Dancing During A Pandemic: Benefits of Ballet for Special Needs Children
During this pandemic we have seen so many restrictions and limited opportunities for exercise and extracurricular activities. As a result, we have seen families embracing online classes in order to keep their children engaged, stimulated and fit. Have you thought about ballet? Dance is a wonderful form of self-expression, exercise, and creativity. Many children love to move to music, it makes them happy.
I am in the 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 and down syndrome as well 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-judgmental.
It is well researched 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 difficulties, autism and other socio-emotional or physical difficulties, enjoyable activities might tricky to find. Children with these needs might have 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 difficulties 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-judgmental 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.
Try These Dance Exercises
Join in with these three lovely dance exercises at home! Remember you can adapt as you wish; for example, if the teacher is using her feet and you are sitting down, then make the same movement with your elbows or wrists. Dance is a form of self-expression there is no right or wrong just be YOU!
FREE 8-week Lockdown Programme for Everyone
As a company, tiny toes ballet is currently offering a FREE 8-week Lockdown programme for everyone. We have classes based on different topics such as animals, superheroes, under the sea, etc., and the programme covers so many engaging activities including drama, dance, singing and cooking. See the full programme here.
For me, the best thing about being involved in inclusive dance is seeing the children happy and knowing that we are making them feel normal. A lot of children, especially older children, understand that they are different, but we are giving them the opportunity to undertake dance, an activity that has in the past has been impossible for them. This is a big relief for parents and carers too, who are looking for exciting activities that both inspire their children and will help to keep them fit. Many have said our program is a breath of fresh air.
I passionately believe that ballet and dance is for everyone: everyone has a right to dance! It has so many benefits but not only that dance is proven to make you happy which we all need right now. Give it a go at home with tiny toes ballet and, when lockdown is lifted, please do get in touch - we are launching a specially-written ‘inclusive programme’ across the UK and we’d love to welcome as many people as possible to our physical ‘inclusive programme’ as soon as it is safe to do so. We are on a mission to share our love of dance, and the happiness dance creates, with everyone!
BA (Hons) PGCE ARAD Paradance trained teacher