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  1. #1
    Member onela's Avatar
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    Default Working with students in wheelchairs- need advice!

    After resigning myself to understanding that I'd be a keen intermediate forever and deciding not to spend so much time working towards trying to work towards dancing in a troupe or something, and shifting my focus to fitness instruction (which I am sincerely good at and RIDIC enjoying!), I find myself- get this- teaching belly dance! A former instructor of mine recently took a new job that involves a lot of travel; she wasn't able to commit to the spring session and after consultation with another instructor (whom we have both studied with, and also used to teach this specific class), she thought of me and asked me to take the class.

    I am *very* flattered and grateful for the opportunity. Teaching has made me bring up my game for my at-home practice, and flex other dance-muscles, like choreography brain. Generally speaking, I'm having a blast.

    BUT.

    In my beginner class, I have a participant in a wheelchair. She tried to take the previous instructor's winter class, but didn't finish the whole session because even though she lives nextdoor to the recreation centre, poor snow removal prevented her from attending the whole session; she expressed to me that the few classes she'd done previously until the snow fell, she left in *tears*, frustrated with trying to figure out how to be a wheelchair-using bellydance student.

    My first class, I made it perfectly clear that to me, all bodies are good bodies; my class is body-positive, and it takes heart and soul to be a dancer. We all have different ability levels, our level of mobility may or may not be apparent to each other, and that I am committed to facilitating the very best "learn to bellydance" class that I can. (all bodies are good bodies and my class is body-positive is what I express to any and all new participants in *anything* I teach, from my aerobics classes, my bellyfit classes, my interval class for competitive figure skaters- I mean *everybody*. It's important to me, working in women's fitness, to talk the talk and walk the walk on that one- I would have said it no matter who was standing in front of me for the first class.)

    For the first few weeks when we've focused more on technique, it's been easy to make sure everybody had some stuff to work on where they were challenged, and stuff where they feel awesome at what we're doing; for technique, I try to teach similar kind of movements for upper body, then lower body (for example, I taught chest circles, then we practiced them to music; I taught hip circles, and most students worked on those, except said participant in a wheelchair, who still had our chest circles that she could keep working on). Now, we are moving on to our beginner choreography, which I have inherited from the previous instructor. I feel that my participant in a wheelchair is a little frustrated with the choreography.

    What I want to know is if anybody here on the forum has worked with participants in wheelchairs, and if you can recommend any resources on how to adapt choreography for dancers with limited mobility/wheelchair users to make sure that NOBODY leaves dance class in tears. I absolutely, sincerely believe that all my ladies can continue to enjoy dance, even my participant in a wheelchair; but my brain is struggling with how to adapt this pre-existing choreography and I haven't been teaching dance long, so I don't have much experience to draw upon. Basically, I am looking for any and all advice regarding working with dance students of literally all levels of mobility.

  2. #2
    Moderator Darshiva's Avatar
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    Depending on what your choreography is you have a few options.

    First is: don't change it. Have her either remain stationary for the travelling steps or move in the same direction as the rest of the class - but let her choose which one.
    Second is: change directions. Split the class in half and have half going left and half going right for footwork and have her remain stationary doing the focal point thing.
    Third one is: Write a new choreography with her in mind.

    If your class performs, her difference will make her visually the centre of attention. If your class doesn't perform, it doesn't really matter from a visual perspective. But the best person to talk to about the choreography is the student, as she knows her body & level of mobility best.

  3. #3
    Member onela's Avatar
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    I teach at a rec centre and we don't have a student recital/showcase/hafla, in future, I might try to do some networking to offer intermediates performance opportunities at other studio's shows or something, so performance isn't currently an issue, but if she continues on with me, it might be in future. Thanks!

  4. #4
    Moderator Farasha Hanem's Avatar
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    A couple of things that you might find inspirational: go to YouTube and look up Glee's performance numbers. One of the characters is in a wheelchair, and he's right in there dancing choreo with the rest of the group. Also look up the seventh (???) season of America's Best Dance Crew. One of the groups who participated, the 787 crew, had one member who had an accident during rehearsal, but came back later that season, performing in a wheelchair. Hang on, let me see if I can find the video of his comeback, I'll be right back...

    EDIT: Here it is!



    In fact, I looked up "Wheelchair Dancing," and my search pulled up a nice list of videos; hopefully they will give you a lot of inspiration! Even though the videos aren't bellydance, I hope they help you as a teacher to meet the challenge of teaching students with special needs. Also, check out Shira's site, I think she has an article or two about dancing and disability. I wish you and your student ALL the best in the world---many, MANY cyber hugs!!! <3<3<3
    Last edited by Farasha Hanem; 05-13-2013 at 11:07 AM.

  5. #5
    Member onela's Avatar
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    I have had Artie in mind since we started out Thanks for the video Farasha, I'm on again/off again with ABDC so I have not seen that before.

    Anyhow, class went very well tonight; per suggestions in the thread here, I didn't change choreography, but made sure to address modifications for my participant in a wheelchair more directly (which I didn't do last week for fear of seeming- I don't know- insensitive? Drawing unnecessary attention to her?). It's a beginner choreography, so it hasn't been hard to adapt, really. There were a lot more smiles by the end of beginner belly dance tonight than last week. So that's great! :3

    That said, I am still soliciting for any information that anybody might like to share about working with dance students with disabilities/in wheelchairs, so if anybody has any favourite resources, journal articles, anything, please share! I think it'd be fantastic for us to have a tight thread with lots of awesome resources for this topic.

  6. #6
    Moderator Amulya's Avatar
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    Is she able to wheel herself around? In case you have incorporated travelling steps she wouldn't have to stay in the same spot but could wheel around. Or even have another dancer do it for her? That way her part is more dynamic.

  7. #7
    Member onela's Avatar
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    I offered both options to her, while we're doing walking hip slides, since we do them back the other direction too, she opted to to a chest slide on the spot but when they know the dance a bit better and don't need me in the front row demonstrating and calling moves, I might offer an assist so she can do her chest slides moving with us, too. Some combos she travels, others she stays in the spot and does an upper body isolation instead.

  8. #8
    V.I.P. shiradotnet's Avatar
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    Can you teach the class how to play finger cymbals to accompany themselves on the choreography? That way, your disabled student can play cymbals along with the group even when they're doing a move she can't do.

    Maybe you can also get some ideas from this video. I haven't seen it myself, but it sounds like something that might be useful to you: Amazon.com: Chair Aerobics for Everyone - Chair Bellydance: Ronit Amaya, Bruce and Andrea King, Andrea King and Ronit Amaya: Movies & TV

  9. #9
    Member onela's Avatar
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    Hi Shira, I haven't been on the forum for a long time but I wanted to thank you for your advice The student in question was in a beginner class, and teaching them finger cymbals as well as getting them started in dance would have been a bit much (8 or 10 week session in a rec centre, not really enough time for it all). Good idea to check out chair fitness though- the instructor that taught me my group fitness certification teaches chair fit, I'll ask her if I can shadow a class!

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