By Silva Laukkanen
These tips are inspired by my three years of teaching creative movement and dance in a school in Austin, Texas, that serves students who have significant disabilities, including children who are medically fragile or who need intensive behavioral support.
- Create a fun routine. It is important for sessions to have a clear beginning and end that stays the same. I begin and end in a circle with a song that includes the same movements every time. I alternate between exercises that are high energy and calming, which gives students and teachers time to refocus. In cases when a class comes in and is very upset or has a high energy level, I start with calming exercises and continue with more rigorous dancing and movement, but always end with calm and quiet.
- Engage with visuals. I try to give visual cues for every aspect of the class. I clearly mark where all dancing will happen with two long lines of painter’s tape on either side of the space. It is good for students who are blind or have low vision because they can feel the tape. I also use “spots,” which are colored, rubbery circles. One of the many ways that I use them is to give students their own “lane” when I want to have everyone do locomotive movements in a straight line. This allows me to provide an adequate amount of personal space between the students who need it and to give visual cues for where to stop and begin. The class schedule is also visual. I take pictures of the actual props we will use in the exercises and arrange them in a timeline that students can see at all times. As we complete each section, the visual cue is removed. This lets students see when their favorite part is coming up and also how much is left in the class.
- Use a variety of music. There is music that will draw out the creative mover in each one of us and it is good to ask your paraprofessionals about the students’ favorite music genre or artist as it can change the mood of the student and the whole class instantly. It is also good to know if you have students that are sensitive to certain sounds. In my class we explore all different styles, traditions, and tempos of music.
- Dance through transitions. In order to keep everyone engaged the entire time, I have created a way to have transitions as their own dance. For example, I play calm music and we do a balancing dance and balance the rubber spots on our bodies as we return them to me, and that balancing dance marks the transition to the next activity.
- Honor the students’ movements. Pick up the smallest movements that you see and amplify them; notice even the tics that someone has and use those in your lesson. This will make the students feel valued. If someone walks only on their tiptoes, have everyone do a transition dance between two activities on tiptoe. When you play someone’s favorite song and they can’t help but dance, follow their movements and see their face light up with pride. Become a student yourself and see everything as a possibility. Be open and ask questions from the people who know the students best, and have lots of fun dancing!
Silva Laukkanen is a teaching artist who focuses on community dance and bringing dance to non-traditional places for everyone to experience. She has been with VSA Texas since 2012.