On March 23, hundreds gathered in the nation's capital for Arts Advocacy Day to promote art and funding for the arts. Meanwhile, Kent County youth arts groups are winding up their season or deep in planning a summer full of activities. And it's about more than just about having fun. From dancing to drawing, these young artists are learning skills that will make a difference throughout their lives.

Young dancers will fill the Schwartz Center for the Arts stage later this month as First State Academy of Dance's Delaware Dance Alliance performs “Pirates of the Caribbean Ballet.”

The Milford-based academy has trained dancers for nearly 15 years. Students as young as age 2 can take classes to learn everything from ballet to hip hop.

As they learn to dance, First State Academy of Dance director Michele Xiques said they are developing other skills.

“Dance requires a lot of focus and discipline and awareness,” she said. “It keeps your mind active and focused.”

Local and national advocates for youth arts programs cite a long list of ways that studying the arts benefit youngsters.

Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C., has posted “10 Reasons to Support the Arts” on its website.

Among them:

• Arts improve academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower dropout rates.

• Arts spark creativity and innovation. The Conference Board reports that creativity is among the top five applied skills sought by business leaders.

• Arts have social impact. A high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare and lower poverty rates.

“If children aren’t exposed to [art] at any early age, there’s a chance they could grow up into adults that might not appreciate the full value and benefit that the arts can bring into their lives,” said Sheila Dean Ross, program director at the Delaware Division of the Arts.

Americans for the Arts worked with the National Advisory Committee on “Setting the Agenda,” a report about positive development and skills youth gain from community arts programs.

“As young people learn the arts, humanities, and sciences in these programs, they develop personal, social, and intellectual skills and capacities that are important for their growth and success in life, school, and work,’’ according to the report.

First State Academy of Dance/Delaware Dance Alliance, Milford

Mission: To develop the artistic talents of dedicated students by giving them the knowledge, background and techniques needed to accomplish their personal goals.

Classes offered include ballet, pointe, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, modern, Zumba, Hoopnotica and tap. Contact: 302-422-2633

Michele Xiques, instructor

Quote: “These programs can help kids find self-confidence, poise and the courage to put themselves out there, even if it’s not to become a professional dancer. They can use the discipline of this art form towards anything they do in life.”

Smyrna Opera House Summer Camp, Smyrna

Mission: To focus on the basics of acting — projection, staging, singing, characterization and improvisation. Students learn and actively participate in the fundamental aspects of performing in the theater arts such as characterization, movement, improvisation and music. Contact: 302-653-4236

Jim McGuigan, instructor

Quote: “It’s amazing when you watch these kids. Some of them are so shy and by the end of that first week they’re up there singing and doing improvisation and acting. By the following Friday, [the day of their performance], they’re doing a full-fledged musical for the community.”

Biggs Museum Summer ArtVentures Camp, Dover

Mission: To encourage children to explore their creative side through making their own comic books, hand puppets, paintings and more. Contact: 302-674-2111 ext. 101

Becky Schwartz, instructor

Quote: “The art programs we offer here at the museum not only to help strengthen artistic skills, but they also help to build self-confidence, they foster creativity and they often help individuals function better in a group.”

Delaware Youth Chorale, Dover

Mission: To provide young people an opportunity to learn and perform fine choral music before a live audience alongside veteran performers in the Delaware Choral Society. Children are also given the chance to sing music in languages other than English. Contact: 302-883-2182

Stuart Knapp, Delaware Youth Chorale recruiter

Quote: “The children are exposed to foreign languages as early as second grade, which is less often provided in the schools today. This December we’ll be doing an international Christmas [concert], which will feature children’s selections in French, Spanish, Norwegian and Russian.”