By Portia Abernathy, M.Ed., M.A.
Creating an environment for high-quality, inclusive dance education requires preparation, flexibility, and creativity. These tips for creating an inclusive dance experience aim to help educators offer excellent arts learning opportunities to every student.
- Shift Your Mindset – When working with inclusive populations, it is important to remember that the unique needs of our students are not barriers. Our students don’t need to change who they are, how they learn, or how they communicate to participate in dance. It is up to us to creatively adjust how we teach, what we teach, and where we teach to make sure all students can access our instruction and meaningfully participate in the dance experience.
- Use Inclusive Language – The words we use matter and set the tone for our instruction, programs, and institutions. It is best to use language that is inclusive, strengths-based, emotionally neutral, and that places the individual before his/her disability, label, or diagnoses.
- Conduct Intake Interviews – Each dancer you work with will have unique needs. Conducting intake interviews with all new students and families will help you get a sense of who they are, how they move, how they learn, and what they need before you start dancing together. Make sure to ask about communication, behavior, physical, and sensory needs as well as preferences, motivators, and interests.
- Make Time for Free Dance – It may sound like all fun and games, but including free dance time in each class can be very meaningful. Free dance time allows students to apply and demonstrate what they have learned in an authentic and personal way. Free dance can promote choice, independence, self-expression, creativity, and artistry. It can also help build audience skills and empathy while students wait for their turn to dance.
- Incorporate Props – Props can be very useful for creating structure and making movement accessible for all dancers.
Chairs: Seated formations can be containing and grounding for students; seated exercises can help build strength while avoiding fatigue, and chairs can help create a sense of inclusion and equity for dancers who use wheel chairs or mobility devices.
Rubber Floor markers: Star or circle shaped floor markers can help identify assigned places, formations, pathways to travel along, and can help make movement or music patterns visible for dancers.
Scarves: Scarves can help dancers who are apprehensive to move (sometimes it is easier to move an object instead of your body) and are great for helping students increase the fluidity of their movement.
Portia Abernathy, M.A., M.Ed., is Assistant Director of Education and Community Initiatives at Boston Ballet, where she oversees accessible and inclusive dance education and professional development programs. A former special education teacher, she is a presenter at the 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference.