Teaching Tip: The Inclusive Dance Class

Life can go on now, the 2012 Olympics have come to a close!

One young man stood out during these games.  Though he didn’t win any medals for his country, he garnered something much more valuable – the respect of his fellow athletes, and a roar of support from the packed athletic stadium.   He will always be known as the young man who had the courage to step up and break down the barriers created within the International Olympic Committee, becoming the first Paralympic Athlete to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Oscar Pistorius.

 Today’s post is a continuation of a post from early July on the inclusive dance setting, so it seems appropriate to include a quote from Mr. Pistorius (or rather, his mom).

 

“You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”    

 — Oscar Pistorius, 2012 Olympian and Paralympian, double amputee since childhood.

Here are a few tips for working with the child/teen/adult students who live with different abilities…but then, we all have different, unique abilities!

  • Get to know your student.    Know that the diagnoses given by doctors does not give you much insight into the behavior of the individual or the persistence and patience of the individual with themselves and within the label.
  • Observe and try a few different approaches.  Just like you would with any other student!  You may very well be blown away by how able your student truly is!
  • Communication is key.   With the family/parents, with the student, and your class.   Children are smart – they are aware of the differences between themselves and others, often times they don’t understand why the student acts differently or has different needs than themselves.   Talk to the class and explain it in a way that is age appropriate.  [TEACHABLE MOMENT!  Here we can teach our students compassion and understanding in dance…].  NOTE:   Ask the parents if they would like to be involved in this process – often they have very effective ways of explaining their childs’ differences to other children.
  • Modify your expectations (if needed).   Teaching a child who has different abilities can be frustrating if you expect them to learn in the same way or at the same speed as the rest of your class.  By modifying your expectations you can alleviate your frustration as well as the frustrations of the student and the class.
  • Talk to the student.   Regardless of the age of the individual – when issues arise in class (as you would with any other student) talk to them directly and in the presence of the parent (so they can support your decisions and approach).
  • Follow the students’ lead –  let them guide you as to whether or not a concept/movement is too much for them.    Again, take the time to observe.
  • Research.   Do your research.   Local organizations have access to current research as well as contacts within the community that can give you insight into specific disabilities.  Many structured forms of activity are offered for people with different abilities –  call, ask questions, find out how they adapt movement and activity.    The world of sport is light years ahead of the dance world in this area – contact your local sporting organizations to see if there are any paralympic events happening in your area.  Check out this excellent resource as well – Alphabet Kids!
  • Patience.   Patience.  Patience.   It may take you awhile to figure out how  best to work with the student – be patient with both yourself and the student.  The learning process might take longer, and/or the changes may be subtle to everyone but you and the parent.  But when you get there,  to that moment of achievement — its awesome!
  • Acknowledge the baby steps along the way (as with any student).  Acknowledgement builds confidence and self-esteem, which in turn motivates the student to continue with positive behavior/focus/etc.  It can be something as simple as a subtle behaviour change, or a subtle change in a range of motion — acknowledge acknowledge acknowledge!

Remember that  disabilities are as unique as the person that has been diagnosed.   There is no one cut and dry way to teach an individual living with a disability – whether the diagnosis is intellectual/cognitive, physical, or neurological.   You can count on one thing for sure – it will surely be a teaching adventure!  That said, this list is a good place to begin the journey.

Bravo Mr Pistorius, Bravo!

 

 

Author:   Jacqui Davidson 

Why Dance Matters…

Have you joined the movement?   Why Dance Matters…is an exciting, brilliant movement happening on the internet.   Take a moment to check it out and share your thought and feelings on why dance matters to you.

First, how much do we love that Nichelle from Dance Advantage has taken this initiative? Brilliant!

So, here we go!

Why Dance Matters…

1.  Dance was the one thing above all else that truly spoke to me.   I finally felt that I had ‘found the words’ and was understood.

2.  When I have the rare occasion to be  a student today I find that dance guides me back into living in the moment, in tandem with the music and the movement.

3.  Dance, and teaching dance, gives me absolute joy!

4.  There is an unspeakable beauty in giving my students the tools they need to achieve in dance, and then watching them use those tools and make connections to their physical self that they had never experienced before.

