Dance ED Tip #75: How Dance Teachers Can Make Their Classroom More Inclusive

August 6, 2019 - Tiffany Geigel

A child with a disability will, more than likely, not notice they are different. It is not until the bullying starts or the “why do you look like that” questions start to arise do we notice, "ahhh something is wrong with me." Society and people are the ones to tell us, “Something is wrong with you. You’re different. You can’t do things like us." Then, when we go out into the world we are set aside from everyone else and told that we can't be part of the group, that we are a burden because they have to now modify or make room for us.

When a non-disabled child comes into your class for the first time it's usually no big deal. When a child with a disability comes to your class for the first time tons of questions may arise in your mind. You may be a little uncomfortable (maybe not but, we can usually tell). There might be an awkward sense in the classroom. Why is that? That should not be the case. The child with a disability should be welcomed into the class just as everyone else was. There's no need to feel weird or stressed out because now you think you need to change your entire curriculum for this child. No, that's a huge big no! Unless the child has an intellectual disability there's no need to change anything. Teach your class as you usually would. Allow the child to explore his/her own body and ability. Do not use the word "modify". Do not give everyone a movement task and then give the child with a disability a completely different task or say "do what you can". I hated that as a woman in college. Yes, college!

I was trained by Rita Hamilton and Julie Ann Miranda since I was a child. Not once did they ever exclude me or make me feel different, I never felt that I couldn't do anything. They never modified anything for me as a child. In college though my dance teachers would tell me modify the movement. That was so uncomfortable and I felt so left out and different. I hated every minute of class.

Instead, allow the child to try the movement and let them decide whether they can do it or not. If comments arise due to children being children, have a sit down conversation with the entire class about everyone being different and how that's okay because everyone - and I mean everyone - looks different from one another. Just look around you. Unless you have an identical twin (and even then!) there is no one else who looks exactly like you. Have that open dialogue with your dancer. It's okay to talk about it. We are actually more receptive to talking than you think. Afraid we will be uncomfortable? Avoiding it, not talking about it and shushing children, that is what makes us uncomfortable.