Developing and Sustaining an Inclusive Dance Program: Strategic Tools and Methods

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In the 1980s, mixed ability or physically integrated dance companies, such as AXIS and Dancing Wheels, began with professional performance goals, aimed at producing high-quality choreographic work involving individuals with and without disabilities. Those companies are pioneers in the integrated dance field and serve as beneficial models of development. Generally speaking, dancers with disabilities began learning movement expertise through choreographic explorations initially (McGrath 2012). There were no studios or training venues preparing young dancers or adults for the potential of professional or preprofessional dance. The realization that there were no consistent, well-developed training programs caused these companies to create opportunities for training. These companies now hold workshop intensives and community classes to attempt to fill the gap. Still, more consistent training opportunities in different locations are needed, especially for young students (Aujla and Redding 2014). Efforts at codification of training techniques for individuals with disabilities are also relatively new and in need of further development to address varying disabilities. One notable effort can be seen in the Dancing Wheels manual, Physically Integrated Dance Training: The Dancing Wheels Comprehensive Guide for Teachers, Choreographers and Students of Mixed Abilities, published in 2012. Another may be seen in Alito Alessi’s Dance Ability International (2008), the first teacher training certification program for integrated and inclusive dance, focusing on contact improvisation methods. Additionally, in the area of wheelchair ballroom dance sport, codification of expectations has occurred for wheelchair dancers in a competition frame (International Paralympic Committee wheelchair dance sport 2014). These are beneficial efforts in the field, and we need more of these efforts, especially for youth, to make dance accessible to diverse populations and enable professional preparation. Recognizing the lack of training options in our area for any type of integrated dance that was not simply recreational, the company founder, also a dancer with a disability, founded the training program discussed in this article.

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Journal of Dance Education, v. 15, issue 3, p. 122-129