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Environmental, organizational and attitudinal obstacles continue to prevent people with vision loss from meaningfully engaging in dance education and performance. This article addresses the societal disabilities that handicap access to dance education for the blind. Although much of traditional dance instruction relies upon visual cuing and modeling, evidence suggests that dance can be successfully taught to blind students by integrating verbal and tactile modes of instruction. There is a need for professional development to train teachers in inclusion dance methodologies that specifically address the learning needs of students with vision loss. There is a further need for a significant paradigm shift towards the acceptance of blind people as dance students and performers with full capacity to experience, appreciate and expand the current boundaries of the art form. We surveyed fifteen parents of dance students with vision loss to assess their perceptions of the importance of dance education and the challenges of accessibility. Thematic content analyses indicated that parents perceived benefits in health, socialization, and dance literacy. Parents also perceived a lack of accessibility to dance for students with vision loss. This article provides evidence of successful dance inclusion for the blind. We recommend integration of dance pedagogy specific to the needs of people with visual impairment in the training of our teachers and the teaching of our students. Spotlighted techniques include: somatic approaches, tactile modeling, physical guidance, oral description, and one-to-one partner teaching.
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Journal of Dance Education
ISSN: 1529-0824 (Print) 2158-074X (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ujod20
Extending Our Vision: Access to Inclusive Dance
Education for People with Visual Impairment
Jenny Seham PhD & Anna J. Yeo BA
To cite this article: Jenny Seham PhD & Anna J. Yeo BA (2015) Extending Our Vision: Access to
Inclusive Dance Education for People with Visual Impairment, Journal of Dance Education, 15:3,
91-99, DOI: 10.1080/15290824.2015.1059940
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15290824.2015.1059940
Published online: 14 Sep 2015.
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Journal of Dance Education, 15: 91–99, 2015
Copyright © National Dance Education Organization
ISSN: 1529-0824 print / 2158-074X online
DOI: 10.1080/15290824.2015.1059940
Extending Our Vision
Access to Inclusive Dance Education for People with Visual
Impairment
Jenny Seham, PhD and
Anna J. Yeo, BA
Department of Psychiatry and
Behavioral Science, Montefiore
Medical Center, Bronx, NY
ABSTRACT Environmental, organizational and attitudinal obstacles continue to pre-
vent people with vision loss from meaningfully engaging in dance education and
performance. This article addresses the societal disabilities that handicap access to
dance education for the blind. Although much of traditional dance instruction relies
upon visual cuing and modeling, evidence suggests that dance can be successfully
taught to blind students by integrating verbal and tactile modes of instruction. There
is a need for professional development to train teachers in inclusion dance method-
ologies that specifically address the learning needs of students with vision loss. There
is a further need for a significant paradigm shift towards the acceptance of blind peo-
ple as dance students and performers with full capacity to experience, appreciate and
expand the current boundaries of the art form. We surveyed fifteen parents of dance
students with vision loss to assess their perceptions of the importance of dance edu-
cation and the challenges of accessibility. Thematic content analyses indicated that
parents perceived benefits in health, socialization, and dance literacy. Parents also
perceived a lack of accessibility to dance for students with vision loss. This article
provides evidence of successful dance inclusion for the blind. We recommend inte-
gration of dance pedagogy specific to the needs of people with visual impairment in
the training of our teachers and the teaching of our students. Spotlighted techniques
include: somatic approaches, tactile modeling, physical guidance, oral description, and
one-to-one partner teaching.
Address correspondence to Jenny
Seham, PhD, Psychiatry Department,
Montefiore Medical Center,
3340 Bainbridge Avenue, Bronx,
NY 10467. E-mail:
jseham@montefiore.org
ACCESS TO DANCE EDUCATION FOR THE BLIND
Defining the Disability
The social model of disability identifies three types of barriers that prevent people
with disabilities from playing an active part in society: environmental, organizational,
and attitudinal (GOV.UK 2015). Researchers note societal disabilities in the provision
of dance and physical education for the blind, including limited programming, lack of
professional training, and negative attitudes toward people with disabilities (Sherrill,
Rainbolt, and Ervin 1984; Skaggs and Hopper 1996; Lieberman, Houston-Wilson, and
Kozub 2002). This article offers evidence of the importance of dance education for the
blind and problems of accessibility. We present successful inclusion models that have
vaulted over social barriers.
Our investigation begins with careful consideration of the language used to refer
to people with visual impairment. Many in the blind community reject the univer-
sal application of person-first language as in “person with blindness” rather than “blind
91
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person.” Some believe that this practice brings shame to
what should be a source of positive identity and pride
(National Federation of the Blind 1993). A Presidential
Proclamation declaring equal rights, opportunity, and
respect for the blind does not use person-first language in the
title Blind Americans Equality Day (The White House 2014).
