My mom enrolled me in dance classes at a local studio when I was four years old to help me overcome a sensitivity to loud noises and to improve balance, flexibility, and socialize with other kids my age. I started out with tap dancing classes and as I got older, I also started studying jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and took social dancing classes through another program in our area as well, though tap has always been my favorite out of all of them. While I didn’t pursue dance professionally or competitively, I did have several amazing teachers who practiced fantastic inclusion strategies that helped me tremendously as a dancer with low vision, and as I got older I was able to start advocating for myself in the studio and work with my teachers to perfect the latest choreography or adapt things as needed. Here are my tips for taking dance classes with low vision, as well as tips for supporting dancers with vision loss, based on my own experiences.
Can you dance with glasses?
There’s a lot of visual information that needs to be processed in dance classes, including movement, potential obstacles, and similar. While some dancers may prefer to dance without glasses, I always kept my glasses on for safety reasons since I need to wear my glasses at all times and cannot wear contacts. One option for making sure glasses stay secured is to attach a sports or safety strap that ensures the glasses remain in place, which can be purchased online or at an optician’s office. Another option is to use a spare pair of glasses for dance activities so that the student’s primary pair of glasses is protected against damage.
Make sure dance shoes are secured
I have trouble tying shoes, so all my dance shoes had elastic ties or buckles to secure the shoe to my foot. This ensures that laces don’t become accidentally undone while dancing, and that I can also get shoes on and off by myself. I have an entire post about using adapted laces for shoes linked below, though the most common method we used for securing my shoes was to sew a piece of elastic across the shoe.
- My Favorite Shoes For Chiari Malformation
- Adapting Band Uniforms For Photosensitivity and Sensory Overload
Provide descriptions of movement and specific location terms
Instead of telling a dancer to do something “like this” or to move “over there”, provide specific descriptions of movement or location information. When one of my friends taught a dance class in college, they would introduce the name of the dance move we would be learning and give students a detailed description of what it would look like, and then model the movement while talking. By giving the name of the dance move, a student could look up more information after class to see additional demonstrations and practice.
So what would that look like with different dance styles? Here are some examples:
- A fan kick is where one leg travels in a wide circular motion, starting from the front of the other leg and moving up into the air with a full range of motion, over the head, and back to a resting position. It is similar to the motion of opening a paper fan.
- A tendu involves extending the working leg across the floor until only the tip of the toe touches the floor. It can be pointed in any direction, but right now we are pointing towards the front of the room.
- For a cramp roll, start by pressing the ball of your left foot onto the ground, and then press the ball of your right foot onto the ground so your heels are elevated above the ground. Lower your left heel to the ground so your left foot is flat on the ground again, and then lower the right heel.
- Creating Audio Description For Dance Tutorials With YouDescribe
- Cotillion and Low Vision
- Swing Dancing And Low Vision
Ask permission before guiding through movements
To ensure that dancers are using the proper form, it is helpful to guide someone’s movement by touching their arm or moving their leg to model the correct position. Since I have trouble seeing people who are next to me, I appreciated when my teacher would ask me if they could guide me through a movement instead of just grabbing my arm without saying anything, and also helped me to pay more attention to what they were modeling.
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- How To Approach Someone with Low Vision Without Scaring Them
Allow students to choose an area where it is easy to see themselves/the teacher
While some of my instructors had students alternate whether they stood in the front of the room or the back of the room during instruction time, I asked my ballet instructor if I could always be in the front row because it was easier for me to see in the mirror and to see what they were doing. While performing, I felt comfortable being pretty much anywhere on the floor/stage, but when it came time to learn new movements or to mimic the movement of someone else, I would stand slightly diagonal to where they were standing so I could see them more easily. Students with other eye conditions may have a different preferential seating (or standing) location that is not directly in the front of the room, so instructors should ask the student which location works well for them.
Use high contrast tape or chalk to establish boundaries
I didn’t use a blindness cane at the time I was regularly taking dance classes, though I don’t think my cane would have made a good dance partner anyway since it wouldn’t be very effective at helping me avoid obstacles. To make sure dancers didn’t crash into each other or walk off the edge of a platform, my instructors would add high contrast tape or chalk to help us orient ourselves within the studio or performance space. Since I have no depth perception, having the guides on the floor also helped me ensure I was taking appropriately sized steps and also that I didn’t accidentally hit someone with a prop.
Hang distinctive landmarks on the wall
My instructor: “Okay everyone, use the clock as a spotting aid when doing these triple turns.”
“Veronica, look at the clock, you’re not doing this right.”
“Wait… Veronica, can you see where the clock is?”
This interaction led my instructor to realize that the white framed clock on the white wall was difficult for me to see, and I also had no idea where it was located. Since spotting is an important dance technique and often involves focusing on an object, it helps to ensure landmarks that are used for spotting are distinctive and provide adequate contrast against the wall. Once the white clock was replaced with a black framed clock, it became much easier for me to practice doing turns without getting dizzy!
- Choosing High Contrast Color Schemes For Low Vision
- Environmental Accommodations For Low Vision Students
Before rehearsing, allow dancers to orient themselves to unfamiliar spaces
When entering a new classroom or performance venue for the first time, it’s helpful for me to orient myself to the empty space before I practice or perform. For a dance setting, this might mean figuring out where the barres are located in a classroom and if they are secured to the wall, finding the edge of the stage and location of the stairs or other potential tripping hazards, and practicing getting on/off stage by myself or with assistance. In the case of theater performances, I’d also check out the stage lighting ahead of time so I could decide if I needed to wear sunglasses to help with light sensitivity.
Other tips for taking dance classes with low vision
- Provide dancers with videos or other online resources so that they can watch demonstrations on their own devices or larger screens at home
- If a dancer frequently crashes into the barre while doing floor exercises, consider adding a colored ribbon or other aid so that it is easier for them to see the obstacle
- Beginning dancers may benefit from using the “buddy system” so they can also ask another dancer questions or get help with modeling specific choreography
- Students with low vision may have difficulty recognizing other students in the class, especially at the beginning of the year. Give students time to learn to recognize the voices of other students in the class, and have students identify themselves when approaching another student, i.e “this is Nicole, I’m on your left”