Dancing together to the same inclusive tune.

Inclusion through dance. A shared vision achieved with grace and skill.

Inclusion through dance. A shared vision achieved with grace and skill by Axis Dance Company.

One of the pleasures, though also sometimes one of the challenges, of supporting MA students as they work on research towards their final dissertations, is that they sometimes tackle subjects that introduce me to a whole new range of literature. Being encouraged to read papers and chapters that I would not necessarily have encountered were it not for a student’s interests, is most certainly a benefit that comes with this job.

An example of this has been exercising my mind over recent weeks since my return home from Bangalore. Whilst many of our students there have opted to address areas of inclusive schooling or support for children with special educational needs with which I am familiar, and fairly confident in terms of my knowledge of the literature; one of our students has decided to conduct her research into the use of dance as a means of increasing the sociability and confidence of the children in the special school where she works. This is most certainly an area outside of my usual comfort zone, though one where I already feel I am beginning to learn and ask questions.

The student concerned is a confident and very well organised teacher. Her work on the course, both in respect of her writing and her participation in class has been excellent. Furthermore, she keeps in touch, regularly reporting on her progress and asking questions at every stage of the process. She is already devising innovative approaches to recording dance lessons through the use of video recording that involves her pupils, and considering how to  manage the data she is collecting. Her approach to working is well considered and professional and this makes my job as her tutor relatively easy.

Having chosen to research an under investigated area, especially within an Indian context, one particular issue has presented a number of challenges. A systematic search of data bases has revealed a limited corpus of literature dealing with this area. Very few researchers appear to have done work on the application  of dance for children with complex learning needs, and much of what has been published has little by the way of an empirical or theoretical foundation. The limited number of papers that have been found have been analysed and discussed by my student with her usual attention to detail, but still there remains an ambition to find anything else that might be out there. (If you know of anything do please post the details in reply to this blog).

As is usual in such circumstances I have drawn on the resources of my colleagues, asking their advice and seeking any knowledge that they might have of dance for children with special educational needs. Several have made suggestions, but little has been retrieved that adds to the work already found by my student. However, as is often the case in situations such as this, further opportunities for learning have arisen during this process. Hearing of this dilemma, a former student emailed me today, not with advice regarding literature, but telling me of an experience she had a few years ago when a dance company visited Dartington Hall in Devon. She drew my attention to a YouTube video which shows some of the work of Axis Dance Company, a group of whom I previously knew nothing.

Founded in 1987 Axis Dance Company describe themselves as a physically integrated contemporary dance and education organization. They are based  in California and specialise in choreographing dance that brings together able bodied and disabled dancers. Their work has won many national and international awards and they have an enviable reputation for their education programme.

Judith Smith, who has been the artistic director of Axis since 1997 says that:-

“We realized early on that rather than being a limitation, disability can radically expand what’s possible with choreography. People that move differently, whether it’s in motorized wheelchairs, on crutches or with prosthetics, create all these partnering and ensemble possibilities that wouldn’t exist with dancers who can all move the same way.”

Having read about this interesting company of performers and spent an hour watching recordings of their work, I am struck by the respect for individuality and commitment to inclusion that they have achieved. The available recordings of their performances demonstrate the sublime beauty of movement accomplished by individuals working in harmony with creative imagination and skill. The power of dance and the demonstration of physical excellence is achieved through high levels of collaboration and the development of total trust between the individuals involved.

I suspect that having had my attention drawn to the work of Axis will have done little to assist my student in search of further literature for her study. However, this is indicative of the incidental learning and opportunities for widening of our horizons that often accompanies our work in education.

You can see an example of the work of Axis Dance Company by clicking on the link here


Several other performances by Axis are also available on YouTube

Whilst you are enjoying these breath-taking performances, I must return to assisting my student in attempting to find further literature to help her with her studies.


28 thoughts on “Dancing together to the same inclusive tune.