While honoring cultural and political language preferences,
we also feel it is important to acknowledge impairment as
an “important aspect of people’s lives” (Shakespeare 2013).
This article uses person-first and disability-first language in
our best efforts to objectively and respectfully address the
issue of access to dance for the blind.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO),
more than 285 million people in the world are visually
impaired. Of this population, 39 million are blind and
246 million have moderate to severe visual impairment
(WHO 2014). It is predicted that without extra interven-
tions, these numbers will rise to 75 million blind and
200 million visually impaired by the year 2020 (WHO 2014).
As seen in Table 1, WHO defines blind as being “totally
without sight.” The term legal blindness, however, refers to
the criteria used to determine eligibility for government dis-
ability benefits (American Foundation for the Blind 2008),
and does not necessarily correlate to a person’s ability to
function (see Tables 2 and 3). This article identifies a range
of vision loss as “low to no vision,” signifying performing
visual tasks at a reduced level, to being totally without sight.
TABL E 1 Degree of Vision Impairment
Category Definitions
Low vision, severe Performs visual tasks at a reduced level
Low vision,
profound
Difficulty with gross visual task
Near blind Vision unreliable
Blind Totally without sight
Note: Information adapted from World Health Organization (2014).
TABL E 2 Functional Definitions of Visual Impairment
Impairment Definitions
Loss of visual acuity Inability of a person to see objects as
clearly as a healthy person
Loss of visual field Inability of an individual to see as
wide an area as the average person
without moving the eyes or turning
the head
Photophobia Inability to look at light
Diplopia Double vision
Visual distortion Distortion of images
Other Visual perceptual difficulties or any
combination of the above features
Note: Information from Mandal (2013).
TABL E 3 Definition of Legal Blindness
Legal blindness Visual acuity of 20/200 or worse in the
better eye with corrective lenses
(20/200 means that a person at 20 feet
from an eye chart can see what a person
with normal vision can see at 200 feet)
or Visual field restriction to 20 degrees
diameter or less (tunnel vision) in the
better eye
Note: Information adapted from American Foundation for the Blind
(2008).
We refer to vision loss and vision impairment interchange-
ably. Functional and legal definitions of vision impairment
only serve as a pale backwash for the brilliant spectrum
of human learning styles and capacities on which we can
scaffold an expansion of educational practices. Illuminating
vision differences draws critical attention to specific needs
for accommodation by educators. Evidence of successful
engagement and of the multiple benefits derived through
appropriate accommodation support a fundamental belief
that dance can and should be made accessible to the blind.
Needs for Accessible Dance Education
Individuals with visual impairment face more psychomotor
difficulties and challenges than their sighted peers (Skaggs
and Hopper 1996). A systematic review of literature identi-
fied consistent findings of significantly lower physical fitness
and motor performance in people with visual impairment as
compared to people with normal vision (Skaggs and Hopper
1996). Individuals with impaired vision displayed lower
cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, flexibility,
and balance. They also exhibited delays in object con-
trol, manipulation skills, and play and social skills (Skaggs
and Hopper 1996; O’Connell, Lieberman, and Petersen
2006). Researchers suggest several possible explanations for
the decreased levels of physical fitness observed in peo-
ple with visual impairment. Teachers confront barriers to
teaching students with disabilities, including limited class
time, budget constraints, and absence of adapted equipment.
Physical educators also feel unequipped to serve students
with disabilities due to lack of training (Lieberman, Houston-
Wilson, and Kozub 2002). As a result, many physical
educators are unable to provide an appropriate and inclu-
sive curriculum for children with disabilities (Lieberman,
Houston-Wilson, and Kozub 2002). Multiple studies note
that there is limited availability of adequate public physical
education, recreation programs, and facilities for individ-
uals with vision loss (Sherrill, Rainbolt, and Ervin 1984;
Skaggs and Hopper 1996; Lieberman, Houston-Wilson, and
Kozub 2002). There is also little to no professional training
for physical and dance educators in how to teach stu-
dents with visual impairments (Lieberman, Houston-Wilson,
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and Kozub 2002). Prejudice and societal ignorance present
further significant obstacles to creating and providing ade-
quate physical education and recreation programming for
the blind (Sherrill, Rainbolt, and Ervin 1984). Many people
with visual impairment attribute their inability to appreciate
arts and sports to a deficit in public accommodation to their
needs (Duckett and Pratt 2001; Kleege 2014). Lack of access
excludes the blind from many cultural and recreational activ-
ities. This prevents people with vision loss from interfacing
with others and becoming actively involved with the world
(Sherrill, Rainbolt and Ervin 1984; Lieberman, Houston-
Wilson, and Kozub 2002). The negative impact affects both
physical fitness and social interaction, resulting in a lower
quality of life.
