Strategies for Teaching Dancers of All Abilities: Any Dance Can Be Modified to Include Students of All Abilities

Article excerpt

As the dance class begins, the students form a circle and begin to move to the music. Some students do a small up-and-down knee bounce, others wave their arms side to side, and several nod their heads up and down to the beat of the music. They all smile, excited to be together and happy to dance. Enjoying moments of personal, cultural, and social expression through dance can be an exhilarating experience for students of all ages. Through participation in dance experiences, they learn new movement patterns, have an opportunity to interact socially, gain an understanding of cultural traditions, increase their fitness level, and share their creative imagination with others (Cone & Cone, 2005).

For many students, dance is a component of their physical education program or arts education curriculum. In either program, students with disabilities should have the same opportunities as their peers to learn, perform, and create dances. Any dance can be taught using a developmentally appropriate approach that considers the student's age, ability, and interest. It is the educator's role to create a learning experience that is meaningful and relevant. Educators who eagerly embrace teaching students with disabilities demonstrate an accepting attitude and see the abilities of their students as dancers and dance makers. McCarthy-Brown (2009) stated, "Learning is stifled in a space where individuals do not feel welcome. Everyone has an entry point; and if the paradigm is circular rather than linear then all entry points are valid and valuable" (p. 122). The teacher's positive attitude toward teaching students with disabilities forms the foundation for designing and using appropriate accommodations when needed. In these classes students are respected for their personal learning styles, and success is defined using individualized standards. Tortora (2006) noted, "Individuality emerges as individual differences are supported. Children are encouraged to learn about themselves by feeling and exploring their own existence from a physically and emotionally felt place" (p. 57). Each student's uniqueness contributes to everyone's learning experiences. When students learn that there are many variations of a dance and many different ways to perform a movement, then acceptance of differences is valued and stereotypes are dismissed.

Dance is an ideal activity for students with disabilities because the very nature of dance makes it a personally meaningful, creative, and enjoyable experience. Students socialize while learning a dance, collaborate to create a new dance, and feel group unity when everyone is moving to the same beat. Critical-thinking skills, problem solving, memorization, language acquisition, abstract thinking, analysis, and evaluation are critical dance components that also engage students intellectually (Kaufmann, 2006). Students gain a sense of empowerment, self-worth, and identity as they discover how to use dance to express and communicate their inner thoughts and feelings (Dunphy & Scott, 2003). This learning experience that recognizes a holistic approach is not available anywhere else in the school curriculum. Dance uses the body and its infinite movement possibilities as the conduit to increase understanding of self, others, and our existence in the world. Eisner (1998) also supported the importance of dance-learning experiences in the curriculum, contending that "through the arts students can learn how to discover not only the possibilities the world offers but also their own possibilities. Expression and discovery are two major contributions the arts make to human development" (p. 85). All students have ideas and feelings they want to express, and through dance they can learn how to use movement as another medium of expression and communication in addition to music, visual arts, writing, and speaking. Any dance in the curriculum can be modified to include all students of all abilities. Perhaps the tempo can be altered, the space condensed, the complexity of the steps and gestures adjusted, but the main purpose of the dance remains the same. …