Dance Teacher Tips
Participants in the Croi Glan Integrated Dance Training Workshop improvise a "satellite score." Photo by Rachel Caldwell

I recently had the pleasure of attending, not one, but two workshops on teaching integrative dance. The first was a six-day intensive in February with Cork, Ireland–based Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company. The second was a three-hour workshop last night with Oakland, California–based AXIS Dance Company. Both companies are made up of dancers with and without physical disabilities. In these workshops, I learned tools for teaching dance to physically and intellectually disabled populations. Here are some of the do's and don'ts.

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Connecticut’s Greenwich Ballet Academy now offers free adaptive ballet classes for children with Down’s syndrome. Seventeen-year-old student Olivia Thurman created the program after seeing video footage of ballerina Keenan Kampa working with Boston Ballet’s adaptive-dance program. Inspired by what she saw, Thurman underwent training in adaptive-dance pedagogy at Boston Ballet and then held GBA’s first workshop last summer. The initial workshop was a success, and GBA has since added regular adaptive classes to its schedule. Students learn basic body positions and ballet terminology and develop strength, balance, coordination and social skills through classical ballet components and improvisational exercises.

Olivia Thurman (left) teaches a free adaptive ballet class at Greenwich Ballet Academy.

Photos: by Keelin Daly (for Hearst Connecticut Media), courtesy of Greenwich Ballet Academy

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The ballroom teacher who lost her foot in last spring’s Boston Marathon bombings captivated the nation with her vow to dance again. A Pittsburgh studio is giving other amputees that chance with an adaptive dance program.

Pittsburgh Dance Center co-owner Holly Kirby came up with the idea after an elderly man with a cane came into the studio and asked if she could teach him to dance. At the time, she’d offered him information on private lessons, but he never returned. Not long after that, in 2012, Embrace Dance Project was born.

Kirby enlisted the help of her husband and studio co-owner Anthony Kirby, a doctor who specializes in pain management, to develop the program. Registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Embrace Dance offers free ballroom dance classes twice a month to people with amputated limbs or severe gait problems.

Students attend to work on their balance, learn a new skill or simply to socialize. “I always wanted to try ballroom dancing,” 28-year-old Ivy Patterson told local newspaper The Almanac. She had her left leg amputated in 2011 due to a staph infection. “When I found out about this, it was a pleasant surprise. It’s a relaxed environment, and you get to meet and talk to new people.”

Students can bring their own partners or dance with volunteers. Attendance can include anywhere from 10 to 30 people. The studio’s website displays the slogan, “Dance! Because it’s cheaper than therapy.” Anthony told The Almanac, “It is therapy, but it’s not a support group. It’s a life group.”

Photo by Julia Rendleman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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