I recently had the pleasure of attending, not one, but two workshops on teaching integrative dance. The first was a six-day intensive in February with Cork, Ireland–based Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company. The second was a three-hour workshop last night with Oakland, California–based AXIS Dance Company. Both companies are made up of dancers with and without physical disabilities. In these workshops, I learned tools for teaching dance to physically and intellectually disabled populations. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts.
Do spend time on introductions.
Both the Croí Glan and AXIS integrative class begins with a name game. In a circle, participants say their names and share a movement, gesture or sign. The entire group repeats each person’s name and movement. By the time you get around the whole circle, voilà! You have a choreographed dance and a more unified group.
Don’t use able-bodied-specific language.
Be mindful of the dancers in the room and how they move. Rather than using words like, “walk” or “stand up,” try using “travel,” “make your way,” “come to a high level” or “traverse.” This kind of language allows each dancer to execute your cues in a way that works for their individual body.
Do use improvisation to warm up.
Improvisation is a great way to get everyone’s bodies warm, while also exploring levels, pathways, proximity to others and movement qualities. It’s also a ripe time to introduce contact. Try having dancers travel through the space, find a partner and create a shape in contact with one another. Break away and start again!
Don’t forget to do your research.
Know who you’re teaching and what they need to have a positive experience in your class. Is this a group with physical disabilities? Intellectual disabilities? What kind of assistance will they need? An ASL interpreter? Visual cues? Have they danced before? Also, make sure the space you’re teaching in is 100 percent accessible.
Do make contact, and lots of it!
What better way to learn about different bodies than by making contact with them? Start slowly with simple pushing and pulling in pairs. This encourages problem solving and communication and builds trust. Gradually, work the class up to more extreme weight-sharing in safe lying-down or quadruped positions on the floor.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Depending on how large your class is, it can be extremely helpful to teach in a team. While one teacher leads the class, another can work the music or circulate throughout the room offering assistance to individuals. Also, be sure to communicate with any personal assistants present. They know their clients best and can help you offer the best possible class.
Making connections through improvisation. Photo by Rachel Caldwell