Which approach have you adopted?
Violaine: “Working together has allowed us to offer an individual support to those who needed it most, as, for instance, a visually impaired student. It also allows us to join forces to share the pleasure of dancing and answer to the most varied needs. Each group is different and with its own context: it’s up to us to answer the needs of the eight groups we worked with. I felt like a fish swimming and working to create a current, alongside my colleague Angélique”.
Angélique: “As Violaine said, working in duo offers the priceless opportunity to lead a group while taking care of one individual who has larger needs than the others: a visually impaired student, or one whose attention wanders constantly or a satellite student who eventually joins in.
During the classes, at some point we ask the students to move through the space (we were lucky to have a large gym): one of us goes to the starting point and explains the exercise, while the other one waits for the students at the end of the path, to encourage and welcome them. It’s a small thing of incredible value. I feel privileged to be working this way.
And most importantly, it’s the students who benefit the most from this set-up. And this is invaluable. The Grands Ballets really care about the progress of each child”.
Were there any challenges? Which ones?
Angélique: “Dance can really help creating a sense of being part of a group, of belonging. This feeling can be strengthened with games for two and three people, as well as the whole group. For example, for thousands of years, the circle where everyone holds hands, turns in a circle and then moves to the centre together is a symbol of unity and it favours contact and intimacy.
This year, because of the pandemic, we couldn’t do it. And yet, since visual and physical contact are something on which autistic people need to work hard on to integrate in a society where neurotypical people are the majority, we had, on our side, to work hard to find ways to encourage contact. We have kept the idea of the circle, but… socially distanced. We take a few steps towards the centre… without ever getting there! But we look at each other’s, we listen to each other’s and we continue the movements started by each member of the circle to show the cohesion of everyone: students, teachers and professors.
Something else I like to use, which work on a long-term basis, such as this time, is music. I believe rhythm is essential to cohesion, even more in a context like this when certain interventions are not allowed. Inspired by the propositions of the students, I tried to find a song that would make students move with the same passion, the same rhythm, thus creating or reinforcing the sense of belonging necessary to the self-esteem”.
Violaine: “Masks have often forced to slow down to breath, often interrupting the flow; however, this has also been an opportunity to help students develop a better body awareness and better respiratory movements. We had the advantage of having a large gym, where we could easily respect the social distancing measures and the class bubbles.
Which benefits have you observed?
Angélique et Violaine: “We have observed that dance helps the students relax, express themselves, work on their posture and improve their social, emotional and physical skills.
The students are more engaged when their teachers dance as well. And they often invite the teachers to join themselves. Thanks to the collaborative spirit of the staff at L.I.N.K.S., we worked well together to overcome the challenges and better know the students.
According to the staff, our dance classes improve the group cohesion, develop collaboration among the students and strengthen their self-esteem. Some teachers have mentioned they benefit from the classes as well.
Here are some of the comments we received at the end of the sessions: “I’m ready for the week now!”, “I love dancing”, “I want to stay here”, “Thank you for letting us dance freely”, “I feel well”, “I feel calm”, “I’m ready to work”.
With this project, the students have benefited from this wonderful art that encourages connecting with the self, and with the others, and has essential benefits in terms of emotional regulation and body, mind and emotion spirit.
To mark their accomplishments, at the end of the year, since we couldn’t gather, we filmed the students, so that they could show their dance routine to their families and educators. It was, for the students, a way to celebrate the school Spring Show and for us to celebrate the vitality inherent to dance".