For middle school girls, joining dance instruction to P.E. yields great strides
Posted on 05/17/2019
Parkside middle school physical education group with PE suppliesCarol Pierce, head of the physical education department at Parkside Middle School, has received two grants from the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia to support her idea to teach ballroom dance to nearly more than 400 seventh-grade students in physical education (P.E.) classes at Parkside. Her initiative has paid off well beyond her expectations, because it is this funding that, in 2017, brought her to the attention of Dr. Jatin P. Ambegoankar, a researcher from the Sports Medicine Assessment, Research, and Testing (SMART) laboratory at George Mason University (Mason).

“Dr. Ambegaonkar wanted to understand why I chose to teach ballroom dance and how I implemented the program in a school with such a diverse population,” said Pierce. “Following our discussion, Dr. Ambegaonkar invited us to take part in a study of students’ activity levels and enjoyment during a dance-focused, physical education unit.”

Ambegaonkar asked the school’s help in examining the role P.E. classes can play in promoting physical activity and, potentially, in supporting future initiatives that address childhood obesity. This request led to a year-long research project showing how Pierce’s ballroom dance-focused P.E. classes can support daily physical activity goals and make P.E. enjoyable for middle school girls, and ultimately resulted in a meaningful partnership.

“Even though the research was conducted specifically with our seventh-grade girls, the entire dance program in our physical education department helps our students develop a basic knowledge and appreciation for all dance genre, not to mention, they have fun," said Pierce.

While dance is commonly thought of as a favored form of physical activity for adolescent girls, the study explored how dance could help students meet daily recommended activity goals and help them enjoy physical education classes. The instructors offered 90-minute dance-focused P.E. classes every third school day, introducing ballroom dance steps, practice, and routines, including waltz, rumba, and bachata. Research measured heart rates for a select group of female middle school students during dance activity and rated their enjoyment.

In addition to Pierce, the whole Physical Education Department at Parkside was active in the dance unit during the original project, including Linda Hayes, David Welti, and Lawrence Muster, with assistance from Patrick Carlton, a private dance instructor who provided some direct instruction. The findings were presented this past fall at the International Dance Medicine & Science Association’s Annual Conference in Helsinki, Finland, and were published in the International Journal of Physical Education in December.

Originally part of the study, dance-focused P.E. classes have remained a popular addition to the P.E. curricula at Parkside, now incorporating line dancing in the sixth grade, ballroom dance for seventh graders, and creative dance for eighth-grade students.

The Mason researchers and Parkside staff have expanded their collaborative efforts to promote healthy initiatives for PWCS students, collecting data during a second research project that took place from November 2018 to February 2019 and added other modes of physical activity in addition to dance. The combined results from all of this research is currently in the writing phase and will be presented at conferences to be held this summer and fall.

“In collecting and giving Parkside the results of the study, [Mason] has provided information to help enhance and improve our teaching, as we provide the best possible experience for our students,” said Pierce.

Parkside Middle School's spirit of results-oriented collaboration for the advancement of student health and learning is Positively PWCS.