  1. Hello Richard it may not help with the literature search but Northgate School in Northamptonshire have a dance group called So…. With whom they work. I can pass you contact details. A few years ago their pantomime at The Castle in Wellingborough had a young girl as their lead. She had a visual impairment and had two little mice ( younger sisters of one of the other members of the group) who led her around the stage. No one in the audience realised this until told at the end of the performance. Their aim is to work inclusively with all children with and without special needs. My daughter was the partner of a boy in a wheelchair with multiple learning difficulties. They were about the same age and worked extremely well together.
    As my own research topic is under researched I have learned to widen my topic search. Barbara was doing research into using movement in teaching languages to students with special needs. I wonder if some of that research might be worthwhile investigating?

  2. Many thanks for these helpful comments Carmel. All information is greatly appreciated at this stage. I know Northgate School quite well and will certainly follow this up. I will also see if Barbara has any further information. Thanks again.

  3. Hello Richard,
    I wanted to share a personal story — my son, when he was around three and half years old, was part of a dance/drama performance by a dance school in Bangalore. He was a deer and was to run around the stage at regular intervals or hide behind a log.
    He did that well !!! For a child with autism, this was a great achievement for a first performance.
    Thank you for bringing back those memories.

  4. Hi Anita,
    Good to hear that your son was included in this way. I am sure that many forms of performance can have benefits for all children and that none should excluded. It takes a little bit of imagination to involve children, but much can be achieved.

  5. Richard
    Members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet have worked with children with a range of disabilities (particularly learning difficulties) across Birmingham.
    They may have come across specific literature to inform their work or created their own research documents.
    The website is: http://www.brb.org.uk
    switchboard 0121 245 3500.

    • Hi Tina,
      Many thanks for this. I will see if we can do a search of the archive. I was aware that the work of the Birmingham Royal Ballet included visits to schools but didn’t know about their specific work with children with disabilities. Thanks for posting.

  6. Hi Richard, a lot of people these days are looking at dance therapy as a useful intervention tool for individuals with special needs. There’s a lady in Chennai- Ms. Ambika Kameshwar who teaches dance to children with down syndrome, autism etc and is apparently doing very well. I can share her contact if required.
    My sister-in-law- Medha dixit is also a certified dance therapist and has conducted few sessions few years back and is now looking at dance therapy to empower and increase self-confidence in transgenders.
    Your student can get in touch with me and I can help her out in some way 🙂

    • Many thanks Swathi,
      I will put the two of you in touch with each other. This kind of sharing of information is exactly what I hoped this blog might achieve.

  7. Many years ago I worked with a colleague who was trained in Dance at the Laban School of Dance and Movement ( now called Trinity Laban College) . She took some of my teenage SEBD boys for dance…. I was initially very skeptical… but she worked wonders with them developing their self esteem as they found that they could perform and they appreciated the physical effort and control that was required to reach a very good standard. Recently went back to some of this work and found web sites such as the Language of Dance Centre: Slanted Dance and the American based Journal ‘Dance Teacher Magazine’ had some useful ideas.. there are also a number of site which have lesson plans available which are supportive of teachers wishing to be inclusive in what they offer..

    • Many thanks for the information John. I recall in the 1980s there were a number of Laban trained teachers working with children with a range of special educational needs. I recall the wonderful late Veronica Sherborne running a workshop that involved a couple of Laban trained dancers in Bristol. It was a most enjoyable and physically demanding day – even when I was young and fit!

  8. We also have Tripura Kashyap too in India who has been doing movement and dance for children with different kinds of issues. Will check if her work is also available online!!

  9. Hi Richard,
    Dr Melanie Peter published ‘Making Dance Special’ in 1997. Her work was based on Veronica Sherborne who in turn was influenced by the Laban technique. Melanie was tutored by Veronica Sherbourne. More recently she developed a ‘dance for all’ approach, which could be particularly relevant to your student and worth developing.
    Something else that may be of interest is the work by Connie Michael. I met Connie when she visited Dublin recently. She worked with the students on the CCL programme in Trinity College Dublin. Connie is the Assistant Dean of Liberal Arts and an Assistant Professor in the School of Dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She has taught in the areas of somatic awareness, health and fitness for dancers, composition, pedagogy and dance education. She is also a certified DanceAbility Teacher. Last summer Connie worked with the founder of DanceAbility, Alito Alessi, at the ImPulsTanz in Vienna. There are 4 week teacher certification programmes held in Europe.
    This topic is so interesting – there is growing evidence that not only does dancing feel good, there are benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia also, where it is considered that frequent dance offers protection against dementia. There is a lovely story about an Italian neurologist Dr Volpe, who visited a pub in County Clare. He observed a man with Parkinson’s join in quite effortlessly while the group De Dannann played (what bliss!). He noticed what was an unsteady gait (prior to the dance), transform to an effortless execution and good coordinated efforts to join the other dancers. This sparked an interesting study and follow-up testing is now underway with an international randomised trial being conducted by researchers from the University of Limerick in Ireland and the University of Melbourne in Australia. The doctor is hopeful that the initial success will be validated, and in time, Irish Set Dancing therapy (ISDT) will become part of the conventional rehabilitation options available to patients everywhere.
    In short there is nothing like quite like dance for everyone and every age!

