Dance Umbrella Blog

Body Movement and Brain Development for Babies

Published on: 3:31pm 5 November 2015, by Louise Klarnett

Photo © Pari Naderi for Dance Umbrella

Until approximately seven years of age, the right hemisphere [of the brain] is slightly ahead of the left in its development. Through physical experience, the right hemisphere develops cognitive understanding of space, of visualisation and imagination, and as yet unopposed by life experience or the literal logic of the left hemisphere, young children believe that anything is possible.

Sally Goddard-Blythe, What Babies and Children Really Need (p 250), Hawthorn Press, 2008.

Since 1999 I have been working as a dance artist with young babies to ninety-plus year olds in children’s centres, nurseries, schools, colleges, day centres, sheltered housing, children’s hospices and hospitals. I have always had a strong through line of work with early years and with this consistency, my understanding and awareness of dance and movement practice for the very young has become very broad both in terms of creativity and development.

My work started to gain some recognition which led to appointments to lead professional development for other artists, teachers and professionals for organisations which include Trinity Laban, Barbican Guildhall and Scottish Dance Theatre.  In the last five years I have worked with choreographers/artistic directors as an early years advisor/specialist for performances aimed at very young audiences, work includes Fleur Darkin’s Innocence, Fergus Early’s No Fear! and Spitalfields Music’s Musical Rumpus Mudlark Dances.

My sessions are designed to encourage creativity and independent thinking, nurture individual expression in the participant’s own movement, as well as develop memory for movement. I do this by use of playful and creative movement and exploration tasks and activities, opportunities to engage with ‘set’ material and tasks, and use of activities which creatively build the children’s strength, balance and coordination, encouraging healthy physical development.

The most positive effects on the child increase with consistent attendance with a significant adult. The role of the adult is carefully considered and their presence and significance in the work is essential, particularly when I work with babies and very young toddlers, either to aid the child’s experience in a way in which they feel part of it too, or as a witness to their child’s experience. The early years work is in effect intergenerational although the babies and children are at the initial source of inspiration. Their experience can be greatly enhanced by the adults in the space and an important role for me is how I adapt and differentiate the content in order to engage and include everyone in a meaningful way. Success of a session is often about the way the adults felt able to participate also the level of connection to the work by the babies and children. 

Over the years I have been inspired by witnessing hundreds of children under 5 and their adults dancing and moving with me as well as together and, in the words of Jasmine Pasch, “By accessing body intelligence in playful, spontaneous ways through dance and movement we can help youngsters to build a tangible sense of ‘self’ from the inside – this benefits academic, social, emotional and physical functioning” all of which connects the powerful ways in which body movement impacts on the development of the brain and nervous system, leading to the building of firm foundations for learning, health and wellbeing, and affecting behaviour.

Louise Klarnett designed the early years movement workshops for Dance Umbrella 2015 and is leading open intergenerational dance workshops at the V&A in partnership with Dance Art Foundation on 2nd, 3rd and 4th January 2016.