Predictors of Dance Enrollment Among Ethnically and Linguistically Diverse Middle-School Students



Gara, Taylor

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Accessibility of arts electives (dance, drama, visual arts) among national public middle schools has decreased in the past decade (Parsad, Spiegelman, & Coopersmith, 2012), despite the positive developmental gains associated with arts engagement, which are particularly beneficial for low-income children of color (Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012). Creative movement and dance engagement have been linked to increased socioemotional skills (Lobo & Winsler, 2006), academic performance (Dumais, 2006), and language acquisition among English Language Learners (Greenfader, Brouillette, & Farkas, 2015; Horowitz & Beaubrun, 2010). Prior research reporting the developmental outcomes from dance engagement does not typically control for pre-existing differences between youth that do and do not enroll in dance classes. Using data from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP), I examined predictors of in-school dance enrollment among a large (n = 24,845), ethnically diverse (59% Latino, 33% Black, 7% White/other) group of middle-school students. Participants included four cohorts of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who are being followed longitudinally from pre-K to 12th grade. The following research questions were addressed: 1) What proportion of MSRP children in grades 6-8 are enrolling in dance classes, for how many years, and in which grades? 2) What proportion of middle schools included in my sample offer in-school dance electives, and what percent of students at those schools chose to take dance? 3) What are the preexisting child-level differences (i.e., child demographics, school readiness at age four, and elementary academic performance) between students who do or do not enroll in dance classes? 4) What are the strongest unique predictors of taking dance classes overall, and limited to only children in schools where dance is an option? Multivariate logistic regression analyses revealed that 5.6% (n = 1,402) of children who enrolled in dance during middle school were more likely to be White or Latino, female, have greater elementary academic achievement, less academic retention in elementary school, and greater social skills at age four after controlling for all other demographic factors. After limiting analyses to 12.3% (N= 9,768) of children who were enrolled at a school where dance was an option, (thereby controlling for neighborhood/school), all ethnic differences disappeared, yet gender, increased behavioral concerns, increased social skills, decreased cognitive skills at age four, and higher 5th grade standardized test scores were related to later dance engagement. Based on these findings before and after accounting for school accessibility, there are clear gender, school readiness, and 5th grade academic achievement differences between students who do or do not enroll in dance during middle school. Furthermore, because school accessibility of dance electives removed the effects of ethnicity and 5th grade academic achievement, future research should not only control for child-level differences but also school-level factors when examining outcomes of youths dance engagement. In-school dance electives may only be available for students living in higher income school neighborhoods. Once future research accounts for school accessibility and students’ preexisting cognitive or socioemotional competencies, then we can determine the true developmental outcomes associated with dance engagement.



Dance, Middle school, Predictors, Dance education, Accessibility, At-risk youth