5.  Living a life in dance means that you are a life long learner.  Whether than means exploring new avenues in academics, learning from new teachers, or experiencing new perspectives through performance – we are learning and absorbing constantly.

6.  Dance quickly became part of who I was as a teenager, and is has remained part of me throughout this life.  My career has blossomed in ways that I had never imagined – because of dance.

7.  Hearing my students, of all ages, express how much they love dance is the best gift I could ever receive!  Best moments, ever.

8.  Finally, Dance matters because it is a celebration of the human spirit.  Regardless of age, whether in a studio, stage, backyard, living room, club or in a classroom – it is an expression of joy and will lift us up into joy!

 

I hope that you’ll take a moment to check out the movement – on Facebook, twitter, and on the Dance Advantage Blog.

Wishing you wellness in dance, and life!

Every-body’s got the Ability!

Ellie
[see note below to find out more!]

 

This writer would like to believe that we live in a time where inclusion and accessibility is part of our normal, everyday existence.    Wouldn’t that be wonderful?   The reality, unfortunately, is that those who live with disability still face a lack of awareness, accessibility, and even a lack of willingness include, throughout our society.

 

Thankfully the dance world has been breaking some of those barriers!

(can I hear a go team go?!)

 

Today is specifically about the inclusive dance studio setting.   Over the duration of my career  there are more and more children diagnosed disabilities coming into our dance classes every year.   Diagnoses have  included Down’s syndrome, developmental delays, hearing impairments, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders as well.

Since working with this exceptional population of dancers, colleagues have asked me what the best teaching practices are for these students.

The short answer?  Adapt.  Be willing to adapt both movement and expectation, if needed.

The long answer?  Teaching is teaching.  Whether a student lives with our without disability, regardless of physical facility of the individual,  it comes down to this – we are all human whether we walk, roll, speak, or use a keyboard to speak (or whatever!).  We all need encouragement and support, and we all can move within our own physical ability, therefore every-body can participate in and benefit from experiencing dance.

Teaching is a process, learning is a process.

It is key to BELIEVE  that all students are able to ACHIEVE, in dance!   In my opinion it is only the limits (stereotypes, assumptions, and fear) that the non-disabled world places on those with different abilities that prevents them from exploring the world of dance.   The notion of modifying expectations is key;  it may take longer for a differently abled student to learn a movement or to catch the subtleties in the music, but that only means that it may be a longer process.   And after all, at the core of dance training is the process of learning ~ which then takes us to the performance!

Stay tuned for more posts focusing on dance and disability ~ teaching tips, teaching challenges, and more!

 

Many thanks to Ellie’s mom and dad for letting providing this photo of her at her dance recital.   Can you tell what label Ellie has been given?   Ellie has Cerebral Palsy – she uses a walker on a daily basis and her parents have a special wheel chair for her as well, there are so many challenges that they face together – and do it with tremendous grace.    You can see one of Ellie’s teachers there behind her, giving her a helping hand.  The best part of this photo?   The smile on this child’s face – tapping alongside her dance friends, as excited as any other little girl to wear that polka dot costume and bows in her hair, dancing for her family and friends.   Joy. Joy . Joy.

 

Looking for more information on the different diagnoses of disabilities?   Have a read through our  book review of Alphabet Dance – an excellent resource for teachers!

 

Ahhhhh…soothe body and mind with Massage Therapy.

Need a boost during this hectic performance and competition season?  Book a massage with a registered massage therapist to help muscles recover from injury and performance, increase your feeling of well-being, and release tension.    Registered massage therapist Tracie Blair gives us an introduction into the benefits of massage and its influence on our nervous system.

 

We all know human touch is emotionally and physically healing.

While we’re quick to recognize this simple truth, most of us would be hard pressed to explain how or why touch can be so beneficial.  So, in the spirit of exploration, let’s take a few moments to learn what makes massage therapy so effective.

In general, when soft tissue is manipulated, beneficial effects occur both directly at the local area, and indirectly, throughout the entire body and its systems. These indirect effects are delivered through signals that are sent via the body’s nervous system.  These powerful signals help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the immune system and reduce pain and tension.

