“Finding ballet gave me passion for the first time in my life. I was always very shy and just wanted to fit in; I never day dreamed about what I wanted to be when I grew up. But dancing gave me a connection to my personality that made me grow.” Misty Copeland – American Ballet Theatre
Lately I’ve seen lots of pictures of beautiful little girls with Down syndrome doing ballet. I have tried to put my girls in as many activities as I could. Living in a military community provided us with a variety of activities through our local Moral, Welfare and Recreation programs (MWR). So when my youngest turned three, we started ballet lessons.
Being sensitive to the challenge that having a child with special needs presents to a teacher, I wanted to talk with the teacher first to see what we could do to include our daughter into the class.
Little did I know that the instructor was also a military mom and our husbands served in the same unit. Kim, our dance teacher, was so excited that we would consider bringing our daughter for lessons. She had experience teaching children with special needs and said she would love having both girls in the same class to make it easy for me.
That was our first incursion in dance. The benefits went beyond just the physical activity.
It seems to me that going to dance class is a rite of passage for many girls here in the States, so when the teacher is willing to work with you, your child with special needs gets to do things that her peers are doing at the same age. Nobody expects 3 year old girls to be perfect on stage, but the friendships and giggles that happen during the class are real. The happiness and smiles the girls share when the put on their leotards, slippers and tutus and twirl around are very real.
Following directions, listening and doing a new skill is how we all learn. From the moment they are in a studio or in a class they are exposed to art, music, movement and discipline as well as becoming part of a team. They learn to do by doing which is part of the fun of dance classes.
Part of the benefits of dance comes from learning coordination, balance, and learning new ways in which to move their bodies. These activities may be challenging for some of our kids with disabilities, but since we are all learning, it doesn’t seem to matter if we are doing it right at this point. As the teacher goes around to check and ensure that the movements are done right, the child and the muscles learn how to do it right. This repetition and correction is what is so wonderful and beneficial when you have a child that has physical challenges. When I talked to our physical therapist about this, she encouraged me to continue to do this as much as we could. Disciplines like ballet promote deep muscle toning that will benefit the student for years if followed.
The children will also learn new positions and steps as well as learn balance and how to control their bodies as they move. I loved when my girls got home and would try to teach me the new movements or steps they learned. They kept moving all the time which is what we want them to do, this encourages them to have an active life.
According to dance educators, as children adjust to the movements and postures that are required in dance, they begin to feel better about their bodies and themselves. Within time they begin to feel more comfortable, likewise their confidence and self-esteem also improves. Some professionals also suggest that this can be particularly beneficial for children who are physically or mentally challenged or who are attempting to deal with significant emotional problems.
One of the hardest things for a child with special needs is to be considered part of a team. When a child takes dance lessons or belongs to a dance studio, the end of year goal is to do a recital or a presentation. Keeping this in mind, the teacher prepares choreography to give the children a place to shine. This means that all children are part of a team and this knowledge will develop a sense of trust and cooperation. I have shared before that one of the things my girls wanted to know before we moved to a new location was if there was a dance studio. That knowledge alleviated the anxiety about new places and new people, the kids they would meet would already have something in common with them.
We know that not everyone gets to be a prima ballerina; however, becoming a skilled performer takes practice, disciple and hard work. The one thing my girls teacher’s kept telling us was that the skills learned in ballet are useful for other forms of dancing like tap or jazz if they want to take that up later. They also get learn from different cultures, countries and people from around the world. There are many studies that show that children who study music and dance do better in school, have higher SAT scores as well as perform better in science and math competitions.
No matter why you want your children to learn dance, dance gave my girls something to do together regardless of their age and ability. For me as a mom and an advocate, it gave me another opportunity to teach other moms about my beautiful daughter and what she could do despite her disability.
Alma Dolores Dance – http://almadoloresdance.com/