It was an unexpected moment in middle school dance teaching when one of my special education classes took their dance learning to a whole new level! It was the last class that I would be witnessing them do for a while as I am about to begin a maternity leave. We were working on a group score that they were choreographing with my guidance for the structure. The para-professionals and classroom teacher were all participating and assisting as needed. I think that day there were 7 students ( special ed classes are small). So after we finished making the dance (some was slightly improvisational) the students performed it a couple of times with their teachers while I watched. They even tried it with a few different tempos of music. After realizing that they really didn’t need their teachers to do it with them, I suggested the adults become the audience and the students use each other if they forget what comes next or just make it up.
They did! My students with quite significant disabilities performed their dance together for the first time without adults, from beginning to end and I was blown away. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but felt enough trust and had faith in their abilities that they could do it. They were very proud of themselves as were their teachers. Confidence was spilling out of them in a way I had never seen before. When I have shared before about teaching special ed and “keeping the bar high” this must be what I meant!
As if my respect and awe of the job description of those caring for and guiding students in schools wasn’t already super high, it has been exceeded in this new school year by how I have witnessed teachers handle the needs of a middle school girl who has had 11 seizures since the first day of school. Two of these disconcerting moments happened during dance. After it happened more than once I began to wonder if it was something in the curriculum setting them off! I witnessed some chaos, fast thinking/reacting and ultimately how the teachers and staff needed to shift all attention to the needs of this young girl. As a dance teaching artist, we often feel shut out of the day to day happenings and information that is known amongst school faculty. However, when it involves the well -being & health of a student, I should hope we are invited to the conversation as trusted, caring adults. After the second incident, I was made privy to understanding the protocol.
It was emotional for me. I showed up with dance curriculum that I was excited to teach and then minutes into the exploration, a child’s body breaks down and cries for help. Realizing that between the multiple para-professionals in the room, classroom teacher, nurse and administrators, my unassumed role was to figure out how to hold the rest of the students (whether in dance class structure or other) outside of the dance space, keep anxiety from rising and keep them safe. Also on a personal level, I wanted to feel secure that someday when I send my daughters to school, that they would be lovingly cared for and safely kept by those I was entrusting them to. It really felt emotional.
Of course, my concern for the student experiencing the seizure was at the heart of my sadness. As the paramedics arrived (both times) and took her to Children’s Hospital, I was thankful and hopeful that something that she did or heard in dance during those minutes before her body tensed up may help her to find her way back. It may not be a straight pathway, but she knows how to dance curvy and zig zag after all.