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.