To enhance their access to physical and creative activities,
some dance programs for the blind have integrated ped-
agogical techniques that have proven effective in physical
education (Paxton and Kilcoyne 1993; Seham 2013). These
techniques include tactile modeling, physical guidance, oral
description, and one-to-one partner teaching (Seham 2013).
To better evaluate the effects of dance education and prob-
lems of accessibility, we surveyed parents of blind dance
students enrolled in the National Dance Institute (NDI)
program at Lighthouse Guild International in New York
City.
CARETAKERS’ PERCEPTION OF DANCE
EDUCATION
Program Description
NDI in partnership with Lighthouse Guild International
provides weekly 45-minute dance classes for children and
youth with visual impairment. The program runs for
28 weeks of the school year and includes a midyear pre-
sentation and an end-of-year culminating event. In these
events, students perform for an audience of predominantly
family and friends. At the time of our parent survey, the
program offered two classes, one for younger students, ages
8 to 12 and one for teens and youth, ages 12 to 21.
The first author of this study serves as a dance instructor
in this program that incorporates several dance education
techniques—somatic approaches, tactile modeling, and phys-
ical guidance—to teach dance and accommodate the specific
learning styles of the students (Seham 2013). Each of the par-
ticipating blind students dances with a sighted peer partner.
Partners help facilitate learning through physical modeling
and verbal description under the guidance of the lead
teacher. The lead teacher conducts group and individual
instruction and supervises the work of the peer partnerships
during periods of dyadic learning and practice (Seham 2013).
Data Collection
We distributed to the parents of 22 students enrolled in the
program, two survey questionnaires. The first questionnaire
inquired about the observed effects of dance on their chil-
dren and the perceived availability of dance education for
students with visual impairment. Parents were asked to freely
respond to questions such as these:
1. What do you think your child needs the most from a
dance program?
2. How do you think the dance program at the Lighthouse
affected your child’s experience of dance?
3. Did you observe any effects on other aspects of his or her
life; that is, physical and emotional health?
4. Can you recall any part of the dance program that was
particularly helpful? If so, how did it help?
5. What does your child say is the favorite part of dance
class?
6. How difficult or easy was it for you to find a suitable
dance program for your child?
The second questionnaire consisted of five yes or no
questions asking about their experience of finding a dance
program for their children:
1. Did your child take dance classes before participating in
the Lighthouse dance program?
2. Did you try to find dance classes for your child prior to
participating in this program?
3. If yes, were you able to find a dance class or activity that
addressed the needs of a child with visual impairment?
4. Has your child been excluded from physical activity or
dance because of his or her visual impairment?
5. Do you know of other dance programs or classes that
include students with visual impairment?
At the time of the survey, families resided in the five
boroughs of New York City and northern and central New
Jersey. Thirteen of the students were female and nine were
male. A parent volunteer and an administrative assistant
of the music school distributed the questionnaires to par-
ents during lunch or student pick-up and drop-off periods.
Fifteen parents completed and returned both questionnaires.
Results
We conducted a thematic content analysis on the results
obtained from the first essay-style questionnaire. In accor-
dance with deductive approaches (Burnard et al. 2008), we
structured thematic categories based on our research interest
and findings from past literature. We then identified parental
responses that supported the content of predetermined the-
matic categories. Table 4 illustrates the findings from our
qualitative analysis. As for the second yes or no question-
naire, we calculated the ratio of yes and no answers per each
question. The results are presented in Table 5.
Dance Access for the Blind: Societal Disabilities 93
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TABL E 4 Thematic Content Analyses of Parents’ Responses to the Dance Program
I. Importance of dance education
1. Physical benefits
Coordination/control
Balance
Body awareness
Increased physical activity
Freedom of movement
“My son had very poor posture. He also had a way of walking where he would
slant to one side. The other day I noticed him walking with a nice even stride that
seemed very natural.”
“He has been able to be more in-tune with his body—sort of learn his body better.”
“Dance allows him to be physical and move to music, which he also loves.”
“He is more active, happy, and has lost weight in his stomach.”
2. Psychological benefits “Became more confident in expressing self.”
Happiness “Emotionally, she feels well-treated, and her self-esteem is better.”
Improved self-value “My son is more motivated now. He has better motivation.”
“My son is very proud of the fact that he is enrolled in a dance class. Many people
would not see this as a possibility but he has been able to accomplish this and
feels proud of it.”
3. Social/interpersonal benefits
Inclusion
Friendship
Social support
“Found ways of socializing and working as a group and has used these methods
with peers to educate them on how things are done differently in her learning
environment.”
