.

“In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams”- Billy Joel

Let the river and the beat carry you and your kids. Namaste, and “shake your groove thing!”


Enchantment: Crayons!


I, like so many adults this year, rediscovered my love for coloring. it started when my boss wanted to do a souvenir coloring book project and brought in piles of Disney coloring books for research. Piled up in the conference room, my eyes landed on the stack of classic Disney and Disney princess pages waiting for hues of pink, yellow, green, and blue. I was ensnared. I grabbed two books and headed to my office, dug through my supply drawer to find the box of 24 crayons I had left over from my teaching days, plugged in my headphones, and set about filling in shapes of Mickey and Minnie in hot air balloons or jungles dark and deep. I was hooked! On an August trip to Target, my husband and I happened to need something in the school supply section, and I sighed over the huge boxes of crayons, settling for a box of 64 when what I really wanted was a box of 96! My husband couldn’t understand my hesitation, but I was worried about spending the extra $1.

In a recent stage production of On Golden Pond, my stage manager gave me that longed-for box of 96 crayons and more coloring books. For Christmas, Santa added a box of high quality metallic pencils and a Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book (be still my heart).

Coloring is a simple, inexpensive, meditative enchantment. Add tunes and a glass of something wonderful to drink and you have your own private party (zen or party animal- depending on your choice of music and beverage). If you haven’t picked up a crayon or colored pencil lately, try it. It’s soothing magic!

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