Dance for All Abilities: Instructional Strategies for Every Classroom

I like a bargain! When I get the biggest bang for my buck, a delightful feeling springs up inside of me. This is a personality trait that has stuck with me over the years. Getting the biggest bang for your buck is a mantra I live by when creating content for my students. Developing a cardio-focused version of the BrainDance, connecting dance movement to the core curriculum, and providing classroom teachers with extra movement resources are a few ways I have practiced giving educators and students a big bang for their buck. 

Over the past five years, I have developed a district-wide dance program through BTS Arts that is specifically designed for the elementary-age severe special education population. My dance class includes special education students, peer tutors, paraprofessionals, and special education teachers. In the severe special education dance classroom, I have a collection of students who are either physically, cognitively, or behaviorally challenged. Thus, the spectrum of learners is very broad: each learner has a lot of needs and each learner is unique. As an educator, I need to give this community of diverse ages, development, perspectives, and capabilities a big bang for their buck!

One way I have tried to achieve this is by developing a new twist on the BrainDance. The Brain Dance, developed by Anne Green Gilbert, practices combining the first eight developmental movement patterns we learn at the beginning of our lives. These movement patterns create the neural pathways necessary for all of us to develop cognitively, emotionally, and physically to the best of our abilities throughout our whole lives.

Generally, the SPED community has a proclivity to live sedentary lives. Then I realized—we all have that proclivity. As a population, the amount of time in the day that our heart rate increases into an aerobic state is minimal. The latest research shows that cardiovascular movement feeds the brain emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally.

As a BTSArts dance teacher, with so little time with my students and so much to share, I needed a way to get the biggest bang for my buck! By doing a Cardio BrainDance we awaken our bodies, muscles, heart, and mind to a whole new level of instrument (our body) maintenance.

Another way I have endeavored to scaffold movement experiences is to connect each component of the dance lesson to the core curriculum. When we warm-up or cool down with yoga, we connect the movement to the core curriculum. As we create movement, the springboard of course is the core curriculum. As we explore and experience the possibilities of our bodies, we come to understand the connection we have to the curriculum. By creating an ebb and flow during dance class, that is perfectly balanced between the art of dance and its components and core curriculum, one never outshines the other. It coexists naturally and once again the students’ investment gives them the biggest bang for their buck!

The last way I have tried to improve the experience in learning for my students is by providing resources that their classroom teacher can access and use the days I am not with them. The truth is, “We learn by moving,” and if we are not moving, then we are not learning. I began making silly videos, inspired by core curriculum topics, to give students brain breaks. Little do they know, it is not a “break” for the brain, but a kick-start for their synapses to continue working together and becoming inspired to think and make connections.

Our students deserve a bargain. Everyone deserves more than they expect. Over the past five years, with the help of fellow BTS teachers and interns, we have built a collection of resources that are intentional, fun, and accomplish much more than rote movement–these are a big bang for your buck! Here is a link to my website where you can access resources in yoga, cardio, BrainDance, and creative lesson plans.

This blog post was written by Courtni Giles, a BTSArts dance educator for the Washington County School District. She has been teaching dance to students aged 2-18 for over 24 years in the public and private dance sectors. Courtni is currently teaching dance and movement at eight elementary schools for the Severe SPED population. She is currently earning a Master of Arts in Teaching with an emphasis in Fine Arts from the University of Utah.

Comments (1)
  • Courtni Giles is an incredible educator! How generous of her to share her expertise with us!

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