Helping overcome barriers for children with disabilities to participate in dance

Helping overcome barriers for children with disabilities to participate in dance

Below are some of the common challenges families face when trying to find the right dance school for their child who might have a disability or developmental challenge. As a dance school or dance teacher you can help parents overcome barriers to participation in dance by providing the information and support they need.

Finding the right ‘fit’

“We were looking for somewhere where she could go and learn to dance and it’d be kind of you know, serious about dancing but relaxed and enjoyable and there just isn’t anything like that here.” –  Parent of a child with a disability

It is important for kids to find a dance school that has the right level of flexibility, fun and challenge for their unique needs. Sometimes people might fall into the trap of having low expectations of kids with disabilities and so not provide enough challenge and focus on skill/technique development. Sometimes there may be too much focus on competition and perfection. Both of these can prevent children with disabilities from joining a dance class and remaining enrolled. Dance schools/teachers can be aware of this and ensure they are flexible but still focused on developing the skills of all children by providing tailored approaches.

Understanding the Learning Process

 All children go through a steep learning curve when they begin learning a new skill.  Dance teachers working with children with disabilities may notice that this learning takes longer with some children. A child with disabilities can progress but may need more specific help.

This requires teaching and communicating with the child in ways that most assist their learning process. Dance teachers can learn simple adaptions and modifications of dance exercises and activities to assist a child to learn dance, along with their peers.

Training in Disability

The AllPlay Dance website provides dance teachers and others who work in your dance school a range of specific approaches about how to include children with disabilities. The resources are focused on simple ways to modify and adapt dance exercises and activities as well as teaching inclusive language and ways to ensure dance schools and programs are accessible to everyone. It also includes tailored teaching approaches for a range of specific disabilities. Learning to communicate appropriately with children with disabilities means that teachers can be inclusive and offer the benefits of dance to children who want to join in.

Being flexible

Including a child with a disability in your dance class/school may require a flexible approach. For example, the strict enforcement of rules and regulations regarding hairstyle, clothing or footwear may be a barrier to participation. Adopting a more flexible approach to regulations, such as codes of dress, may make it easier for a child with a disability who wants to learn to dance, to join your dance class/school.

Working with Parents and Support Workers

 “So they actually have two new teachers and they didn’t even come out and meet the parents or introduce themselves or anything like that” – parent of a child with a disability

“We discussed with the parents the disabilities the child was diagnosed with to learn more about the condition. Consequently, we were taught techniques the parent has found effective in initiating a response from the child. We used these techniques in the studio” – Dance teacher

Working closely with the parents and support workers of a child with a disability can be an important factor in assisting them to participate fully in your dance class. Parents can provide information about their child’s needs and interests and also explain the best way for teachers to communicate with their child. It is also possible for a parent or support worker to assist the child with dance activities in the class, and work with teachers while they teach.  Parents may also be worried that their child could be bullied or teased. A positive and supportive attitude from the dance teacher, students and other parents is important in preventing this occurring.

Get to know each child

 “they weren’t particularly interested in learning anything specific about her” – parent of a child with a disability

Get to know each child in your class, their strengths and their interests so you can maximise learning and enjoyment for each child.  If new dance teachers take over a class make sure they meet with the previous teacher to learn about the students and their unique needs and meet the children and their parents.

Promote a whole School approach to disability

“It is important for the children to be in a nonjudgmental, inclusive, supported environment where the main aim is to be having fun and enjoying themselves – not everyone wants to be a performer on stage – just to participate and belong is also very important.” Parent of a child with a disability

Dance schools can promote an inclusive approach through the whole organization, involving all teachers, students and parents.  For example, all parents can be encouraged to understand it is important for their children to learn about what a child with a developmental challenge or disability may experience. Children often gain pleasure from seeing their peers do their best, and can be very encouraging of differently-abled children.

At the same, it is also important that parents understand their child won’t be disadvantaged if a child with a disability joins their class.

As part of a ‘whole school’ approach, senior dance students can get involved in other classes in the role of an assistant to a child with a disability. An end of year concert, in which all students participate, is also a great opportunity to showcase the inclusive approach of your dance school.

 Other Considerations: Environment, timing and fees

 “My child becomes tired very easily. Often classes are after 5pm which is when her fatigue levels are high” – parent of a child with a disability

Other ways dance schools and teachers can encourage inclusion of students with disabilities to join their classes include:

  • Providing easy and safe access to your dance studio and its facilities, that is, change rooms, toilets etc. Foyers, waiting rooms and change rooms with toilets and hand dryers can be noisy and chaotic, particularly if the space is small. This can be challenging and even scary for some children. Be creative in coming up with solutions if your dance school has space restrictions.
  • Accommodating children in classes which suit their daily schedule, for example, allowing a child to enrol in a Saturday morning, rather than after school class may work better for a child and their family. It can be too much of a rush for some children and families to be able to transition from school to dance class. Children with disabilities and developmental challenges can be very tired after school as they are often working physically and mentally harder than other children. Some children need more time to cope with a transition from school to a dance class and so won’t be able to attend a dance class immediately after school. Some children may need to take medication at certain times of the day which may make them drowsy which can also be a barrier for them to attend a dance class.
  • Allowing children who may become quickly fatigued to attend only part of a dance class may also be helpful.
  • Scaling of fees charged for dance classes may also help a family to offer dance lessons to their child, especially if an aide is required to assist with their participation.

Strive for genuine inclusion

“they don’t actually make any effort to make it inclusive. If you can look… like you don’t have a disability you’re welcome to the class, if you need any extra support go join the disabled kids class. So they are technically inclusive in that they don’t reject my child on the grounds of her disability; but… there’s no soul of inclusion there if you know what I mean, there’s no genuine inclusion.” – Parent of a child with a disability

“They make them feel normal – they don’t exclude or separate them.  They are non judgemental as are most of the children who participate.” – Parent of a child with a disability

As you can see by these two very different experiences, dance schools and companies can make a huge difference in the lives of children with disabilities.

Providing genuine opportunities for ongoing inclusion is critical.

Some children may join a class for a term or a year but then begin to notice that are not progressing at the same pace as their peers and drop out. To enable genuine inclusion dance schools need to welcome a diverse range of students so a child with a disability doesn’t feel that they are the only one needing extra help.

Match kids with similar skills can work well to support a child’s learning process, as long as age differences aren’t highlighted.

Creating and maintaining a buddy program in the dance classes and throughout the school can also help children stay motivated connected.