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of adaptive dance for individuals with
Down Syndrome


The Benefits of Dance


Dance leads to significant improvement in cardiovascular fitness, bone density, and reductions in overweight and adipose tissue. Dance works on endurance, range of motion, stamina, balance, and improved posture–all emphasized in rehabilitation.


Benefits of dance include increased:

  • Motor skills

  • Cognitive skills

  • Emotional skills

  • Social participation, acceptance, and cooperation

  • Communication

  • Enhanced self-image

  • Risk-taking

  • And more


Sensory & Cognitive Skills

Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses are involved in dance. These sensory skills enable reactivity in participants and teach them to focus on one context over another. For example, pay attention to the music playing despite other children moving around. Learning new steps, creation, and collaboration enhances cognitive flexibility, ideation, and spatial-temporal reasoning.


Dance helps children grow in the ability to recall, connect verbal cues to movement patterns, count with music, and problem solve. These skills can translate into other aspects of life and foster overall growth in the child. Dance can positively impact vocabulary, critical thinking, viewing skills, and concentration. The interaction between the individual and environment, in particular, nurtures this cognitive development. 


Motor & Sequencing Skills

The repetition in dance promotes motor planning and sequencing skills, allowing them to build the foundation that eventually leads to a vast repertoire. For example, a student may learn steps from repetitive practice, then use the set to different types of music and create a new experience.


Emotional Development

Children can develop a wider range of emotions through movement, which can translate to a wider emotional bandwidth for responding to the world. Movement allows children to explore their emotions and act based upon these feelings, and this can translate into the rest of their lives, where they learn how to appropriately act upon emotion.

Dance & Disability: Enter Adaptive Dance


Dance has always been for individuals with certain physical capacities and body structures. There are two worlds: (1) dance for non-therapeutic reasons, like performances at opera houses, and (2) dance for individuals with disabilities, often performed as therapy. Given the multitude of benefits that individuals can experience from dance, we must shift from perception to make dance fun, accessible, and inclusive.


Adaptive dance or inclusive dance allows everyone present to be accepted, contribute, and is a multi-dimensional movement experience. It involves sensory, motor, cognitive, social, and emotional skills, offering learning to individuals of all ages and abilities to feel safe in a well-established routine.


Transitional Skills & Real-Life Application

Many of the benefits and skills that students gain from dance translate directly to real life. Dance can help improve balance, a basic skill for success in physical activity, even as simple as walking or running. If one can balance, this sets the individual up to learn other new skills. Balance can be fostered in dance through work at the barre before moving to open space, similar to what a client may do in therapy when working on balance using the parallel bars. Dance is immersive in all aspects.

Additionally, positive behavior is improved, where students learn to take potentially disruptive energy and make it creative in dance. Studies have found that being able to move while learning decreased inappropriate behaviors of students who may be kinesthetic learners and have trouble staying in their seats and focusing in school. 


The Role of Music

Music like dance has yielded many positive outcomes, such as facilitating successful interaction and communication among individuals with severe intellectual disabilities. Music encourages both verbal and nonverbal communication. For example, children can pass around a ball to music and make eye contact while focusing attention on one another. Dance and music encourage the child to put forth effort, leading to the child overcoming personal limitations and feeling a sense of achievement when moving in a way not previously explored or thought possible.


Adaptive Dance x Down Syndrome


The Importance of Physical Activity

Children born with Down syndrome have a higher risk of developing hearing impairments, congenital heart defects, thyroid conditions, early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and respiratory problems. They also experience hypotonia, or low muscle tone, loose ligaments that cause joint instability, and small stature, which can cause slower development and influence the rate of gross motor development. Unfortunately, adults with Down syndrome experience a continuation of these challenges. They are prone to a decreased cardiovascular capacity and osteoporosis, in which bones become weak and brittle. It is essential that individuals remain active and engaged as they age to help combat these health problems. Physical activity and therapy are often viewed as the outlet and solution for these challenges. 


However, despite all the research, many children and adults with Down syndrome do not participate in the recommended daily physical activity per week. 

A study consisting of 20 parents of children with Down syndrome between the ages of two and 17 years closely examined this. The key factors that contributed to the hindering of children with Down syndrome participation in physical activity include: 

  • Obesity

  • Congenital heart defects: decreased energy level and endurance

  • Communication impairments: limited ability to understand rules and interpret instructions

  • Recurrent chest and ear infections

  • Asthma

  • Vision impairment

  • Hearing deficits

  • Arthritis

  • Spinal problems

  • Leukemia


Parents reported a lack of mainstream programs willing to enroll their children, due to a lack of staff, time restraints, and a lack of education by these programs. The parents also indicated that preconceived ideas, stereotypes, and negative attitudes towards those with disabilities prevented their child’s participation informal activities. Children with Down syndrome were more likely to engage in physical activity when their parents and families acted as ongoing encouragement, with parents actively involved and social interaction as part of the activity.


Adaptive Dance: Children to Adults

A recent research survey by Barnet-Lopez, Pérez-Testor, Cabedo-Sanroma, Oviedo, & Guerra-Balic (2016), investigated the improvement of emotional well-being relating to the quality of life in adults with intellectual disabilities (ID), including Down syndrome. 


Elements of the activities included:

  • Body scheme

  • Rhythms

  • Self-concept

  • Relationship

  • Identification of different types of emotions

  • Balance

  • Coordination

  • Free dance


All participants were asked to look at a pictogram before and after each session. The pictograms expressed either happiness or sadness and were used to obtain the participant’s moods. These indicators emphasized an improvement in interpersonal relationships, self-concept, anxiety, self-confidence, the capacity to identify emotions, and body self-awareness, indicating an improvement in emotional well-being.


For children, the program must be tailored to fit the needs of each child, which would include participation by parents and family. When family members are involved, the child is more likely to become engaged because the child sees their parents or other family members as the best role models.


Adaptive Dance: United Dance Courses

In understanding the needs of individuals with Down syndrome, our United Dance courses are designed so that each participant can experience the joy of dance while gaining invaluable benefit and growth. Many of the skills listed above are covered in each 60-minute class and our multi-day courses.




Individuals with Down syndrome are living much longer lives than they did decades ago. However, they also continue to face daily physical and emotional challenges. Although studies have shown that there is a lack of motivation and general dislike for physical activity and exercise among this population, we have adapted our adaptive dance courses as an expressive art form of dance movement therapy can be used as an alternative to alleviate these problems that individuals with Down syndrome experience, and at the same time, it encourages social participation and strengthens their self-confidence.

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