“Cooperation and friendship with her dance partner.”
“He was recently invited to a Sweet 16. He had no hesitation going on the dance
floor with the rest of his friends. This is a great accomplishment in inclusion.”
4. Dance literacy “It’s helped her have a better background and understanding of dance. Instead of
just ‘futzing around,’ there’s actual choreography.”
“Freedom and the energy of music put together with body movements.”
II. Lack of access
1. Lack of programs “[A suitable dance program for my child] is very difficult to find. I have looked, and
not found anything.”
2. Lack of accommodations and
teacher training
“Many programs are afraid to have a blind student (student who is blind) in their
class. They cannot even imagine the possibility of teaching dance to someone
that is blind.”
TABL E 5 Accessibility of Dance Programs for Students with Visual Impairment
Questions Yes N o
Did your child take dance classes before participating in the Lighthouse (LH)/National
Dance Institute (NDI) dance program?a
14.3% 85.7%
Did you try to find dance classes for your child prior to the LH/NDI program? 53.3% 46.7%
If yes, were you able to find a dance class or activity that addressed the needs of a child
with visual impairment?b
12.5% 87.5%
Has your child been excluded from physical activity or dance because of visual
impairment?
60.0% 40.0%
Do you know of other dance programs or classes that include students with visual
impairment?
13.3% 86.7%
Note: A total of 15 parents participated in this questionnaire.
aOne parent did not know the answer, so only 14 responses were counted.
bOnly 8 parents who answered “yes” on Question 2 responded to this question.
Discussion
Benefits of Dance Participation
Parents reported that the dance program helped their chil-
dren improve their posture, coordination, and balance. With
increased physical activity and freedom to move, some
students lost weight and became more comfortable with
their bodies (see Table 4). Literature on the benefits of
physical education and dance movement therapy describes
similar findings. Physical education incorporating dance
instruction serves an important function for people with
disability in developing spatial awareness, motor skills, and
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muscular coordination (Reber and Sherrill 1981;Chin1984;
Ritter and Low 1996; O’Connell, Lieberman, and Petersen
2006). Dance also serves as a medium for communication
and human connection with the potential to significantly
increase interpersonal skills.
Most of the parents who completed our survey reported
that their children became more confident, motivated,
and expressive. Improved self-values enabled the youth to
perform better in other areas of their lives, such as in
schools, friendships, and extracurricular activities. The stu-
dents enjoyed dancing and were more willing to try other
sports. The group choreography and dyadic dance activities
with sighted peer partners contributed to positive psycho-
logical and psychosocial outcomes. Parents reported gains
in social interaction both in and outside of the dance stu-
dio, describing their children as more outgoing, sociable, and
cooperative. Through the dance program uniquely adapted
for their physical abilities, the participating students with
visual impairment gained a vocabulary to conceptualize,
integrate, and execute complex dance choreography. This
vocabulary also enables them to build on dance skills learned
and continue to dance with greater confidence in their
movement and self-presentation.
Parent reports on the physical, psychological, and social
effects of participation in this dance program reflect lit-
erature findings on the benefits of dance and sport
participation. Structured, interactive movement activity
enhances physical health, motor skills, creative thinking, and
the emotional and behavioral development of children with
visual impairment (Reber and Sherrill 1981; Barati et al.
2014). People with visual impairment too frequently face
exclusion from the social interaction afforded by structured
group activities that involve physical participation (Ophir-
Cohen et al. 2005). The blind should not be denied access
to the multitude of benefits our culture deems essential for a
good quality of life, so many of which can be derived from
dance (O’Connell, Lieberman, and Petersen 2006).
Accessibility of Dance Education
Parents unequivocally reported that dance education was
hardly accessible for their children with vision impairment.
Most of them (86.7%) did not know of any dance program
other than the one provided by the Lighthouse that included
students with visual impairment. Over half of the parents
tried to look for a dance class for their children prior to
participating in this program; however, the vast majority of
them (87.5%) failed to find a class that served the needs of
students with visual impairment. Not only was it difficult to
find a suitable dance class or activity, but many programs
that exist seemed unprepared to accommodate students who
are blind. The results of the survey indicate the need to make
dance education more inclusive of and accessible to students
with visual impairment.
INCLUSIVE DANCE EDUCATION AND
PERFORMANCE
Dance Pioneers Teaching the Blind
Dance education pioneers Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham,
and Jacques d’Amboise each tackled societal disabilities,
successfully communicating his or her distinct artistry
and pedagogy to blind students. In 1982, Ailey partnered
with The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Very
Special Arts (VSA) to teach teenagers with visual impair-
ment (Dunning 1982): “I thought it would be wonderful
to teach blind children ... give them a sense of space,
of self-worth, of their place in the world and of conquer-
ing the instrument of their own bodies” (Dunning 1982).
