September 2012 | EditorSpeak

Editor Speak Dance Studio LifeCultivating Empathy

The results are preliminary, but they’re a no-brainer to anyone involved in arts education. A study has found that “children that partake in music activity in a group setting are more prone to developing one of humankind’s noblest traits: empathy.”

The ramifications of this research are discussed in an article on San Francisco Classical Voice ( called “Is Music the New Social Media? ‘Empathy’ Entrainment.” The yearlong study at the University of Cambridge (UK) explored the effects of group music activities on 52 children ages 8 to 11, roughly half boys and half girls. They were divided into two groups, one of which was given group music-based games and the other activities that involved texts and drama only. The children in the music group scored higher on a test that measured empathy.

The experiments didn’t involve dance, but the correlation is obvious. The music activity stressed what lead researcher Tal-Chen Rabinowitch called “entrainment,” in which the children had to become “rhythmically attuned to one another” and “[i]mitation and the sharing of musical goals were also stressed.” Although the imitation games were largely improvisational, “[e]ach child playing a musical instrument had to attend to other children in the group.” Sounds like a dance class, doesn’t it? In effect, teachers are sowing the seeds of empathy.

If the study’s results prove significant and valid, the data will serve well those who argue for arts education. As Joe Landon, executive director of California Alliance for Arts Education, says in the article, “Quality arts programs have the potential to empower and engage students in ways that can promote learning across the board. Students who have a positive sense of themselves are more likely to embrace learning new things and find success in school.”

The article points out that the study raises the issue of individual versus group music education, since most music instruction “is geared toward private performance.” In dance, the opposite is true. So, dance teachers, take note: if group activities in which children are rhythmically attuned to one another promote empathy, your students will have it in spades.

Just one more reason why dance education matters. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief

Soft Touches

Did anyone catch that episode of Bunheads where Michelle discovered Fanny’s hatbox filing system? The one where her bills were deemed “should be paid” or “might be paid” and stored in oversized, decorative boxes? So funny—so true! I wished I had all your numbers so I could mass text, “Turn on your TVs right now!”

But the episode got better when Michelle (the amazing Sutton Foster) found out that Fanny (my hero, Kelly Bishop) had precious little money to pay even the “have to be paid” bills. But the studio is crawling with kids, Michelle says (or something along those lines), forcing Fanny to admit that all but nine of her 75 students are “on scholarship.” Michelle is stunned—“Only nine kids pay? Nine? Nine?” Fanny counters that times are tough, and someone’s father lost his job, and what is she going to do? She can’t deny these kids their ballet!

Still funny—but ouch! I was torn between feelings of delight that the show so cleverly exposed our secret little catch-22, and feelings of despair for the very same reason.

I can’t begin to recall how many conversations I’ve had with studio owners about parents who have cancer or mortgage woes. So sometimes the studio owners just “forget” about a bill or two. Sometimes they use their precious little time off to organize fund-raisers or quietly spread the word in the hope that other parents will cover some costs. They eat the costume charges, or dig deep to pay their staff when the tuition is overdue.

What else are they going to do when they’ve watched a child grow up, shared her smiles and her struggles, given their hearts away?

On the show, Michelle demands that everyone pay up and then has to beg for forgiveness when all the trees and flowers in Fanny’s “environmental ballet” quit. She’ll learn. It’s not that studio owners are bad businesspeople or sentimental pushovers or just plain dumb. It’s just that, like Fanny, they can’t deny these kids their dance. —Karen White, Associate Editor