Dance for children with additional needs is so important!
Why is dance so beneficial for all children, with and without special needs?
Dance is a wonderful form of self-expression, exercise and creativity. Many children love to move to music, it makes them happy. Dance traditionally transcends barriers of race, class, age and gender.Therefore, surely dance classes should be accessible to all children regardless of their additional needs?
Unfortunately, traditional dance teacher training does not equip dance teachers with the knowledge, understanding and confidence to teach children with additional needs. This is wrong, and upsetting, especially as dance can help children who have additional needs so much. I am in privileged position of being a professional trained ballet dancer and RAD registered ballet teacher, but, also a primary school teacher with experience of teaching children with special needs. The tiny toes teacher training programme fully equips our teachers to ensure children of all needs are catered for in our tiny toes classes. We deliver our programme to children with a variety of additional needs, including autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome aswell as delayed speech and understanding, very successfully and inclusively, on a weekly basis.
Dance helps children develop a sense of body awareness, it helps with confidence and social skills. Dance allows for creative expression, for individuality and provides exercise and healthy living. It can help those who struggle with language by presenting an opportunity to communicate without words. Dance allows room for creative thinking and the acceptance of varied concepts, it stimulates intellect. It can foster a sense of peace. Dance allows you to express the inner you in a fun, energetic and engaging way that is non-judgemental.
It is well researched by leading scientists that ‘activating the body more readily focusses and stimulates the mind’. When children are engaged with the world around them, they are more prepared to interact with it, learn from it, contribute to it. Dance is a vehicle that stimulates this engagement.
For children with special needs such as sensory processing disorder, autism or other socio-emotional or physical difficulties, enjoyable activities might be few and far between. Children with these needs might have a list of symptoms, including poor attention, difficulty interacting with their peers, limited body awareness, or trouble being in social situations that might be over stimulating. Participating and expressing themselves through dance can help children with special needs to overcome these difficulties.
Some children with sensory processing disorder or other similar difficulties may not understand where their bodies are in space or how to work their fine motor control muscles. They have motor delay. Through dance children become aware of the space around them and are given the opportunity to practise using their fine and gross motor control skills.
Dance is not just a physical activity, it is also a form of creative expression. Some children with special needs have great difficulty expressing themselves or understanding emotions. Dance gives children a chance to break out of their shells and express their emotions in a non-threatening and non-judgemental environment. Often during dance class children are required to dance or work in groups or pairs, they often give small demonstrations or performances in front of parents and their community, even in the dance class they are performing in front of each other. These activities also help children with special needs to gain confidence.
Despite society’s acceptance and the numerous programmes and support available to children with special needs, there is still a stigma associated with special needs. What better reasons to ensure that dance class are open and accessible to all children, regardless of their additional needs? After all, don’t these children, more so than others, need more opportunities to experience non-judgemental environments? One should also note that dance classes provide a lovely environment in which children without additional needs learn to accept and support others, whilst those with special needs can learn from their peers.
A teacher is someone who helps children acquire knowledge, skills and values. We as dance teachers have a duty to provide dance experiences to children of all abilities and needs. It is our responsibly to learn, adapt and modify what we offer in order to allow every child to get the best benefit from dance.