Toddler dancing development

When you hear music playing, does your foot start to tap? Do your hips start to sway? Do you reach for whoever’s nearest and break into an impromptu tango? If so, there’s a good chance that Baby has picked up on your enthusiasm, and is throwing themself around to the beat whenever you play their favorite song. On the other hand, if you’re a little more shy on the dance floor, you might still be wondering when they are going to strut their stuff for the first time.

This variation happens because dancing isn’t exactly like learning to speak – they may call it “the language of dance,” but they are probably starting to get pretty good at making themself understood even if they doesn’t do a little twirl every time you play that song.

Origins of dance

A 2010 study of babies and toddlers, and their response to different types of music and rhythm (measured against the control group of the sound of conversation) showed that babies as young as 5 months old start moving around to music, and doing their best to follow the rhythm – dancing, essentially. Most sources talk about dancing as something that toddlers start doing as soon as they can stand, but if you look a little closer at younger babies, you may notice that they’re dancing, too.

Of course, not every tot hops, skips, or jumps right into dancing, and one big reason for this may be exposure to music. Basically, babies and toddlers who hear more music, and are more familiar with it, and whose parents actively engage with music, whether that means singing along, playing music, or even just bopping around the kitchen doing their own little dance while making dinner at night, may be more likely to experiment with dancing themselves. Familiarity with music, even just by hearing a lot of it at an early age, may also encourage and assist toddlers in learning to play music when they’re older.

Of course, just because very young babies can get interested enough in music to do a little dancing themselves, that doesn’t mean they’ve got all the technical skills adult dancers use. For example, most toddlers can’t jump with both feet off the ground, or stand on one foot, until they’re approaching their second birthday. As they get older, babies and toddlers also get better at moving to a piece of music’s beat.

Dancing into the future

So why dance? Because dancing makes people happy – more than that, dancing makes babies happy. In the 2010 study, the surveyed babies tended to smile even bigger when their dancing was more on the beat.

Dancing is a great way to get fun, healthy exercise, especially for young children who aren’t attracted to team sports, but for most young children, there’s generally no need to seek something as formal as dance classes until at least age 3 – and even then, if your tiny dancer is happy enough grooving around the living room, there’s no need to look into more formal instruction unless that’s what they want. On the other hand, children who are more goal-oriented may enjoy dance classes more than informal dance parties with their parents.

In any case, at Baby’s age, the best way to encourage dancing really isn’t any more complicated than putting on one of your and their favorite songs and letting yourselves go.

  • Robert Cutietta. “Turning Kids into Music.” PBS Parents. PBS. Retrieved May 25 2017.
  • Talk of the Nation. “Scientists Study Dancing Babies … Enough Said?” NPR. National Public Radio, March 19 2010. Retrieved May 25 2017.
  • Gisela Telis. “Video: Babies are Born to Dance.” ScienceMag. American Association for the Advancement of Science, March 15 2010. Retrieved May 25 2017.
  • Marcel Zentner, Tuomas Eerola. “Rhythmic Engagement with Music in Infancy.” Proceedings of the National Association of Sciences of the United States of America. 107(13): 5768-5773. February 10 2010. Retrieved May 25 2017.
  • “Toddler Development.” Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine, February 15 2016. Retrieved May 25 2017. 

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