Teaching cognitive skill through dance: Evidence for near but not far transfer

Keinanen, M., Hetland, L., & Winner, E. (2000). Teaching cognitive skill through dance: Evidence for near but not far transfer. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34(3/4), 295-306.


Two very small meta-analyses were conducted to test the assertion that dance instruction leads to improvements in reading and nonverbal reasoning. The meta-analyses relied on four studies assessing the effect of dance on reading and three studies assessing the effect of dance on nonverbal reasoning.

Key Findings:

The results of one small meta-analyses were equivocal and do not support the conclusion that dance instruction serves as an effective means of teaching reading.

The results of a second small meta-analysis support the conclusion that there is a relationship between the kinds of dance instruction in these four studies and the nonverbal reasoning skills assessed. However, the authors acknowledge this finding is open to alternative explanations

Significance of the Findings:

The basic implication of these findings is that further rigorous research is required to truly understand the effects of dance on both reading and nonverbal reasoning.


The meta-analyses involved three basic steps: (1) a complete literature search for all possible studies, both published and unpublished, in the defined population; (2) the relevant characteristics and results of the studies were identified and categorized; and (3) the reading and non-verbal reasoning outcomes were converted to comparable effect size measures. The meta-analyses included only experimental and quasi-experimental studies of dance or movement education that examined non-dance, quantified cognitive outcomes. Most all of the studies used in the two meta-analyses were vulnerable to teacher expectancy effects.

Limitations of the Research:

The basic limitations of this research are those generally associated with the use of meta-analytic techniques – it combines data from different studies conducted under varying circumstances that perpetuates an inherent bias toward published articles because the researcher may fail to uncover unpublished studies. Specific to this study, the very small number of relevant studies and the highly variable contexts compromise the ability to generalize these findings. For example, three different types of dance instruction were coded for four studies.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Can dance instruction teach cognitive skills that can then be deployed in non-dance areas such as reading and nonverbal reasoning?