Inclusive Dance Approach

by Anna Vekiari

THEAMA Inclusive Theater / Exis Dance Company, Greece

“Disability is the restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organization which takes no or little account of people who have physical (and or cognitive, developmental, mental ) impairments, and thus excludes them from mainstream society”.

Mike Oliver – Sociologist, author and disabled activist for disability rights

Society is obliged to create accessible environments and give people with disabilities opportunities to share and develop their potential. Dance is an embodied experience that reflects our individual personal stories. Dance is about expressing ourselves, about creating, about learning our bodies potential for movement, regardless of the speed or the size of movement.

 

The CONTACT project creates such an accessible environment and considers disability as a potential, not as an obstacle that needs to be overcome. We have created method sheets about accessibility along with some inclusive techniques of approaching dance in order to become accessible for all bodies. CONTACT dance is a reflection of how we would like our society to be.

 

Let’s highlight some important elements that facilitators need to have in mind for an inclusive class, “ covering material as well as pedagogical considerations of accessibility.”

Phase 1:
To get in the dance floor

Before organizing a dance class, ensure that the space or venue is fully accessible. 

The following check-list will help you think of different aspects of accessibility.

  1. Arrival at the building

Does the car stop at the entrance?
Are there accessible parking areas?
Is there a sufficient number of disabled parking spaces in relation to the size of the building?
Do you have parking spots near the entrance?
Is the access path leading to the entrance free?

 

 

  1. Entrance

Does the building have a step-by-step entrance?
Is the potential ramp implemented in accordance with the regulations?
Is the potential lift / level hoist designed in accordance with the regulations?
Are there any free space required for a wheelchair’s turning radius in front of the doors? (The minimum size of turning is about 1500 x 1500 mm).
Is a possible staircase of the stairs embedded in the ground / floor?
Is the user of a wheelchair able to open the door and run it?
Is mobility safe?
Is the ease of navigation taken into account in planning?
Does the staff assist, for example, when moving or sitting in the doors, and providing the aids available?

 

 

  1. Moving in the building

Are there any aids for moving, such as a wheelchair, roller or stroller?
Are all rooms with unobstructed access (not stairs / stairs)?
Is the potential ramp implemented in accordance with the regulations?
Is the potential lift / level hoist designed in accordance with the regulations?
Is there at least one wheelchair access door to each room? (min. width 80 cm.)
Do you have sufficient space, for example, in the space required for a wheelchair’s turning radius? (The minimum size of turning is about 1500 x 1500 mm).
Is mobility safe?
Is the ease of navigation taken into account in planning?
Are there toilets and dressing rooms suitable for people with mobility impairment or using a wheelchair?

Phase 2:
on the dance floor - pedagogical accessibility

It is good to start in a circle, especially for the first class, and give the opportunity to each participant to introduce themselves and maybe share anything the group needs to know in order to dance safely together. If the person cannot speak, then a personal assistant can represent them.

1. USE OF LANGUAGE

An important aspect in creating an inclusive environment is the language that the facilitator uses during the class in order to make the instructions suitable for all.

For example:

  • If you have wheelchair users in class choose verbs like ‘travel’ or ‘move’ around the space instead of ‘walk’.
  • For blind dancers choose expressions like “Turn your head from one side to the other” instead of “Look around the space”.
  • For sensory impaired dancers sometimes you may need to be careful with the sound levels.
  • When you work with specific instructions like fast, slow, pause etc your approach could be, for example: ‘Find a stillness – whatever stillness means for you’. 
2. COMMON DENOMINATOR

The facilitator needs to identify the common denominators of each group by observing what abilities are common to all. 

 

“Common denominators are the movement, communication and learning possibilities accessible to everyone within the group. The common denominators determine the avenues the whole group can follow to explore as many elements of improvisation as possible.”
(DanceAbility Method)

 

This information will help the facilitator organize the dance activities according to all abilities. That will ensure that everybody is included and connected. 

3. INTERPRETATION

Interpretation is a basic tool to build and work in an inclusive dance class (technique or improvisation). The facilitator needs to guide the participants in learning how to interpret certain movements that cannot be performed in the same way as others in an inclusive class. 

For example: 

  • How a wheelchair dancer interprets the quality of jumping.
  • How the different levels of moving are translated by each individual,
  • How a person who cannot turn around his own axis, can interpret a turn in another way.

 

 

 

 Some notes for different abilities about safety and content accessibility.

For wheelchair users, it is good to talk about safety before starting a dance class. Dancers who use wheelchairs can inform the class about how much weight the wheelchair can bear, where the brakes are, if the wheelchair can roll back e.t.c

It is also important that when we dance with a person using a wheelchair, we relate to the person first, and not to the wheelchair.

 

Deaf person

We need to have sign language interpretation.

 

Blind person 

The facilitator needs to spend some time with the blind participant before class, help them walk in the space and feel safe before dancing with the group. If this is not possible, the facilitator can have a support team or an assistant to help the blind person learn the space before the class starts. Another, more creative, solution is for the facilitator to choose to begin the class in pairs with exercises that focus on exploring space together.

 

Limited mobility 

It is a common denominator. The facilitator needs to guide the group to take responsibility, to learn how to communicate and appropriately mobilize the person in the wheelchair. It is also important that the facilitator guides the disabled person to ask for help or mobilization whenever needed.