Saturday, 12 May 2018

Teaching Dance with Support for Participants with Autism, ADHD or Depression




“Adult praise, focused attention that communicates approval and positive regard … is an abundantly available natural resource that is (all too often) greatly underutilised.” 

Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham



Dance has the potential to support every learner in a variety of ways, including people dealing with several common mental challenges that affect many nowadays, including Autism, ADHD or depression. Unless asked, participants may be reluctant to share this information with the instructor, so it is often left unspoken. In any dance class, the teacher may have participants living with these circumstances, so it is important to be aware of, and understand more about these conditions.

Teachers can benefit from having some awareness of Autism and by teaching with compassion. Knowing that a participant has Autism is helpful for the teacher, so together, student and teacher can build their relationship with this insight. For teachers, it is respectful to maintain the confidentiality of the student's specific condition, whether given verbally as part of an introductory chat or via a confidential section on the enrolment form.

Dance is temporal, happening in real time. Emotions and mental elements play a key role in the learning process, and with a clearer understanding of Autism, ADHD or depression, less misunderstanding will arise between the teacher and student. As body and mind are connected in dance, the participant’s sense of “integrated self” can indeed serve to support them as they move through life. Remember, they are already dealing with their own process, and these conditions, especially depression, are particularly difficult to live with. Yet dance can be a positive, supportive force in their lives.

Autism is one of the most rapidly expanding categories of ‘disability’. It profoundly affects four areas of development: language, socialisation, sensory, and motor skills. The term Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is used to indicate that there are different types and degrees of symptoms associated with this disorder. Participants with ASD often have problems with attention and eye contact and have significant problems interacting with others. Signs of Autism may show up in movement patterns, such as rocking or fidgeting, or with repeating verbalisations or activities.


Dance students with Autism often have a strong preference for routines but may have problems with transitions and directional movement. Subsequent behavior difficulties such as distress can result from confusion or anxiety.
You can minimise these by providing well-structured dance activities with clear instruction and giving advance notice of transitions. It is also helpful to pre-frame the class content, and provide a program or schedule so participants know when activities are being scheduled. People with ASD are often visual learners, and it is important to support verbal instructions with imagery and modelling. Clear notes with images are also useful. Despite proficiency with language, participants with ASD may have difficulty in using and interpreting nonverbal behaviors, such as facial expressions and body language, as well as conventions such as taking turns to do movements in class, individually. As a teacher, you support students to develop their understanding of nonverbal communication, and spatial movement by being clear in your own intentions, and verbalise rather than assume people are ‘reading’ your body language signals.


ADHD or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a common disabling condition that adversely affects learning. It is characterised by inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. Participants may have difficulty with following directions and may be easily distracted. Participants with ADHD may have difficulty waiting and often blurt out answers or interrupt, causing interpersonal problems within the class with those who are less tolerant. Dance activities that emphasise body control, musicality and focusing on changes between fast and slow, help support balance and foster a sense of self-control.

Depression is distinguished from ordinary sadness by the intensity and duration of symptoms. Psycho-physical complaints such as frequent headaches and stomachaches, irritability, and restlessness are common in adults who are depressed, or they may be lethargic, or have distressing ideas that they dwell on. People who are depressed may sleep or eat too little or too much, and are often withdrawn. Dance is a good way for people with depression to ‘get out of their mind and back into their body’ so as a teacher, encourage the student to move, but avoid pushing them to perform or do solos where they may feel vulnerable. Allowing people to go at their own pace and also letting people know that are free to leave at anytime, and will not be judged, is a useful way of keeping the environment safe. I have found that a focus on musicality before technique is beneficial for students prone to depression, as is the study of Somatics - dancing that is felt from within.


Several core principles may assist the Teacher with their relationship with their students dealing with Autism, ADHD or depression:


#1: Meet every student at their current level of learning, and move them toward achievement with realistic progress. Students with disabilities deserve the same high expectations for their own appropriate levels of achievement.

#2: Create a caring relationship in a structured setting, with the understanding that in our art form, there is a therapeutic aspect to our work. We have the opportunity to reinforce positive behaviors, social interactions, and help our students improve their self-image.

#3: Be aware of appropriate boundaries: over-involvement and ambiguous relationships are not helpful to students’ growth. It is important to maintain professionalism, especially when responding to challenging behavior. Do not take students’ behavior personally. Appropriate boundaries enable dance educators to be firm, fair, and respectful. Managing our students’ behavior starts with managing ourselves.

#4: Teach with clarity - articulate body parts, shapes and actions. Utilise tools such as imagery and motif symbols to represent and remember dance experiences. Descriptive language helps distinguish between contrasting movements, both as performer and observer. By making connections between dance concepts and the world outside the classroom, participants become more deeply aware of personal space and its relation to safety and well-being.