But we’re not done yet.

Reduction of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression have been shown to be among the most beneficial effects of massage therapy.  Not only is massage therapy beneficial in alleviating the physiological effects of these chronic conditions, but studies have shown it improves mental alertness and may enhance feelings of wellbeing by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.

The body’s nervous system has two main divisions — the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord) and the Peripheral Nervous System. Winding its way throughout the body, the Peripheral Nervous System’s function is to carry messages to and from the Central Nervous System.  One key component of the Peripheral Nervous System is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS governs the body’s reaction to stress through the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).

The Sympathetic Nervous System generates the “fight or flight” response, the body’s mechanism for coping with threat, danger or stress. When this response is mobilized, we can experience an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate and increased muscle tension as the body prepares to react.  Conversely, the Parasympathetic Nervous System settles the body, conserves energy and facilitates healing. It is our very own rest and repair system.

With this knowledge and an understanding of what ails you, a trained remedial massage therapist will apply specific massage techniques designed to either relax or stimulate the autonomic nervous system. These techniques will target either the parasympathetic nervous system (to produce relaxing effects) or the sympathetic nervous system (to produce stimulating effects).

Massage can decrease heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and decrease muscle tension. Massage decreases SNS activity. Massage therapy plays a huge role in alleviation of stress and stress disorders.  By allowing a shift to the PNS or rest and repair system, massage therapy can facilitate healing, induce a feeling of calm, and promote well-being and general health.

In general, massage is believed to support healing, boost energy, reduce recovery time after an injury, ease pain and muscle tension, and enhance relaxation, mood, and well-being. It is useful for many musculoskeletal problems, such as low back pain, postural and muscle imbalances, and sprains and strains. Massage may also decrease swelling, alleviate sleep disorders, and improve self-image.

 

Author:  Tracie Blair  B.A., RMT, Dip Acup

 

 

 

 

 

Creating an effective, efficient warmup — Keep it fun!

 

In a recent guest post Diana Harris discusses the physiological response to warming up the body.  Today’s post delves into the how:  How do I create an effective warmup (that doesn’t take up too much time)?  And responds to the question that many are thinking – Yes, but does it really HELP my dancing?

Yes!   As a dancer you will find that you are more aware of  your body beginning from the first plie, rather than halfway through class.   While blood is circulated and warmth is brought to you muscles, your neurotransmitters also become more efficient at sending and receiving messages via the warmup – so they are ready to respond more quickly.  The result?  Quicker muscular response = decreased chance of injury AND increased progress!

[Adult students – this applies to you too!  Taking the time to arrive to class a bit early and do a brief warm up will not only encourage a quicker muscular response, it will also help you to focus your energy in class.]

The good news is that the process of warming up does not have to be complicated, nor lengthy.   Teachers can invest a bit of time in ‘setting’ a warmup – and then keep that warm up for a few weeks.   Keep it fresh by changing one element every once in a while, but the goal is to keep it simple and easy to remember (so that your students can then do it on their own, without specific instruction).

A sample warmup 8yrs and up:

[Music – ideally starting at a walking pace and speeding up gradually as the pace of the movement increases.]

