Although I am not trained in dance therapy nor have I experienced an actual dance therapy class, I have been given the opportunity to teach dance to children with special needs twice. The first time I helped choreograph and teach a dance was last summer at Camp Ramah in New England (CRNE) and I was assisted by the dance instructor at camp. At the time, I did not know very much about how therapeutic dance, or even dance in general, worked for people with special needs. Together, we made up simple steps that included clapping (which they loved), turning, and steps back and forth. This experience was a really good introduction because the dance was for people with a wide range of disabilities, one in a wheelchair, some unable to talk, and others who didn’t like loud noise like music. The dance was simple but it taught me a lot about what works (or doesn’t work) when creating dances for people with disabilities.
The second opportunity I was given to teach dance was in my Gateways classroom. I was asked to teach an Israeli dance as part of our celebration of Israel’s birthday. I chose one of my favorite dance songs, the Miami Boys’ Hinai Matov, and used moves to create a dance that would best fit the abilities of students in my classroom who are mostly higher functioning children between the ages of 11 and 14. Taking it one step at a time, we learned the dance together making sure everyone knew the steps before moving on to new ones. As a test of what I learned about balance and midlines discussed in my last blog, I put some moves in the dance that tested the theory. I incorporated arm circles because they seemed like the best way to cross over the midline without creating a situation where any students would fall over. It proved to be difficult for the students and caused them to fall behind on the following counts. Anticipating this dilemma, I created an alternative move of waving the arms back and forth over the head slowly—getting close to crossing the midline but not actually crossing it. Some other dance moves that tested the boundaries included kicks. The kicks were not a big problem for my class, but I think that for some other people with disabilities it could have caused some imbalance. Overall, the dance was a success! I allowed some time for students to make up their own moves because I thought that seeing what the students perceived as the limits for their abilities would be best portrayed by their own choices. I saw clapping, jumping, and a few iconic dance moves like Gangnam Style wrist movements.
The day that I taught the dance to my students at Gateways was also perspective volunteer day. Throughout the day there were groups of about ten students coming into the classroom. Usually, students get antsy, shy, or distracted when visitors come in. I was nervous to teach the dance because at the time a large group of observers were in the classroom; however, to my surprise, the students barely noticed the visitors because they were so engaged in the dance. Several of the prospective volunteers said they enjoyed watching the dance program and thought the students looked really happy; it was so exciting to hear such positive feedback.
Dance, move, and empower,