Visually impaired children may not have much experience of what their bodies can do. There can be delays in their physical development in the critical early years of childhood. They also often have deficits in physical and motor fitness. This can in turn lead to problems with balance and co-ordination. Research has shown that blind people expend more energy in everyday activities than those who can see which can cause tension and stress. Young people with vision problems can also feel socially isolated and very vulnerable to exploitation.

Attending dance movement sessions can bring numerous benefits on many different levels. The pupils learn to listen to instructions and become a member of a group. They learn to express feelings and emotions physically in a non-aggressive manner. Familiarity with their bodies is increased and they learn to use them creatively. Physical flexibility , co-ordination and cardiovascular fitness all improve. Classes are team-building and confidence enhancing. The participants discover that the whole of their bodies can register feelings of touch. Arms, legs, feet, knees, back or butt all feed back sensations of touch.

Classes need to include rhythm and instrumental work, singing accompanied with movement, body awareness exercises, dance improvisations to music and contact improvisation. Contact improvisation is partner work where the weight between the two close moving partners gives rise to the movement.It is a pleasurable, free-flowing dance form. It is sometimes referred to as an art sport because it combines gymnastic and poetic qualities, a healing art because it promotes physical and mental well-being. It is a movement form uniquely suited to blind and deaf/blind people because it is based on the sense of touch.The dance emerges from paying attention to sensations on the surface of the skin and inside the body as two people move in close physical contact.

Kjersti Engebrigtsen a Norwegian dance movement therapist writes " it is often said that the blind understand sequence by touching one thing at a time Dancing on the contrary is a simultaneous experience".

I have had blind pupils in the groups of children with special needs with whom I have had the pleasure of working. Some of them were in wheelchairs with no voluntary movement. Their class teachers and I worked on the floor with them. Usually the pupil was positioned between our outstretched legs leaning back against our chests for spinal support. We never, ever manipulated their limbs. The sessions were mainly about gentle movements to music with sensory elements such as texture, smell and light included. This group had very severe problems but they obviously enjoyed the classes.

We also did square dances with the children in wheelchairs. This activity was much appreciated by them. It increased their spatial awareness as well as their feelings for speed and direction.

I have also worked with blind teenagers in a mixed ability group. Here the emphasis was on socialization and confidence building. There were many activities which needed total confidence in other people. One such activity was standing upright on the vaulting horse and leaping off to be caught by many willing hands. I tried this with my eyes closed and it was terrifying! I really admired the complete trust shown by these young people.

Gender issues arose with this group and we had to be extra sensitive to each individuals choices, wishes, likes and dislikes. A session of social dancing was always included. Being able to take part in social dancing gives teenagers confidence at a time when they are endeavouring to lead a more independent social life. It's good for them to be able to behave in the same way as their peers.

At the moment there is a great deal of innovative work going on in this field. The Third St. Ensemble Company, based in Tuscon in the United States, has a mixed company of children, young adults with or without disabilities, blind and deaf dancers.Amazingly the company performs in English, Spanish and American Sign Language. Wheelchairs are incorporated as props in contact improvisational techniques.

Many of you will know of "Dance Dance Revolution" a game played on a Play Station console. Students at the University of North Carolina had an idea for a modification which would get visually impaired children moving while teaching them braille. They adapted "DDR" mats so that they could be connected to the USB port on a PC. This has created a game which gets the children moving while teaching them braille characters at the same time. The children use their hands, feet, head or other parts of their bodies to press appropriate dots for the braille character. Schools throughout North Carolina are now using this system which helps improve spacial awareness while also improving muscle strength.

Buse Gowda of Bangalore, India lost his sight at three years old due to an accident. Ashok Kumar was a dance teacher engaged by the Ramana Maharishi Academy for the blind. He had no idea how to teach dance to visually impaired students. It was Buse Gowanda who asked Ashok Kumar to demonstrate and hold a pose. He then felt his teachers' limbs to understand and explore the pose. Buse Gowda then tried to copy the pose. To help his students Ashok Kumar created a "touch and feel" technique. Buse Gowda is now a renowned dancer who excels in facial expressions. He received a national award in 2000 for outstanding achievement in the field of creative arts.

This just shows that blindness does not stop those with talent from being great dancers if we give them the opportunity.

Author's Bio: 

Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance Movement Therapist and ethnologist with wide experience of Dance in Africa and Europe. As an ethnologist her main field of research was into West African traditional religion. As a Dance Movement Therapist her area of specialization is working with children who have challenging behaviour or severe physical and intellectual Special Needs. Dzagbe is now working on helping the parents of such children to appreciate the healing effects of dance. She is the author of the e-manual "Dance to Health - Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance." For more Information visit Dance to Health