Here are some simple tips for dance teachers to ensure that children who are Deaf or hard of hearing are included in a dance class.
The Deaf community is highly diverse. Most Deaf people, including children use Auslan. Some Deaf children have hearing aids and cochlear implants; some also speak. But do not assume all Deaf children can hear or lip read well.
Deaf people are highly visual and kinaesthetic learners. Make sure you have good eye contact with all kids, especially Deaf kids. They need to be able to see your face.
You probably won’t need to modify the dance movements for Deaf kids as they will usually watch and pick up the movement.
Do not talk and demonstrate at the same time. This compromises a Deaf child’s attention as they need to make the choice to watch the interpreter or watch you do the choreography. Explain the movements in words first and then demonstrate.
Deaf kids may benefit from being positioned in the centre of the class. This means they can always see and follow other dancers as they move around.
Don’t be afraid to turn up the volume of the music – Deaf people love to feel lots of bass!
Take the time to demonstrate the rhythm of the music – for example, by clapping your hands. Use hand gestures to visually count the beats of the music every time you lead the class into a dance phrase (e.g.) sign “5, 6, 7, 8”
Allow plenty of time to repeat the movement sequences.
Adapt your language to ‘feel the music’ rather than ‘listen to the music’
Use visual gestures as much as you can.
If there is an Auslan interpreter, talk directly to the Deaf person, not the interpreter.
If there is no interpreter, write the dance lesson outline on a whiteboard or butcher paper so Deaf kids know what to expect. You can list the order of the dance exercises BEFORE doing them.
Ask the Deaf child what works best for them. Remember every child has a right to be involved in all aspects of life, especially dance. Just because a child is Deaf, it doesn’t mean they can’t dance!