At a workshop in 1986, Ailey instructor Wendy Amos
described the teaching pedagogy: “While the dance tech-
niques are the same my verbal instructions have to be
very clear and physical contact is very important. In other
classes I say, ‘Follow me,’ or ‘Look into the mirror.’
Here, we use touch,” showing how a quick stroke on the
back indicates to a blind dancer how to adjust posture
(Armstrong 1986). Martha Graham’s reciprocal teaching rela-
tionship with Helen Keller was recorded in documentary
film footage titled (Helen Keller Visits Martha Graham’s
Dance Studio). Graham taught Keller choreography. Keller
endowed Graham with an even greater appreciation of the
emotional impact of somatic expression. Graham guided
Keller through a rehearsal, holding her close so she could feel
the movement and music. “(Helen) could not see the dance,”
Graham marveled, “but was able to allow its vibrations to
leave the floor and enter her body” (Popova 2012). She
helped Keller run her hands across the body of dancer Merce
Cunningham so she could experience a jump and other intri-
cacies of movement and position (Popova 2012). Former
New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d’Amboise
founded NDI in 1976 with “the belief that the arts have a
unique power to engage and motivate individuals towards
excellence” (NDI 2006). In 1989, d’Amboise extended his
inclusive dance pedagogy to blind children through a part-
nership with Lighthouse International (now Lighthouse
Guild International) (Lighthouse Guild International 2014).
“They’re going to be able to come across the stage and not
be afraid,” d’Amboise declared in a New York Times inter-
view (New York Times 1989). NDI instructor Lori Klinger
explained, “The students are working on ‘muscle memory’
in which certain body movements become instinctive. You
can’t ask them to watch what I do and copy” (New York
Times 1989). Each of these master teachers learned that teach-
ing students with visual impairment required an expansion
of dance education techniques. Integrating physical guid-
ance, tactile modeling, descriptive verbal instruction, and
concept development with a passionate commitment to
dance artistry, these educators surmounted social barriers
and taught the blind to dance.
Dance Access for the Blind: Societal Disabilities 95
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In Practice
Alicia Alonso, founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and
prima ballerina with American Ballet Theater, danced the
performances for which she is most famous while partially
blind (Pinto-Duschinsky 2012;Zar2014). Dancer Brylinn
Rakes, also legally blind, gained international acclaim per-
forming on network television’s Dancing with the Stars (Zar
2014). Born with cone dystrophy, an inability of the eyes
to filter light, and nystagmus (“dancing eyes”), a constant
eye shaking, Rakes was unable to see to spot a turn and
could not use the studio mirrors to check body positions.
She relied on proprioception, core strength, and meticulous
partner communication (Zar 2014).
Author Georgina Kleege continued to dance after being
diagnosed with macular degeneration at age 11. The macular
degeneration caused progressive deterioration and eventual
loss of central vision (Kleege 2014). Kleege contended that
choreography does not always require or allow a dancer
to look where she is going. Moreover, it is unnecessary or
even detrimental in learning dance to constantly look at
oneself in the mirror, at one’s own feet, or at other stu-
dents (Kleege 2014). She believed that her dance training
was successful and beneficial because it gave her the physi-
cal confidence to move around without having to see. Kleege
asserted that dance is not a visual art, but a kind of art that
is felt through kinesthetic empathy that even nondancers
experience, possibly through mirror neural systems (Kleege
2014). She described her experience of a group dance exer-
cise in which a dance was meant to be experienced through
touch. As she danced, Kleege “felt [her] brain actively inter-
preting ... the form of individual gestures [with the skin
and other parts of her body,] while anticipating the duration
and sequence of each movement” (Kleege 2014). She was
attempting to learn the rules of the dance through touch.
At the same time, she was studying the movements of her
partner and “peripherally aware of what was going on around
[her] among other [dancers]” (Kleege 2014). Alonso, Rakes,
and Kleege occupy important places along the spectrum of
dance achievement.
