Teaching students with challenging physical attributes is something I take a lot of pride in. I have taught many many children with prosthetic limbs and wanted to share some tips on how to get them achieveing their absolute best.
Start on the floor and stay there for as long as you can.
Thankfully there are hundreds of really fun skills and training exercises that are on or low to the floor. Finding balance, flexibility and strength in this manner is quite safe and motivating for the student as they will be able to confidently achieve so many skills before the really challenging skills begin.
Focus on strength
Balance in your training is so vital but in this case the priority and focus should be on strength building, especially in the beginning. Having prosthetic limbs means the body’s muscles naturally develop unevenely. This happens differently depending on the limb so make sure to assess this prior to developing a training program. For example, you may give extra sets on the weaker side at first to create balance and stability.
Mentally prepare them to be treated differently. Its not what you think:)
I have had many conversations with children who have challenges physically about what their classes will look like compared to others and it sets them up for tremendous success.
- Highlight your excitement to work with them.
- Let them know that they can reach the same point as everyone else but that journey might look a little different.
- Focus on the fact that they get special execrises and ways to do them because they are special.
- Frustration is part of everyone’s journey, prosthetic or not, so they are not alone.
- They may not try skills as quicky as others because it’s important that they stay safe. This may mean always being their spotter or beside them when trying skills. I always let them know they will be getting extra attention and that’s a good thing.
Place them in the appropriate class like you would anyone else.
Having a prosthetic limb doesn’t change who they are. If they are naturally sporty and hardworking then pair them with those children. If they want to have fun then place them in that type of class. A prosthetic limb does not equal recreational so make sure you get to know the student and their goals properly so that you can add appropriate points to the above conversation that are goal specific. You can refer to any conversation you have with parents when they sign up for different programs and simply reference the expectations for those programs. But make sure this happens after the above conversation.
Take note of their favourite side and focus on that.
I can make suggestions on what leg to start with or how to develop all tricks for one hand but most of you have the knowledge to do this. As they train on the floor take lots of notes on the leg they use to kick in certain situations or how they naturally modify and run with that. The amount problem solving these students do on their own is astounding. They have had to modify their whole lives so learn their modifications before you impose your own.
Be honest with yourself and the student.
If you are not confident teaching a student with different abilities than you need to let that parent know privately. It doesn’t make you any less of a teacher. But this kind of teaching requires a master teacher for many reasons and so directing the student to someone who can provide what they need is paramount for their confidence and long-term success.
All students have their own challenges. Having someone with a prosthetic or amputation is yet another incredibly rewarding experience; not just for myself or the student but for the other students in the class. Even though artists have a tendency to think outside the box it is so important that we are challenged to be our best and this is achieved by bringing dance to everyone and working outside of our comfort zone. Teaching someone with different capabilities to our own is what makes teaching just that. Bringing the best out in someone that may present particular training challenges only makes us better and morally as an industry it’s our job to teach everyone who wants to dance. And quite frankly, the joy I have expereinced when watching a student with challenges achieve is unexplainable; you simply have to try it to know for yourself.
Live Love Dance