    1. Begin walking in the space at a moderate pace.
    2. Quicken the pace and encourage students to use their arms more aggressively (exaggerate the natural swing of the arms).
    3. Progress to high marches – activating the quadriceps and abdominals by lifting the legs in a high-stepping march. Continue the exaggerated swing of the arms.
    4. Progress to a skip – still traveling freely in the space.   Add cues to change direction.
    5. Alternate steps 3 and 4 – two to four times.  Increasing the length of time and encouraging students to ‘skip higher’ each time.
    6. Slow it down to the high march – encourage a focus on breathing.
    7. Slow it down to a brisk walking pace and bring the students into a circle in the middle of the room.
    8. Taking a cue from the Asanas used in Yoga –  standing in parallel, bring the arms overhead as you inhale.   On the exhale open the arms through second position of the arms and bend forward to the floor, keeping the knees slightly bent.
    9. #8 can be repeated, and/or move into a lunge (for teens) stepping one foot back into a lunge position (ensure that the front knee remains at a 90 degree angle with the knee directly over the ankle).   Repeat on the opposing side.
    10. Finish with students returning to standing with an energized inhalation and exhalation.
      • Note:   If you use turned out positions in your class you can incorporate a more relaxed plie in step 10 beginning in a wide 2nd position of the feet and moving to 1st position.  This will help students to access alignment with external rotation before diving into classwork in turned out positions.
      • Circles, patterns and pathways:  This warmup can be done in a circle or moving freely in ‘personal’ space.
      • Here  skipping is the aerobic movement – who doesn’t love skipping?  It brings a smile to the face of the even the shyest students!   Yes, older students find it a bit silly to skip — but the silly factor gets them smiling and laughing.  Class begins with a giggle and a more positive perspective.  That said, any aerobic movement could be incorporated into this warmup example.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Now it is your turn!   What tools do you use to warm your dancers (or yourself) before class or performance?

 

10 Important Reminders: Healthy Habits for a Healthy Body

This post is intended to provide a few reminders when considering our body image.   There is no particular order to this list as each point is equally as important as  the next.   My hope is that students, parents, and teachers will take this post as  a reminder that often developing a positive body image is a group effort.   It includes not only the student, teacher, and parent – but professionals as well.  Taking steps to proactively consider students’ (your child’s) thoughts on body image and speaking to them about it can help to prevent and/or resolve potential problems in this area.

1. DO Avoid Dieting. The term invokes a thought of depriving ourselves of food (aka. nutrition and fuel).

2. DO seek healthy food choices. Remember that food is the fuel that you body needs and uses for every function – from cell and energy production to muscle contraction and breathing. Limiting your fuel intake limits the ability of your body to function.

3. DO Speak to a dietitian. If you feel that you might need to ‘lose weight’ or gain muscle – start with speaking to a dietitian. This will help you to look at where you are at with you food choices today and determine if and what food choices might be effective changes for you.

4. DO Drink Water. We have talked about it before and are saying it again. Water is essential to your health on a cellular level. It is essential for your tissues, blood, muscle, and brain function.

5. DO be wary of extreme weight loss. Teachers – if you notice that a student’s body is changing dramatically – speak to the parent. Bring your concerns to their attention. Whether the weight loss is intentional or not, speak to the parent. Recommend that medical advice be sought. Parents – this can be a difficult subject to approach, but it is crucial that you do so.

6. DO Trust the Science. There is tremendous science behind nutrition for performance athletes (sports and dance). There are a lot of fad diets out there that claim ‘amazing results’. In general, if there is a miraculous or outrageous claim being made then it is highly likely that it does not work. Yes, you might see results in the short term – but in the long term those results will most likely be impossible to maintain.   Best advice:  Trust the science – speak to professionals who work with athletes and dancers for guidance.

7. DO Accept yourself. Historically the dance world holds the ‘ideal physique’ on a pedestal – many seek to achieve this physique. We (teachers, dancers, parents) need to remind ourselves and our  young people that the body you have been given is a gift.  Genetics provides a map for our physical development, training can have a direct effect on the lines our bodies can create through dance,  accept that there are things we cannot change (genetics) and learn how best to train and fuel your body for optimum performance.

8. DO Investigate/ Research, and seek advice. Your body is your instrument. Research effective ways to improve your health, then speak to a professional before incorporating it into your lifestyle. For nutritional advice – seek out a dietitian, for conditioning advice – seek out a physiotherapist or athletic therapist, for training advice – seek out a trusted dance teacher.  A best first step is to speak to your parents and family physician.

9. DO Know that you are not alone. In today’s society young women and men are bombarded with images in the media that have been photo shopped (altered)  to fit how marketing executives want the public to view their product so that we will buy that product.  Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing that what you see in advertising is the truth.

10. DO What you love. Seeking happiness? Seeking purpose? Follow your heart. Seeking fulfillment in achieving the perfect body (in this authors view) is misdirected (or perhaps misguided) purpose. If you love dance, then dance for the joy of it. Seeking what is perceived as the ‘ideal dancers body’ is setting yourself up for disappointment and can result in extensive damage to your body.

