Ballet Therapy — is ballet therapeutic to children with special needs?

Assisting in First Position

The short answer is a resounding YES!

When we think of something as therapeutic, we think of the “something” as being beneficial to the health and well being of the person. We think of it as healing or improving areas that prior to the therapy/treatment were weak or non-functioning.

Ballet has always been known to be beneficial. It increases coordination, physical strength and flexibility. It improves self-confidence, self-esteem, focus and body awareness. When you combine the traditional benefits of ballet with The Schlachte Method™, a method of teaching ballet that gives all children access to learn, ballet therapy is the result.

Now we arrive at the question: how is ballet therapy beneficial to my child?

Ballet as taught through The Schlachte Method™ can assist children in three major areas: Behaviorally, Socially, and Physically.

Behaviorally, ballet helps children self-regulate, improve attention span and listening skills, and decrease inappropriate behaviors.

We’ve had students with Autism or ADHD diagnoses who’ve been unable to focus long enough to learn their academics or to complete simple tasks. However, once they started ballet, their parents have reported an increased interest in reading or that their child is now doing things independently. Once we had a father tell us through tears that his daughter “came in from school the other day, put away her lunchbox, went to her room and got on her ballet clothes. She then put on her ballet DVD and started practicing.” Why is this so amazing? It was the first time in her eight years that she’d done anything without being asked or prompted. Many parents, behaviorist, and teachers comment that once a child starts ballet their focus increases, inappropriate behaviors decrease, and previously stressful situations are now handled with a new level of grace. Another parent told me she loved ballet day because it was the one day her four-year-old twins were calm and listened, and were able to be at home without running all over the place.

Socially, ballet increases self-confidence giving children a context in which to socialize. It improves eye contact and proprioception in relation to others, it increases emotional intelligence, and it assists in learning proper classroom etiquette.

Ballet gives children with special needs a context in which to share and participate in extracurricular activities with a peer group. One parent shared a story about how her daughter, who is autistic and non-verbal, went to a party and brought her ballet DVD from class. Historically, this girl didn’t do well at parties – she would withdraw to “get through” large social gatherings. However, at this party she put on her ballet DVD and started dancing. A couple of other typical kids joined her and the three of them danced together. She loved the party and was included with other children in a way she never had been before. As one of my volunteers with Aspergers stated… “ballet was the one place I could fit in and be with others without worrying that I didn’t know what to do or say.” As with all children, extracurricular activities give children with special needs the ability to meet friends and a place to grow and cultivate those friendships. This holds especially true for children with special needs as their choices in extracurricular activities are limited. As one mother told me, “I love the fact that I can tell my friends and family I’m taking my daughter to ballet – not social skills, or speech therapy or any of the other myriad of other therapies she has to do. I am so proud that she is able to do this and do it well.”

Physically, ballet assists with motor planning, increased coordination in both gross and fine motor skills, balance, working bi and cross laterally, increased strength and flexibility, proprioceptive skills, and body awareness and confidence.

We’ve had children with Cerebral Palsy increase their range of motion, improve their posture and walk better as a result of taking ballet. We’ve had many pediatricians tell parents that their children have greatly improved in their posture (even children with scoliosis), strengthened muscle tone (especially children with Hypotonia) and are stronger and healthier overall after taking ballet classes. I have one student with peripheral neuropathy who has slowly gained greater strength and balance. What I find most remarkable is her increased ability to walk unassisted and to stand (even for a few seconds) without falling over.

The wonderful thing about ballet as taught through The Schlachte Method™ is that it is a physical, occupational, behavioral, and social skills therapy. But to the child, it is just ballet and they LOVE it.

So, yes, ballet is very therapeutic. But more importantly it is a way to help the children express themselves and be part of the larger community of dancers. In class the children are ballet dancers – the therapeutic results are just icing on the cake.