That feeling of belonging. The sense that you’re no different than anyone else. Dance is one of those beautiful hobbies that lets you forget about your worries, and escape into the rhythm, if only for a few moments. This article explains the importance of offering dance classes for individuals with special needs. It could be just what you’ve been looking for to fill your studio hours while also offering an outlet that is so rewarding for the individual, their family, and the community.
If you’re a dance studio manager thinking about offering special needs dance classes in your studio, you’ll want to know a few things up front. First, the benefits of the classes for individuals with special needs. Second, what you’ll need to do in order to be able to offer these types of classes. And finally, how to get the word out about your classes.
The Benefits of Special Needs Dance Classes
There are many benefits for individuals with special needs to participate in dance classes. These benefits include, but aren’t limited to:
Physical fitness - individuals can get to and maintain a healthy body weight
Dance can improve flexibility, strength, and motor skills
An increase in confidence and self-esteem
Having an outlet for creativity and imagination
It’s a great stress relief and can help diminish depression
Special Needs Dance Classes Help With Physical Fitness
A body in motion stays in motion. Physical fitness is so important for everyone's overall health, body, and mind. Even if you have students in wheelchairs, there are dance moves you can teach to help them reap the benefits. “Traditional exercising” is boring for many people, but dance is fun. Individuals can come to your class, get their heart rate up, burn calories, all while having a good time and feeling like they are part of something.
Dancing Increases Flexibility, Strength and Motor Skills
Being idle can actually contribute to severe problems with the body. When we dance we make our muscles move and contract, rather than letting the body get weaker, and potentially allowing muscles to get stiff and even atrophied. Luckily, beginning to move and exercise can reverse muscle atrophy and help the body get stronger and more flexible overall.
Motor skills are also improved with dance because it focuses on strength and coordination. And as we dance, our posture and balance improve as well.
A report titled Dance for Special Needs Students: Building Confidence and Motor Skills, by the University of Northern Colorado, stated, “Some of the benefits from physical activity would be strength, endurance, and increased coordination. Motor capabilities such as speediness, steadiness, and flexibility will increase as well. Children with physical disabilities will also be able to regain or increase muscle strength and balance while mastering milestones such as bending of the knees while walking, following directions, and hand-eye coordination.”
Special Needs Dance Classes Boosts Confidence and Self-Esteem
Dance allows people with special needs to feel like they are a part of their learning. Rather than being waited on or coddled, they are given the opportunity to do something for themselves. This independence boosts their confidence and self-esteem and can release endorphins in the brain. And, the act of learning and working towards something gives students a sense of accomplishment, and instant gratification, aiding in self-assurance.
A dance class is also a fun and safe environment for them to learn and grow in. Odds are everyone around them is learning something new and has not yet mastered any of the skills. Therefore, they are able to bond with other students in the common goal, and as a result, may promote better social and interpersonal skills.
Dance Offers an Outlet for Creativity and Imagination
There aren’t any rules when it comes to dancing. Sure, there may be some technique involved, but some of the fun of learning choreography is putting your unique spin on what you have learned. Through dance, children can express their emotions that might not be easy to express verbally. They can imagine the best way to move in their minds, and then physically create the movement with their bodies.
The music combined with a general idea of how to move can turn into a beautiful display of creative expression. Where a child with special needs may have difficulty with speech, math, and science, dance will activate their imagination and light up their brains in new and exciting ways. In fact, the report from UNC we mentioned earlier states, kinesthetic activities such as dance, “may result in an increased ability to learn material” in school.
Special Needs Dance Classes Can Provide Stress Relief
It’s no secret that growing up with special needs can be stressful. Dance gives those with special needs a way to “blow off some steam” in a safe environment. Any exercise relieves stress, but the creative outlet that dance provides may alleviate more stress than other forms of physical activity.
Dance can be physically, mentally, and emotionally therapeutic. Students can leave it all on the dance floor, so to speak. When the music comes on, the pain and worry can just leave the room, if only for the time of the class. As your body becomes fully immersed in the movement, your mind enjoys a state of euphoria that can leave residual effects long after the music stops.
As a result of this stress relief, some students find that dance can diminish feelings of depression, and make them feel “normal”. Combine this with the increased level of confidence and self-esteem, and individuals could start pushing themselves in other areas and aspect of their lives.
What You Need to Know About Offering Special Needs Dance Classes
Now that you know the benefits of special needs dance classes, here are a few factors to consider before implementing them into your dance studio.
Don’t treat students with special needs like outsiders. Remember, they are people too, with the same feelings and emotions you have. They just want to be treated fairly and equally.
You may need to bring in additional teachers to help students with special needs with technique and choreography. This is especially true if you choose to integrate those with special needs into your regular classes. Which bring us to our next point...
It might be a good idea to have a separate class or classes only for those with special needs. The reality is they may not be able to keep up with choreography at the level of other students. Therefore, having a class just for them may foster a more friendly and less judgmental environment.
Additional equipment or space may be needed. If you have several students who are in wheelchairs, for example, the otherwise plentiful space could get crowded. And, you might need to purchase chairs and extra barres for added physical support for students.
Keep the focus on the fun. Yes, your goal should be to help them with physical movements, and learning some choreography, but the most important element of special needs dance classes must always be to have fun. Remember, you’re trying to foster creativity, joy, and education all in one sitting. Let go of perfection, and just have a good time.
How to Get the Word Out About Your Special Needs Dance Classes
Once you have made the decision to start offering special needs dance classes, it’s time to get the word out. You could reach out to local schools, send emails to your current database, and announce it on social media letting everyone know about your new offerings.
Essentially, any way you would promote your other classes, you should use to promote these special needs classes as well. In addition, though, you may also want to reach out to communities that specialize in working with people that have special needs, local chapters of the Special Olympics (if they exist in your area), and even local psychologists and counselors.
Hopefully, this post has inspired you to add special needs dance classes to your list of services. If you choose to do so, we think you’ll find that it is one of the most rewarding experiences a dance studio owner could enjoy.