At the other end of the spectrum, as a beginning stu-
dent and dance spectator, Helen Keller connected emotional
experience to her physical contact with dance. Keller kines-
thetically learned and then interpreted what “jumping”
meant on a visit to Martha Graham’s rehearsal:
“Martha, what is jumping?” says Helen Keller, “I don’t under-
stand.” Graham is touched by this simple question. She asks
a member of her company, Merce Cunningham, to stand at
the barre. She approaches him from behind, says, “Merce, be
very careful, I’m putting Helen’s hands on your body,” and
places Helen Keller’s hands on his waist. Cunningham cannot
see Keller, but feels her two hands around his waist, ‘like bird
wings, so soft.’ Everyone in the studio stands quite still, focus-
ing on what is happening. Cunningham jumps in the air while
Keller’s hands rise up with his body. “Her hands rose and fell
as Merce did,” recalls Martha Graham, in extreme old age. “Her
expression changed from curiosity to one of joy. You could see
the enthusiasm rise in her face as she threw her arms in the
air.” Cunningham continues to perform small leaps, with very
straight legs. He suddenly feels Keller’s fingers, still touching his
waist, and begins to move slightly, “as though fluttering.” For
the first time in her life, she is experiencing dance. “Oh, how
wonderful! How like thought! How like the mind it is!” she
exclaims when he stops. (Popova 2012)
Keller’s interpretation of the dance experience was
uniquely her own. We can only guess what she meant by
it being “like thought,” and “like the mind,” marveling as
she allows us into the cognitive processing of this moment.
Her emotional connection to dance is universally under-
stood. Dancer Tadej Brdnik continues to teach Graham
technique to the blind. He declared, “[V]isual impair-
ment is ‘absolutely not’ an impediment to the ability to
dance. ... Being able to see is only one way to experi-
ence this world” (Halvorson 2014). Many like Brdnik have
reached this conclusion despite prevailing barriers to dance
inclusion.
Although few in number, there are dance compa-
nies around the world that provide training and per-
formance opportunities specific to the needs of peo-
ple with visual impairment including Touchdown Dance
(Touchdown Dance 2015) in the United Kingdom and the
United States, and The Association of Ballet and Arts for
the Blind (ABAB) in Sao Paolo, Brazil (Associacao Fernanda
Bianchini 2012). Collaborations between nationally funded
organizations for the blind and professional dance com-
panies also serve to provide access to dance education
and performance. These include the Canadian National
Institute for the Blind and DZouk Productions in Toronto,
Canada (Vision Dance 2014), Association for India (AID)
and Articulate Ability, India (Association for India 2014),
and Greater London Fund for the Blind and Extant in
London, England (Extant, UK 2014). Other resources exist,
like the program at the Lighthouse, but as the Lighthouse
parents tell us, access is scarce and needs improvement.
MOVEMENT PEDAGOGY
The field of dance education has produced important
resources with essential techniques for teaching people who
are differently-abled (Whatley 2007; Davies 2008;Coneand
Cone 2012; Tomasic 2014). Many writers include visual
impairment in a spectrum of disability, but most do not
emphasize the very specific needs of nonvisual learners nor
comprehensively provide methodology for addressing these
needs. For further documentation of essential teaching tech-
niques for dance educators, we turn to studies in physical
education.
Movement researchers emphasize the importance of
pedagogical techniques such as tactile modeling, physical
demonstration, and oral description to improve the motor
skills of students who are visually impaired (Lieberman
and Cowart 1996; Downing and Chen 2003). Modeling
is a process in which observers attempt to reproduce the
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actions that another person performs. Tactile modeling
involves the learner touching a model to reproduce or under-
stand the actions, as in Merce Cunningham’s modeling for
Helen Keller. Although instructions might be given ver-
bally, modeling increases understanding, providing depth
and nuance to what an individual needs to do to repli-
cate the movement. In dance, it adds an important layer
of somatic understanding about how a movement or pos-
ture feels and is performed. Once a skill is somatically
understood, children with visual impairments have a men-
tal picture and generally know what to do. All dancers rely
on muscle memory to recall and perform movement from a
simple plié to the most complex choreography. When teach-
ing the blind, however, the initial concept of each step, pose,
position, or movement must be conveyed without reliance
on visual cues.
Physical demonstration for students who are blind means
that the instructor must facilitate learning by guiding the
student’s body or using tactile modeling to teach move-
ment skills. Physical demonstration techniques are used
along with verbal prompts, descriptions, and feedback that
fit the level of the student’s receptive language (O’Connell,
Lieberman, and Petersen 2006). Barati et al. (2014) discussed
the importance of specialized methods of verbal communi-
cation for teaching physical education and sports to children
with visual impairments. Auditory information serves a com-
pensatory function for people who cannot receive visual
information. The cognitive development of children with
visual impairment depends greatly on the auditory input.