Author:   Jacqui Davidson

Betwixt and Between

Alessandra Ferri and Sting: Bach Prelude

[A special thank you to my students for inspiring this post. Pay attention to the ‘bits in between’ and follow your dreams. : ) ]

Learning  is two-fold, there is the information that is given to you and the connections we then make between life and the lesson.   In the summer of 2010 my students made that connection.  It was a case of the students teaching the teacher,  one of those amazing teaching moments when a deeper conversation between teacher and student [and they were teenagers!] occurs.  Love those moments!

I asked this group of pre-teen/teen students about what makes music and movement mean something to us as dancers and audience members.  What moves us/you?  They said that it is the ‘in-between’ bits in the music (click on this text for Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation) that tell us the most.   Connecting this to dance, we concluded that it is what happens between the steps which speak to us and move us.  This is where the story is relayed from dancer to audience (click on the text for Alessandra Ferri and Sting’s interpretation).    In music, if we didn’t have the notes in between the beat/pulse the music would be just a straight pulse or beat – no melody, no rhythm.  Movement is very much the same, if there was no ‘in-between’ dance would just be a bunch of steps put together sequentially with no fluidity, no emotion, no connection.  The result of both would be bland, flat, boring, in a word – mechanical.

For those readers who are not dance lovers,  I suggest that something similar happens in sport.  If athletes only execute the skills of a sport, without effort force, or passion, the sport is diminished to the mechanics of the skills alone.  There must be energy,  force, velocity,  and a [healthy] competitive spirit behind the performance of the skills in order for the event to have meaning for the observer, and certainly for the athlete to achieve any success in competition as well.   That energy and spirit is what makes up those ‘in-between’ bits of the sport, makes it exciting to participate in and to observe, and is what make us cheer when an athlete puts all of their effort into a play or event (in addition to team/country pride).

My belief is that art [in all its forms] and sport help us appreciate the ‘in-between’ bits of life.  When we watch a dance performance we tend to appreciate more fully those performances where the dancers have found a way to express the moments in between the steps and/or the motions of the characters.  Somehow they have found a way to internalize the movement and the story to then relay it back to us through their form and their dance.  At its very best it touches us, even those who do not feel that they understand the music or the dance.   In sport, the emotion behind the force and energy is raw, true to life and tangible.  We see the raw emotion given to a race or event and when the athletes take the podium, or watches competitors take the podium.   The [sport] athlete learns to use and manage the ‘in-between’ bits throughout training and in performance, becoming conscious of emotions  felt and learning how to manage or use those emotions in performance situations.   Both similar situations – one translates the ‘in-betweens’ and one manages/uses the ‘in-betweens’.

The ‘in-between’ bits of life [the yummy and the painful alike] which make life interesting, giving us something to obsess over (a little obsession is healthy!), to relish, and in the end what makes us who we are.   Learning to translate, manage and use those moments is what makes life meaningful and leads us towards our purpose in this life.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson  [Please note that this is a re-post from my first blog, Something to Learn.]

 

 

Giving Your Knees the Lovin’ They Deserve

The Knee Joint – Simple Yet Complex

On the surface, the knee joint seems to be a simple “hinge” bending back and forth.  However, if you take the time to look more closely at this joint, you will discover a much more complex mechanism.

The knee is made up of 3 compartments, a medial (inner) compartment, a lateral (outer) compartment and an anterior (front) compartment.  This anterior compartment is another joint called the patello-femoral joint (knee cap).  The bones that form this joint are the femur above, tibia below and the patella (knee cap) in front.

The knee joint has very little boney stability and relies a great deal on the ligaments, cartilage and muscles to provide the stability of this joint.  Movement is produced by 2 key muscle groups, the Quadriceps (front of thigh), which extend the knee and the Hamstrings (at the back of the thigh) that bends the knee.  The superficial calf muscle (Gastrocnemius) also crosses the back of the knee joint and is involved in bending the knee at times.

