Five Tips for Teaching Dance to Students with Disabilities: Teaching with PRIDE

By: Jenny Seham, Center for Creativity in Health and Education (CCHE), Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY. The ritual and rehearsal inherent in most dance disciplines provide a sturdy, safe, and flexible foundation upon which we can scaffold strategies for teaching students with disabilities. Building upon this dance foundation begins with a passionate commitment to the art form and an avid interest in the expansion of language and technique necessary to teach students with wide-ranging physical, emotional, and cognitive abilities. Teachers must observe classes and watch videos; attend professional development workshops and speak to parents, teachers, occupation and physical therapist, and para-professionals. Increasing your knowledge base and comfort with different ways of learning gives you the exhilarating artistic freedom to allow your students to help guide your pedagogy and practice. These five tips integrate important, intrinsic dance education values with specific methods for teaching dance to students with disabilities.

  1. Create PEER PARTNERSHIPS. This is an exciting way to expand your teaching practice and teaching time. Collaborate with your school, dance company, or community organizations to build a culture of sharing dance with diverse learners. Provide time for dyadic learning, improvisation, interpretation and mirroring practice between partners. Have partner dyads share their discoveries with the class.
  1. Be consistent with class ROUTINES AND RITUALS. Begin your class with a centering routine: arriving, taking places, and proceeding to familiar warm up exercises or choreography. This should be an opportunity for students with disabilities to practice and improve technique and for you to observe their progress. Establish a class-ending reverence that honors your dance discipline, the music, the teacher, and the students.
  1. Provide structure for frequent IMPROVISATION. Give students an emotion, tempo, piece of music, or story to inspire their own dance. My students have performed animal fables, become hurricanes, and danced concepts of revolution, freedom, and civil rights.
  1. Use and repeat DANCE VOCABULARY. A student recently told me that she could dance salsa at a community event because she had learned the names for steps in class. Give students the confidence to participate outside of class.
  1. Acknowledge individual and group EXCELLENCE. Recognize and identify individual achievement throughout class. It might be the movement of an eyebrow in lieu of a tendu, keeping tempo, or the creative and adaptive interpretation of your instruction.
Dr. Jenny Seham headshot

Dr. Jenny Seham

Dr. Jenny Seham is a clinical psychologist, dance education consultant, paradigm shifter, and advocate for social justice. Visit www.drjennyseham.com to learn more.

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