Optimal motor functioning relies on the quality of verbal
instruction (Barati et al. 2014). Because research has shown
children with visual impairments to be as competent as their
sighted peers in the processing of auditory imagery, physi-
cal education programs should actively use auditory imagery
to improve motivation, movement, and mobility of children
with vision loss (Barati et al. 2014). The techniques described
require training, practice, and, preferably, a learning envi-
ronment in which every student receives the individual
attention necessary to serve his or her needs. Peer partnering
provides visually impaired students with a sighted part-
ner who can facilitate necessary individual attention. This
allows a lead teacher to facilitate group learning, maximiz-
ing opportunities for tactile modeling, physical guidance,
and specialized verbal instruction between partners (Seham
2013). Although dance partners do not necessarily need to
be same-age peers, there is an additional benefit of social
connection when this model is used. The societal disabilities
denying access to dance for the blind include limited train-
ing for dance educators wanting to teach people with visual
impairment. This can be daunting and discouraging, but
resources exist that can ground a dance educator in essential,
baseline information.
Educators should start by using the Expanded Core
Curriculum (ECC), a web resource that includes informa-
tion on current educational guidelines for academic instruc-
tion to the visually impaired (American Foundation for the
Blind [AFB] n.d.). The ECC is “the body of knowledge
and skills that are needed by students with visual impair-
ments due to their unique disability-specific needs” (AFB
n.d.). Students with visual impairment need the ECC in
addition to the core academic curriculum of general educa-
tion. The ECC should be used as a framework for assessing
students, planning individual goals, and providing instruc-
tion whether it is academic instruction or dance and physical
education.
Somatic Approaches and Oral Description
Somatic education methods such as Alexander technique,
body–mind centering, Laban/Bartenieff, and Feldenkrais
Method®provide further valuable resources for dance inclu-
sion teaching and practice. Somatic dance education deem-
phasizes reliance on repeated visual cuing and brings mind-
ful attention to internal sensory input. Movement awareness
exercises based on these approaches provide students with
sensorimotor experiences that can be stored, transferred, and
applied to dance learning and performance (Fortin, Long,
and Lord 2002). One example is the Feldenkrais Method
transition to standing exercise in which students focus on the
“sensation of verticality” and transfer the kinesthetic mem-
ories to movements associated with standing and traveling
(Fortin, Long, and Lord 2002). The sensorimotor experi-
ences acquired in this exercise are further practiced and
adapted in other areas of somatic education. Such somatic
practices offer students with visual impairment opportuni-
ties to conceptualize and perceive dance through kinesthetic
sensorimotor experiences. Through such exercises, students
enhance awareness of their internal bodily processes and
sensory feedback, developing psychophysical abilities to pro-
duce coordinated actions (Brodie and Lobel 2004; Batson
and Schwartz 2007). Eventually students master the dance
moves and sequences by attending to their senses and
re-creating the sensation of movement. Although these
methods have not been empirically studied nor specifi-
cally designed for people with visual impairment, somatic
pedagogy presents viable, nonvisual movement communi-
cation strategies compatible with the learning needs of blind
students. Glenna Batson and Ray Eliot Schwartz (2007)
noted the reliance of classic Western forms of dance on
“visual modeling to elucidate and communicate shape and
ideal body patterning,” whereas “somatics tends more readily
to embrace the use of ...haptic, kinesthetic and proprio-
ceptive experience in defining form” (Batson and Schwartz
2007, 48). Another reason why somatic education might be
useful for teaching this specific population is that many of
its lessons can be delivered verbally. Not only can instruc-
tors verbally present the tasks, but they can also demonstrate
learning goals in words by describing sensations to be felt
during execution of the tasks (Fortin, Long, and Lord 2002).
Frequent repetition of oral instruction is an unfamil-
iar skill for educators new to teaching people with visual
impairment. Without the ability to self-correct by using
a studio mirror or by mimicking the teacher and other
Dance Access for the Blind: Societal Disabilities 97
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students, more oral corrections by the teacher are necessary
to remind students of new postures and positions (Seham
2013). Like all dancers, people with visual impairment will
build muscle memory and maintain postures, but unlike
other dancers, they will likely need to strengthen muscles
that have been weakened by common movement accommo-
dations to blindness. People with vision loss, for example,
do not site the horizon while walking, tending instead to
tilt their chin downward, especially if using a cane or guide
dog. This compromises neck and upper back muscles that
must be taught to maintain new postural control. Many with
vision loss also lose a natural lateral arm swing and experi-
ence rigidity in their limbs. The mere lack of opportunity
to move freely and exclusion from most general exercise
opportunities also leads to limited mobility. However, much
of this can be restored with dance practice. All good dance
students know that mastery of position, posture, and any
dance movement requires repetition and practice. For the
blind, this repetition creates internalized dance concepts that
serve a purpose beyond performance and artistry. Repetition
provides somatic reminders of healthy stride, posture, and
everyday movement, positively affecting general health and
quality of life. One of our parents noted her son “had very
poor posture” and walked slanting to one side (see Table 4).
