Dance Is For EveryBODY
Those who have not grown up in the dance world could be under the impressions that dance is an exclusive and elite physical art form reserved only for those of a certain [petite] stature. But those of us who are long time addicts and those of us that have had the magical experience of teaching dance, especially to children, understand that dance is for every body.
As a kinesiologist I would argue that dance is an accessible, feasible, and fun means of achieving a physically active lifestyle. As a fitness professional I would encourage people to seek a form of physical activity that elevates the heart rate and that provides flexibility and proprioceptive training opportunities. As a mom I would encourage my daughter to dance because of all of the aforementioned opportunities to both be active and develop self-confidence, among other important life lessons. As a dancer I would stop, drop, and dance anywhere, anytime, with anyone!
I ran a dance programme in rural Nova Scotia for 12 years. It was stationed at Acadia University in Wolfville. This tiny town is big in many ways and among the larger attractions are the resources dedicated to those with developmental and/or physical challenges. The university itself provides opportunities for individuals with challenges to participate in accessible programming, like the SMILE Program, including our dance programme that offered inclusive and adaptive dance. Some of the most rewarding experiences I had with the dance programme were in the classes with students with adaptive needs. In my time there I taught for dancers with cognitive developmental challenges and physical challenges alike. After painstakingly and carefully planning dance classes to meet the needs of all of my students similarly, I had to also consider a little further the students with speech apraxia, ADHD, and cerebral palsy. Of course it’s true that every student learns differently, but to deliberately include teaching methods that speak directly to specific learning needs can make all the difference for a student. All of the effort was well worth it in one simple moment: standing up on the stage supported by her walker, my dancer lifted one leg and crossed it over the other. What an achievement this was for that student and what a reward it was for me to watch it happen. A small series of heart melts is what makes teaching dance so rewarding and equally, the tough job of appealing to the learning needs of all of your dancers in class.
It was an incident with a dancer that I don’t directly teach that sparked this blog post. Her dad told me she loved dance but after class one evening she began to cry as he tucked her into bed. This little girl had been born with a blood clot in her arm that threatened both her life and her arm. She kept both and her arm developed differently in terms of muscle tone and bone length. She was challenged in certain respects with this arm because she couldn’t use it in the same ways as the other and this caused her some emotional pain as well as physical challenges. In her dance class the students were performing an arm movement where the student noted (no one else noticed) that her arm looked differently performing this movement compared to others in class. As a teacher I had to find a way to explain to this little girl that it is our differences as individuals that make dance ideal! The teacher didn’t expect all of the students to look exactly the same. What’s more, I explained that with her powerful legs, she couldn’t expect others in class to be able to jump as high as she could. That is to say no dancer ever danced the same as any other. No two swans are alike and that’s what makes Swan Lake exciting to watch no matter who the principle dancer is. In fact, it is most difficult for the Rockettes, who have a multitude of dancers, to try to look the same at exactly the same time. No soloist every suffered this problem! I encouraged both her and her father to continue with dance class because it is a welcoming environment where differences can be celebrated and where individual learning and performing needs can be met. It really comes down to the efficaciousness of the teacher in wanting to discover and seek to meet the needs of individual dancers (within reason, of course!).
I suspect that any teacher who goes above and beyond in this respect will find satisfaction, reward, and gratitude for the opportunity to meet the needs of individual dancers. Similarly, I suspect a dancer will find happiness, peace, and good mind-body-soul health in participating in a dance class where she/he feels accepted, nourished, and celebrated for the differences she/he brings to class. As a culture we must surrender the belief that dance is not a welcoming means of achieving great mind-body-soul health and embrace the differences that make dance an ideal physical activity for everyBODY.