What I’ve Learned From My Amazing Students
My name is Crystal Martinez and I have the distinct pleasure of co-teaching Allegro’s adaptive dance class, DanceAble. DanceAble is designed to bring dance education to students with special needs and learning styles, and I have to tell you that it is the highlight of my week. So, for Autism Acceptance Month, I thought I would give you a glimpse into what’s happening on Wednesday afternoons at Allegro. I could write pages about the benefits of this program, but today I wanted to focus on what this program has taught me. So, without further ado, here are: 5 things that I have learned from my amazing students.
DanceAble has many different students with varying cognitive and physical capabilities. Things like sitting in a circle, tapping a specific colored mat, or following a dance step can be a challenge for many of them. Sometimes it can be weeks before we see behaviors that amount to “class participation.” We have learned to be patient, and so celebrate the small victories. It is so rewarding to experience a student having a break through, even if it only lasts a few seconds.
2. Problem Solving
Every student is different and nowhere is this more true or more apparent than in DanceAble. Each DanceAble student comes to us with their own physical and mental challenges to overcome, and it is our job as teachers to find the best way to reach them. We want every student to get the most out of class, and in our case, that often means tailoring our program to fit their needs. One day that may require us to design an obstacle course that is wheelchair accessible. The next day we may need to find a way to create harmony in a classroom half full of students with auditory sensitivity and half full of students who need auditory stimulation. The challenges are endless, but the problem solving is one of the things I find most exciting and rewarding. When you finally figure it out, the payoff is amazing.
Our DanceAble class is full of some of the most excited students you will ever meet. They are thrilled to be there, and that attitude is contagious. Hearing a student shout, “I can totally do that! Watch me!” is one of the best sounds you can hear as an educator. Sometimes it’s the smile over a hula hoop, the laughter of making silly faces in the mirror, or the shout of joy when they finally conquer a dance move that they’ve been working on. Whatever that day’s victories are, there is joy in remembering to celebrate the little things.
These students remind me of the importance of community. Watching them develop friendships and relationships with one another brings so much joy to my heart. Just last week we had a new student join our class, it was great to watch other students befriend her, lead her around our obstacle course and show her the ropes. I know that the friendships their building are so special and important. I love that DanceAble gives them a safe place to be themselves with one another.
There is something so special about giving voice to a community that can feel voiceless. We have a number of students who are largely non-verbal, or have other speech issues. It is amazing to watch what happens when you give them an expressive outlet that doesn’t require any words. It is wonderful to watch the kids come alive. As someone who grew up with family members on the autism spectrum, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to watch a child grow up and wonder if there are taking in anything that you say. When you get those glimpses of comprehension, when you watch things “click” for them in a way that they haven’t before, there is nothing more encouraging. I believe that dance gives power not only to the students, but to their families, and their teachers as well.
This is just a small glimpse into what it’s like to teach DanceAble. I wish I could accurately put into the words the magic that happens at Allegro Performing Arts Academy on Wednesdays at 4:30, but I really do think you need to experience it for yourself. Our next 10 week session just started, and we would love you have you join us.