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 

2 thoughts on “Teaching Tip: The Inclusive Dance Class”

    1. You are very welcome Diana. I have learned so much from working with kids and adults living with disabilities – its all about believing, adapting, and having fun together.

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