    • Thanks very much Miriam. I am always conscious when in Ireland of the significant place of dance in the national culture – I will be in Dublin for most of next week, but as someone with two left feet I am most likely to enjoy watching!
      There are a significant number of leads in your posting and I will pass these on. It would be excellent share the great traditions of dance that exist both in Ireland and India – perhaps we should talk more about this?

  10. Richard,honestly i did not even think about Dance can be such a wonderful therapy and a medium for inclusion,I really don’t know where I got this idea from, that music and art are the two best mediums that can are used as Therapies for Children with Disabilities.I am very happy to read each and every write up of yours in the blog.It gives so much of information, total different perspectives,and a new buzzing thoughts on issues and happening.Thank you so much Richard….Now it make me more curious to know,how this entire concept works!….

    • Hi Sathyasree,
      Yes, I think having to consider dance – something I seldom do, has opened up an interesting chain of discussion. Great contributions from so many people. I am so pleased that people are willing to share their ideas for the benefit of others

  11. Richard, I would be delighted to have the opportunity to discuss dance in Ireland and India. I am fascinated by the potential dance may have for communication and engagement and the possibilities arising from communicative musicality (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009) – allowing us to explore the intrinsic, musical nature of human interaction through flow, dynamics, space and emotion. Regarding your feet orientation and role as an observer, I could register you for intensive Irish set dancing classes during your stay here. You could then become a joyful participant!

    • Hi Miriam,
      I think I’d need a pint or two of the black nectar first! Let’s talk about this in Dublin some time. An exchange of ideas with some of my Indian colleagues could easily be arranged.

  12. This is so interesting, Richard as one of my BALT students is also investigating dance for her dissertation, so I’m looking out for literature too. I will point her in the direction of this post, if that’s OK with you!

  13. Thanks a lot everyone for the response. It is of great help to me.
    I have been attending Shiamak Davar’s dance classes for a long time now and I’m glad to share that in these classes we have individuals with disability too. Shiamak Davar is an Indian dancer and choreographer who is quite well known in India. He has dance classes in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia too.

    Here’s a video of a performance:

    I am not aware of any other dance class/school in India that is this inclusive. And I’m talking about individuals who are intellectually challenged as well as those who have multiple challenges.
    Thanks again.

    • Hi Maitreyye,
      When I started this blog the whole intention was that it should encourage discussion and act as a support for colleagues. I am delighted that this has proven to be the case here and that you have obtained some helpf from all around the world. Let’s hope for further successes in the future.

  14. Astaad Deboo in India choreographs dance with young Deaf persons and Mysore B. Nagaraj teaches Blind persons Bharatnatyam. The troupe is called Articulate… the amazing performances are available on Google.. (I have been fortunate to witness both these groups perform and they are amazing!! ….. infact Articulate is performing in Cochin, Kerala, India on Dec 3rd – World Disability Day)
    I am sure there are many many more such ventures in India and across the world..and going beyond dance … just saw a site on teaching photgraphy for the blind!!…. http://www.blindwithcamera.org/our-programs/

    Therapy comes in so many forms where dance is just one and and some take it beyond therapy to levels of perfection that leaves the so called “able bodied person” … look like an amateur!!

    • Thanks for this Suchitra,
      I have been amazed that a simple posting on this blog has resulted in so much shared invitation – this was always my hope. I know that many have read about these creative activities and see them as having relevance to their own work.

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