"Selection into, and academic benefits from, middle school dance elective courses among urban youth"
Although research shows associations between adolescents’ general arts involvement and academic performance, little research documents links between enrollment in middle school dance elective courses and academic achievement, especially within low-income, urban populations. Further, differences between adolescents who do and do not have access to, or self-select into, middle school dance electives have yet to be identified. We prospectively followed a large (n = 31,332), ethnically diverse sample of children from preschool through 8th grade in Miami, Florida. About 7% of adolescents enrolled in a dance elective course at some point in middle school (6th–8th grade), with the majority of those (68.8%) taking dance for only one year. Black students were more likely than White and Latinx students to attend middle schools that did not offer dance. When dance courses were available, males and Black students were less likely to select into a dance elective. Students who took dance in middle school showed greater initial social skills at age four and better prior academic achievement in elementary school compared with those who did not take dance. Importantly, controlling for all preexisting selection effects and prior academic achievement, dance engagement in middle school was associated with higher grade point averages and standardized test scores, better school attendance, and a lower likelihood of suspension during middle school, with stronger positive effects observed for taking dance electives for multiple years. Implications for future research and educational policy are discussed.