Barbara, a Biodanza student under supervision, shares her experience of working with special needs.
It was a surprise for me to find myself facilitating a weekly Special Needs group in Coventry. In June 2013 I had given a free taster session as part of The Coventry Street Festival – approximately 30 people turned up in the hall, made up of about 10 general public and a crowd of other adults, some in wheel chairs, others physically challenged and with learning difficulties, along with half a dozen carers. We all had a really fun time.
The manager of Life Pathways Charity, who arranges activities for this “special needs” group, approached me eager for me to provide a weekly class.
We talked and found we had a common goal for what Biodanza could facilitate – happiness!
We eventually agreed that a room would be booked and paid for by the charity and I would receive a set fee each week, with a proviso that this could be reviewed from time to time. In the New Year I asked for a petrol allowance which was easily agreed upon. At first I looked upon the sessions as fun movement sessions, feeling I needed to gain a better sense of what was going to be best for this group. I had doubts about my capabilities. However, it did not take long to realise I could learn from them. This class has been running now since November 2013 and has proved to be a great success for us all. There are usually about 18 students and 6/7 carers. They travel to the church hall by special transport or by taxi. When I open the door on Friday mornings they look up excited to greet me with waves, smiles, hugs and chatters. It’s very heart warming for me.
It does take my enthusiastic enticement to get them activated. The sessions are somewhat chaotic with lots of chatter, singing and verbal noises. It is very apparent that they love rhythmic music, and once up and on the dance floor they open for more and more. It is obvious from their big smiles and laughter that they are happy and having a great time. This is true of the carers also who now join in and have learned how to support the class by keeping it a little more focussed. What I have learned, having set up a class beforehand, is to be very present and watch for where any adjustments are required, e.g. changing the music or exercises to maintain an “up beat” atmosphere – because if the energy drops, they wonder off and sit down.
The exercises they love most are those that have simple rhythmic movements.
An Opening Circle is not possible as this group is not able to balance or coordinate to move to the right. For now I use a circle with some sitting on chairs, for “getting into the body” with lots of gentle stretching of individual limbs. Walking is always fun as they get into the music. Rhythmic Coordination is when they get creative. Rhythmic synchronisation is done in small groups with a wheelchair user in each group so no one is left out. The Train is a great favourite with a wheelchair user acting as an engine; we have as many Trains as wheelchairs.
We then get into a calmer mode with many of them sitting on chairs, doing some gentle contact exercises, which I started to introduce after a few months. Then sometimes a Swaying Circle of hand holding, sitting, and then moving into more activity with Maximum Extension.
They love hugs, and I play some requested music, e.g. Carly Simon’s, “No One Does It Better”
During the Encounter section which usually lasts at least two songs. Maire Brennan “The Days of the Dancing” is also requested, and I use it for an Activation Circle where they all sing along. I notice they really love being named and associated with a particular song. I tend to use the same music each time, a little variation here and there, as I sense that as they become familiar with the sounds they become more spontaneous and confident.
A few weeks ago I asked one of the class who was nodding his head with a big smile on his face as he was waiting at table for lunch,
“Why are you smiling?” He replied “Because the music is in my body”.
This touched me greatly. He was still nodding as I left after packing away my equipment. Even though I still feel challenged I am inspired to continue, knowing that I am learning more about myself and who I am, for this class calls for more patience and compassion than other classes I have held. I go with no expectations and always come away feeling blessed and happy to be part of life and of something bigger.