She attributed correction of these issues to his dance par-
ticipation. Despite barriers to access, we have evidence of
successful inclusion of the blind at every level of dance
training.
CONCLUSION
Our survey of parents emphasizes the importance of dance
education for students with visual impairment. Many of the
youth enrolled in our dance program experienced improve-
ment in their physical and psychological health and social
and academic performance. Despite the numerous bene-
fits that dancing can have for the blind, having vision loss
remains a significant disadvantage for the population seek-
ing access to dance education and performance (Duckett
and Pratt 2001; Kleege 2014). Our investigation reveals soci-
etal disabilities that restrict access to dance for people with
visual impairment. A majority of parents reported that it
was extremely difficult to locate an appropriate dance pro-
gram for their blind children. Their responses are in line with
past studies that unanimously concluded physical and recre-
ational activities were rarely inclusive of persons with vision
loss. Although dance educators are beginning to address
many of these societal disabilities, there is still much to con-
tribute if we are to fully realize dance inclusion for people
with visual impairment.
Kinesthetic approaches for learning and teaching dance
to the blind are essential. Existing pedagogy provides several
techniques, such as tactile modeling and physical guidance
that should accompany descriptive verbal instruction and
concept development. We need to increase research efforts
to investigate effectiveness of these techniques and to further
illuminate the impact of dance education on blind stu-
dents. We also should study the impact of peer partnering
on the sighted member of the partnership, as anecdotal
evidence describes positive and transformative experiences
derived from dancing with and learning from a blind partner
(Seham 2013). Expanding best practices in dance education
requires increased attention to the training of our teachers
in pedagogy that will make dance accessible to the blind.
As artists and teachers we are divinely equipped to fur-
ther human rights action and include all people in dance
learning.
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The present paper is a review of the psychomotor abilities of individuals with visual impairments. It was found that cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, flexibility, and balance were significantly lower in individuals with visual impairments than in individuals with nonimpaired sight. Differences were found in physical fitness and psychomotor skills among individuals with visual impairments. Those individuals with a later onset of blindness and greater visual acuity performed best. Segregated environments appeared to foster superior physical fitness and psychomotor skills compared to integrated environments. Findings indicated that some physical fitness evaluation instruments produce inaccurate results in testing individuals with visual impairments. Suggestions for future research are included.
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This paper examines curricula development and assessment in the physically integrated dance setting with emphasis on the inclusionary pedagogic practice of translation. Translation is a key to establishing equitable dance practice while adhering to ADA requirements. Detailed guidelines are provided for creating successful movement, spatial, and temporal translations to facilitate a meaningful physically integrated dance experience for all participants. Readers can gain insight into developing anatomically sound movement vocabulary for dancers with disabilities in relation to their non-disabled peers. Best practices in developing assessment criteria in the physically integrated dance setting are examined with emphasis on the relationship of movement, spatial, and temporal translations to assessment standards.
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This paper aims to address two related themes. The first theme is the current provision for practical skill development for disabled dance students within Higher Education in the UK, and the extent to which inclusive pedagogical approaches challenge conceptions of the disabled body, both within and beyond dance. The second theme draws on the first as a basis for discussion and explores ways of seeing and interpreting the dance and in particular the different strategies and resources the viewer draws upon when viewing the disabled dance performer. These themes have emerged from a recently completed period of research, conducted with my own staff and students at Coventry University, which has focused predominantly on the experience of disabled dance students, the development of an inclusive curriculum framework and the different ways in which students learn dance techniques in class.
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Many authors have claimed that methods of somatic education such as Alexander, Body-Mind-Centering and Feldenkrais influence the teaching of dance. However, there is a lack of research that fully examines how this is occurring. In this study, three researchers used ethnographic methods to understand how the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education informed a series of contemporary technique classes in a professional setting in Montreal, Canada. The collaborative research process resulted in findings organized around the themes 1) transfer of learning, 2) movement awareness facilitation and 3) construction of the dancing bodies. This study relates to dance teachers interested in somatics and also to any dance educators engaged in fostering their own eclectic teaching practices from diverse influences. By understanding the ways in which the researchers/dance teachers in this study integrate somatics and contemporary dance, teachers may gain insight which assists them in appraising their own teaching. In this way, this study works towards a shift in the dance culture that embraces self-awareness in dance practice.
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Oakland, California's AXIS Dance Company employs contact improvisation techniques with choreographers Bill T. Jones and Stephen Petronio to generate innovative mixed-ability movement and fully integrated dance. For female dancers with disabilities, the materiality of impairment informs gendered assumptions about the act of looking, whether this act is a glance, a look, a gaze, or a stare. Jones and Petronio explore choreography with AXIS that pushes the boundaries of human perception and ability.