Dance and Disability
Updated: Jul 20, 2019
Much has been written about the benefits of dance for people with physical disability and/or those with learning difficulties. It pretty much aligns with the benefits for anyone who dances: muscular strengthening, good social interaction, cardiovascular fitness, increased stamina, and stronger bones. What is less written about, are the benefits to teachers, who teach this group of dancers.
My daughter Kate, a very experienced practitioner in this field runs a lively dance collective called Family Thing in Brighton. These are a group of dancers with varying degrees of physical and mental challenges. One day she invited me to join her at class and what I saw was transformative. To see dancers dance with free expression, without the usual hang- ups that tend to plague the more conservative amongst us, was an absolute delight. The group was welcoming and keen to show off their skills, quickly inviting me to join them in their class. By the end of an hour I was completely stress free and very high into creative flow. Sometimes we restrict ourselves, and our creativity in an effort to look cool or to dance what we consider to be correct. Our focus is too inward and we are constantly thinking about how we might appear to others, to truly allow our bodies to move freely and to express ourselves. This inward self regulation restricts us, sometimes to the point of paralysing our actions. Not so for the dancers in this group. As the class progressed, Kate’s expert handling allowed the students to work to the best of their ability, to be the best that they can be.
At the end of the class Kate conducted a free expression circle. This is where a circle is formed and everyone is invited to dance in the middle of the circle whilst the others support them by clapping and cheering. Everyone went into the middle of the circle to dance their signature moves. For some this was limited by their physical ability to move but every person danced and the restrictions only meant that some had to be even more creative. I was invited to dance in the circle by one lad who then proceeded to twirl me round in a rhythmical Salsa to be really proud of. Everyone danced to the peak of their ability. I could see what the dancers got out of the class, the performances are there to be appreciated, but what was just as interesting was what the teachers, helpers and observers got from the dancers. The sense of freedom and fearless self expression from the dancers’ movements was powerful and an important lesson to us.
“They are awesome aren’t they” said Kate as we left the class with a smile on our faces. She got that right. When the teacher gets so much in return from the dancers, everything is as it should be.