Case Study – Dance, Drama and Performance and Mobility Difficulties

Source: “Inclusive Practice: A Perspective from Higher Education.” Coventry University. June 2004.

L is a wheelchair user in her second year of a BA (Hons) Dance and Professional Practice programme at Coventry University. This case study provides an overview of some of the key issues addressed by L and her tutors during the course of her studies and presents some examples of good practice which have been developed at Coventry University through their work with dancers who have a disability.

Prior to L commencing the course, it was recognised by the University’s disability office, that it would not be possible for staff or students to lift disabled students without undergoing the Lifting and Handling Course and then only using equipment such as a hoist. Extensive discussions ensued between students and staff on how students lift and support each other in dance classes. This led to an initial session with L who gave direction on how to help her move from the chair to the floor and back. It was acknowledged that she would take responsibility for herself during any contact work within dance classes. At the start of term a similar session was held with L and the other students in order for them to explore moving with her and to identify what her needs might be in the studio classes. Initially students were not encouraged to help L to move to and from the chair, staff and facilitators did this. As these students began to explore contact work in classes, however, this situation changed.

Students have responded very well to the practical classes with L, many have overcome their concerns over contact with her and begun to appreciate the strength and movement range that L maintains. They enjoy working with the chair and have acknowledged the skills and difficulties associated with moving with it. they are also able to see the choreographic possibilities of working with L and with a wheelchair. One of the most important aspects of these sessions has been the discussions generated and the students’ questioning of L about many aspects of her dancing. Students are also able to appreciate the extent of information to be gained through talking to L and sharing in her experiences.

Facilitator for Practical Classes

It was considered necessary to have a facilitator for all practical sessions as well as note-taking for L. An ex-student was identified and undertook some professional development in preparation for their role. This student also had previous experience of working in inclusive settings, although she has learnt a lot on the job about how best to facilitate L’s dancing. In the second year, another two ex-students have also been facilitating practical classes with L, these students also have experience working in inclusive settings and have undertaken professional development sessions.

Course Review

Having undertaken a review of the course, the learning outcomes have been scrutinised to ensure that they are achievable for all students. In particular, the wording for some of the practical modules has been altered to include the phrase as appropriate to your physique. It was also decided that an initial meeting would need to be set up with staff, facilitator and student to identify particular goals in dance classes for a disabled student, to ensure they can work within their capabilities. These goals will then be included within the learning outcomes.

Staff Development

A series of sessions has been set up to examine how L, her facilitators and the other students work together in practical dance classes. A staff member teaches the class and other lecturers and facilitators observe. The facilitators and staff rotate in order to observe and participate. Focus is on the role of the facilitator and the ways in which exercises might be translated as well as the individual learning goals for L. Following the taught session, staff, facilitators and L work intensively to look at issues, particular needs for the role, and discuss the aims and general progress. Many interesting discussions have already emerged as a result:

  • L can become over reliant on the facilitator. Stepping back after marking the exercise a few times, watching and then correcting was found to be useful.
  • L needs to move in the middle of the group more often. The development of spatial awareness by being close to others is important, both in and out of the chair.
  • The facilitator has found it useful to dance the material herself to really discover where the learning was happening before translating.
  • Difficulties for the teacher in terms of the timing of the exercises, L sometimes needs to perform the exercise with a completely different timing or with a greatly reduced vocabulary to get the most benefit. This led to material being adapted sometimes to the extent that L was doing a completely different activity but with the same focus.
  • Phrases have been made for L and then translated by the other students. This is an effective way of giving the students an experience of translating for themselves.
  • Hands-on work at the start of the class has been found to be a useful way for facilitator and student to experience each other’s bodily rhythms. Working in threes is just as effective as in partners. Issues surrounding weight and touch can be addressed with all the students on a one-to-one basis.
  • Many types of movement exercises have been translated in ways that seems to be of most benefit for L’s particular physique and these have been documented for the future.
  • Warm-ups for L need to be more comprehensive, as for many students in her year group. Issues surrounding transport have been discussed and L realises that she needs to be organised in the morning to ensure that she arrives at University on time.

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