The world of dance encompasses a vast range of ages, abilities, dance forms/disciplines, classes, repertoire, and commitment. I believe that this is the beauty of dance – that it does and can encompass vast spectrum of forms. Most recently my teaching experience has come to incorporate more variations on ability than I had ever dreamed possible. Once a week there is a group of adults that gathers in a large studio and together we explore dance and movement through various sequences of movement. Each piece of music used is a crescendo from the previous, each movement becomes slightly more complex with each change of exercise. Posture, breath, strength, flexibility, sequences of movement, qualities of movement, and tandem movement, are developed alongside an ever-increasing giggle amongst the students. This group of adult students provides proof that with a positive outlook, laughter, perseverance, and sheer resilience anything can be achieved.
Cerebral Palsy (which generally classifies a broad range of limitations related to neurological function – unfortunately a bit of a catch-all term)
High muscle tone
Low muscle tone
Each one of the students in the class lives with one or more of these conditions ranging from low to high function. Some are wheelchair bound permanently, some only for specific activities, some use walkers and those who are able to walk often have limitations which affect their ability to command their stride. Some are non verbal yet have excellent comprehension, and some are behind developmentally ( young at heart!). At first glance each one has every reason to complain about their situation, to soak it in, and let it consume them, and yet they do not. There is an acceptance and an acknowledgement of what is and an understanding of possibility [and everything is possible]. There is no negativity, no egos, the occasional frustration sneaks in but is quickly eased with the supportive laughter of the group and their ability to lighten the mood. Nothing but a willingness to try their best and an increasing openness to push themselves a little further than they did the last week. When they are having a bad day [physically] they simply work through it as best they can.
When we began the program my goal was to provide an atmosphere where the students could explore dance without barriers, without limits. Having limited knowledge of individual circumstances I had no idea what to expect, and so I worked to approach my teaching without the usual barriers and expectations as well, working to ‘go with the flow’ and explore the abilities of each person. At first when I attempted to guide them through an exercise which required them to explore drawing lines in the space I was met with a look that said ‘she wants us to do what?’. Two years later we are exploring ways to challenge our balance, how to control our limbs in focused, controlled motion, connecting to other dancers in the room, and creating shape and lines with our bodies in new ways. Accompanying their movements is Debussy, Yo-Yo Ma, the Beatles, Jamiroquai, Edgar Meyer, Bobby McFerrin, and so many more.
Regardless of the stress of the day the hour spent with these students is full of laughter and the exploration of what CAN be accomplished within the different abilities of each individual. They are inspiring!
We assume that prerequisites of dance are artistry, technique, and a specific ‘ideal’ physique. This group of individuals has shown me that ultimately dance [and art] requires only one thing of us – to be present. To simply be present in the moment, in our bodies, in the class, and in the music. HOW we move our bodies does not matter – what matters is having the courage to be present, to take a risk, and to trust ourselves and our bodies to push beyond perceived barriers or limits [societal, traditional, or imagined].
To be continued…