5 Reasons to Attend the 2017 VSA Intersections Conference

There are lots of reasons to attend the Kennedy Center’s VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Brand New Content

We have tons of new sessions that you won’t want to miss! Here is sampling of what we have planned:

  • It Takes a Village: Inclusive Community Music Programming
  • Teaching Students with Disabilities Using Puppets
  • Blackness, Disability, and Higher Education
  • Using Art to Reach Students Who Have Experienced Trauma
  • The Power Of West African Drumming For Students With Disabilities
  • What’s New? A Fresh Look At Paraprofessionals And Peers As Support For Students With Disabilities

Browse the full schedule here.

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2. Keynote Speaker: Antoine Hunter

The Keynote address will challenge attendees to question how teacher perception of disability affects student expectations and to envision a classroom environment in which every student is empowered to achieve at high levels. In this address, Mr. Antoine Hunter—an award-winning African-American Deaf producer, choreographer, film/theater actor, dancer, dance instructor, model, poet, speaker, mentor, Deaf advocate, and the 2017 King of San Francisco Carnaval—will offer perspective from his own experiences as a Deaf artist and provide insights into how those experiences have shaped his current teaching practice.

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3. Get Inspired Before the New Year Begins

It’s the beginning of summer break and you just want to lay at the pool, spend time with your family, and rest your mind before the new school year begins. We know it’s hard to think ahead to the end of summer. But the VSA Intersections Conference is a great way to get re-energized and inspired, so you can bring new creative ideas to the 2017-2018 year.

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4. Grow Your Peer and Resources Network

Meet experts and newcomers to the field and grow your relationships with other educators passionate about arts education for students with disabilities. Everyone conference is a different experience and there are plenty of opportunities to mingle with other participants.

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5. Explore all that Austin has to Offer

A change of location can inspire you to think differently. Join us in Texas and explore all the art and creativity that it’s capital city has to offer. During the conference, you’ll hear from Austin-based arts organizations such as MINDPOP and VSA Texas.

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We hope you’ll be able to join us as we dig deeper into the critical relationship of arts and education through new content, an amazing keynote speaker, and plenty of learning and fun.  The 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference is taking place August 6-7, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Register by June 30 for the lowest rate.

VSA Intersections is a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program.

Promising Practices in Inclusive Dance Education at Australia’s Restless Dance Theatre

A dancer leaps across a dark stage while three other performers, all wearing red, watch.

Dancers Chris Dyke, Lorcan Hopper, Josh Campton, and Michael Hodyl of Restless Dance Theatre performs in Touched, a piece developed by the company’s Youth Ensemble. Photo: Andy Rasheed

Restless Dance Theatre describes its inclusive work as being “informed by disability.” The dance company, based in Adelaide, Australia, creates new works with its youth and senior ensembles, and conducts dance workshops for young people with and without disabilities. We spoke with Artistic Manager Roz Hervey about what makes Restless’ dance education programs work well for all students.

VSA and Accessibility: Can you cite some specific ways you adapt your Restless Central and Links workshops for students with disabilities?

Roz Hervey: We approach our workshops as we would approach our performances. Restless has developed a way of working where participants are given a series of creative challenges and asked to respond in movement. For example, we might ask two people to choose different ways to wrap themself around their partner’s body; the partner responds by removing him or herself from the wrap. Dance sequences are then built up from their responses. This produces unique, distinctive, and very striking dance through a process that nurtures the creative voices of the dancers.

Access requirements are built into the planning of the workshops. For example, when working with the South Australian School for Vision Impaired, the workshop used tactile props and a tactile border to define the space. We also engaged an audio describer to work with the creative team.

Your website specifically mentions that the youth ensemble and workshops are open to both students with and without disabilities. Can you talk a bit about the importance of the inclusive dance environment?

We embrace diversity and create an inclusive environment to be able to create real raw and uninhibited dance theatre. We don’t focus on people’s disability; instead, we highlight each individual’s unique personality and movement vocabulary.

How does Restless prepare their teachers for working in inclusive settings?

Every few years we run a Dot to Dot tutor training program (resource available online). Our tutors have usually started their journey with the company as one of our ensemble members, or have assisted our artistic director in the rehearsal room making a work. In all our workshops, we have a lead tutor, a senior tutor, and a tutor with disability. New tutors gain experience working with the lead tutor and eventually go on to lead workshops themselves. We encourage potential tutors to attend our Central workshop to gain knowledge about the company’s working methods.

Do you have any recommendations for arts organizations that want to make their education programming more inclusive of students with disabilities?

We would encourage organizations to have people with disabilities as part of planning sessions. Don’t be scared! Just ensure there is a positive and safe environment for everyone.

To learn more about Restless Dance Theatre, visit its website or follow the company on Facebook.

Combining Movement and Classical Music at the Australian Chamber Orchestra

A woman plays a cello while a teenage boy in a wheelchair touches it with his right hand.At the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), access and inclusion are core organizational values. Their triennial disability action plan is a major part of the strategic plan, and comprehensively sets goals for inclusion in every aspect of the organization’s work. This includes their signature education program for students with disabilities, ACO Move.

ACO Move is a series of sessions for young people with disabilities featuring movement and live music. ACO Customer Relations and Access Manager, Dean Watson, who has a background in dance, conceived of the program six years ago to offer adolescents with disabilities an arts learning opportunity with the Sydney-based string ensemble.

ACO Move takes place over five two-hour sessions, with a group of approximately ten young participants alongside program facilitators, a quartet of ACO musicians, and a percussionist. Each session begins with a welcome, warm up, and introductions, followed by a series of music and movement exercises. Watson says the facilitators plan many exercises to allow for flexibility in the sessions and “are prepared to adapt.”

Two teenage boys raise their arms in the air while musicians play violins.Watson says some of the student participants have never heard classical music before, and creating a “soundscape” helps to familiarize everyone. The percussionist brings instruments for the participants to use, and everyone works together to build up sound based on a given idea, such as a storm or wave. This builds a sense of community and trust among the group, says Watson, adding, “Everyone performs together, including the ACO musicians, and by the end we’ve created a new ensemble with a composition we can call our own!”

The sessions focus heavily on the theme of dynamics, and Watson and his collaborators use musical terminology like crescendo, diminuendo, staccato, rhythm, and rest to convey this idea. When a term is introduced, the ACO artists first demonstrate the concept musically. The facilitators then turn it into a movement, and the participants imitate and improvise, ultimately building a theatrical piece.

Tactile and sensory learning are also core components of the ACO Move sessions. Participants touch instruments at rest, lay on the ground while a cello is played, or hug a double bass while it is played. Watson also incorporates the sensory learning and soundscape creation as major parts of the ACO’s education sessions in primary and high schools for students with disabilities.

Young adults with disabilities dance to live classical music.Each year, Watson seeks to engage a guest artist with a disability to collaborate on the ACO Move program. The upcoming 2017 sessions will incorporate original compositions for string quartet by a young Australian composer with cerebral palsy. In 2016, the young writer and actor Emily Dash diarized the project and created original spoken word pieces to perform at the presentation day that concludes each ACO Move series.

According to Watson, ACO Move’s success can be attributed to the organization’s commitment to the program, from the administrators to the board to the musicians. He says, “When we invite people to participate [in ACO Move], we want them to feel as though they are part of the ACO family. This means they have access to everything in the building, can communicate freely with the musicians and staff, and feel like an equal part of the ensemble we create.” ACO is currently investigating opportunities to expand ACO Move through partnerships with arts and disability organizations, as well as with the venues in which the orchestra plays.

For more information, contact dean.watson@aco.com.au.

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.