The cartilage or menisci are half moon-shaped structures which sit on top of the tibia in the medial and lateral compartments.  They serve as shock absorbers and also deepen the joint to provide more stability and keep the femur from sliding off the tibia.  2 key ligaments inside the joint are the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.  The anterior cruciate ligament keeps the knee from hyperextending and from rotating too much internally while the posterior cruciate essentially does the opposite.  Two ligaments exist outside the joint and are called the collateral ligaments.  There is a medial (inner) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways laterally and the lateral (outer) collateral which prevents your tibia from bending sideways medially. The collateral ligaments are more commonly injured than the cruciate ligaments.

The patello-femoral joint acts as a pulley system for your Quadriceps muscle.  The patella is imbedded in the Quadriceps tendon and attached to the tibia below through the patellar tendon.  This gives your Quadriceps a better mechanical advantage to work with your knee as it bends.  It is also important for the inner and outer fibers of your Quadriceps to work in balance to keep the patella tracking properly.  Patello-femoral joint irritation and pain is common when this imbalance exists.  Your Quadriceps also performs an important role in jumping by contracting concentrically while it aids in softening landings by contracting eccentrically.

The Hamstring muscles (of which there are three two inner and one outer) bend or flex the knee joint and help extend the hip along with the gluteal muscles.  They also act as a “dynamic” anterior cruciate ligament and help to keep the tibia from sliding forward off of the femur.

These are the key structures of the knee joint that must work together to allow for normal operation of the joint under the large loads and stresses we put the joint through daily with all our activities.  Dancing, of course, places huge demands on this joint and with the use of good technique and proper training in and out of the studio we can keep the joint healthy and lower the risk of injury.

 

How can I apply this to my teaching/dancing?

ALIGNMENT IS KEY!   

  • Remember the aligning our dots exercise?   Postural and pelvic alignment has a direct effect on knee alignment – start from the feet and work your way up when assessing knee alignment.

Invest time in teaching proper alignment

  • When working in ‘turned out’ or parallel positions, ensure that the knees are moving in alignment with the feet and hips.  For some this will be a challenge, but its a worthwhile investment of your time.  The investment will pay off tenfold when you see that your students are able to self-correct.

It IS about efficient and effective movement.

  • Teach students to work within their own physical ability.   Students are not built from a cookie cutter method (all physiques the same).  Take the time to look at students’ physique and guide them to work within their own unique physique (encourage individuality!).   This will optimize the efficiency of their movement, training more effective and efficient movement patterns over time.

Talk about the anatomy of movement with your teen and adult students.    

  • First, it is important that they have an understanding of why it is important to work within their own physique.  Second, experience indicates that this gives them a deeper understanding and awareness of their bodies, which then translates into a more thoughtful work ethic in studio.

Be willing to adapt.

  • No dance form or teaching method is perfect for every – body.   Find ways to adapt tried and true methods to suit the bodies that you are teaching.

It is not about today.

  • All of this awareness and prevention is less about preventing an injury today or tomorrow, and more about preventing injury over time.   Whether dancing, walking, or running indoors/outdoors, improper alignment of the knees causes friction and wear in places where it is not meant to occur.  In the long-term this can translate into worn out cartilage, meniscus damage, ligament damage, and chronic knee pain.

Remember that “An ounce of prevention = a pound of cure”.

Authors:   Sam Steinfeld, Kevin Dyck & Janine Didyk, RWB Physiotherapy Team (article) and Jacqui Davidson, Founder AD4L (teaching considerations)

 

Inclusive and Accessible Dance.

One dimension of AD4L’s focus is inclusivity – finding and creating opportunities for providing inclusive, accessible dance.  Each individual, with or without a disability, is unique.   When individuality and disability is combined together a unique perspective within the disability is created – making it challenging to find the best way to connect with the individual.   To expand our knowledge on the subject information has been sought from various organizations such as Barrier Free Manitoba and TED.

Here are two excellent videos on living with Autism Spectrum Disorder and an interesting video on Music and the Mind, each gives us a unique perspective into living within a disability.

My Autism and Me

TED talk:  The world needs all kinds of minds (Autism and Temple Grandin)

TED talk:  Music and the Mind

 

Wishing you wellness in life, and dance!