"Most importantly... Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don't be mean!"




To conclude, here is a Dance Activity Benchmark chart I have found very useful, by Sandra Stratton-Gonzalez.




By Keti Sharif (May 2018)

Thanks to Dr Delmonte, 
Sandra Stratton-Gonzalez, Blueprint for Dance NTC Education, Paul L King, Joan Finkelstein.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Creating Dance Products and Resources



Hi everyone,

I thought I’d talk a little about ‘creating a product or resource’ as an integral part of your dance teaching or event production. Many dancers who teach, or have an interest in a specific topic, are quite capable of creating a resource that can be of benefit to others. Even starting with a small audience, your product can become a useful addition to your dance enterprise, whether you run a weekly class or if dance related work is something you do full time, as a career. The creation of products and resources can also generate extra income, whilst enhancing your own collection of resources.

It may be useful to re-frame how you see a product fitting into your artistic creations, and view it as:

1. An extension of your research and knowledge;

2. A way to clarify and propagate your vision;

3. A means of facilitating the educational process;

4. An educational resource or tool that provides opportunity for a more intensive learning experience.

A ‘product’ or ‘resource’ needn’t be commercial in nature, and in reality it doesn't need to sell massive quantities to be effective and successful. Many teachers use products and resources to supplement their live, real-time connectivity with people, to bring a new dimension to their student’s educational experience, and to supplement the developmental progress of students, participants and audience progress, through various forms of media.
It is through refining an idea or concept, that the product or resource is created, packaged and delivered for the student’s benefit. The dictionary meaning of product is: “An article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale”. The meaning of resource: “A source of help or information”. 

Products and resources can be inspired by the artist’s original ideas, or consist of innovative amalgams of various teaching methodologies, and usually reflect years of intensive research. These tools for productivity can be extremely functional for both the creative development of the artist/producer as well for their audience. Creating a good quality, original product is a way of archiving your work and giving you the means to share it with a wider audience. These items are useful, take-home works that support a class, workshop, concept or event. They provide a means of formally gathered information that references class themes and content, giving the student or viewer an opportunity integrate the learning more fully. Ownership of some kind of support material is often imperative to the full learning experience.

A product can be a stand-alone concept, or be an offshoot of your teaching, following though a specific line of enquiry or area of interest. Stand-alone products can offer clarity and insight into an area that requires further study, and perhaps venture into new territory for both you and your audience. Post-event, useful product media supplies definitive information that may have not been fully absorbed during the event. We often see this phenomenon wit the rapid learning that occurs during workshops or festivals, where the class is very exciting, yet the participant fails to retain information that seemed vital at the time.  This is because the nervous system can only process one thing at a time, and overload of information is common in the live experience.

Following a live class, course, workshop or exhibit, this additional material can be very useful. Usually, the products that work best are not those that simply recreate a learnt choreography, or re-hash the workshop content, but give the student an inroad into their own creative exploration. Students gain proficiency in creating and composing. They can experience deeper levels of discovery through material that extends their learning pathway. From discovering more about the spontaneity of improvisation and exploration of dance movement, to the formal structuring of movements into performance, there are many ways students can experience the interplay between creative process and creative products.

Copyright is an important issue to consider, as music is usually required. Gaining the artist’s permission in writing, promoting the artist in lieu of use of their music, and providing a link to their resources is a fair way of working with music if you don't have a budget for the outright payment and ownership of the tracks. Alternatively you can create your own music, electronically or live, or get it composed for a fee, and even hire musicians to play live to work within the project guidelines. If working with concepts, be sure to contact and credit the person who brought forth the original idea, and of course be sure to be clear on permission and guidelines.

Drafting your work in terms of title, aims, production phases, timeline of events and final delivery method is essential from the onset. It's a good idea to have a notebook dedicated just to the single production topic, as here are more factors that appear, than we initially envisage, with any project of this nature. 
The process is ideally clear and focused on a topic without digressing too much, as digression can lead to a watered down version of an otherwise powerful topic. Niches tend to work in the dance product world, whether they pertain to genre, style or creative or cultural influence.

If you have your materials, and have planned your phases to stay on track with incremental mini-goals and deadlines, the project unfolds relatively easily. Determining the delivery method in the early stages will assist with your overall planning strategy. Sometimes you will find that you need more time, so rather than rush a project, it is better backtrack, to slow the process and do it properly. The start up is the fun part, when enthusiasm propels you, but the follow through will often become tedious, as after the initial excitement, media projects inevitably take a certain amount of time, energy and focus to finalize. After the product is finished, the delivery must be tested properly before launch. These days digital delivery has a wider outreach, although hard copy resources like cds, dvds and books are still popular at live events and for those who prefer a tangible object. Notify your audience, and celebrate the launch of your creative new offering.


Keti