We are so excited to be expanding to New York City! Ballet For All Kids is the only studio that welcomes children of ALL abilities and disabilities. Until now, we have only been able to be in the Los Angeles area. One of our lovely teachers, Rebecca, is now attending NYU and is offering classes in Manhattan. We are so thrilled to be able to offer classes to children with special needs in the NYC area!
There was a study in which a group of students were tested and then grouped accordingly in gifted and remedial groups. The teachers were told which group was gifted and which group was remedial. At the end of the school year, the gifted group, as expected, got above average grades; whereas, the remedial group received average to below average grades. Only then was it reveled that the “gifted” kids were really the remedial kids and that the “remedial” kids actually were the ones that tested as gifted. The study was conducted to see if the expectations of the teachers really influenced the student’s performance. Obviously, expectations make a huge difference in the outcome.
In my years of teaching, I too have noticed a similar phenomenon – whatever is expected of the student in terms of learning or in terms of behavior is usually exactly what you get. I have had people comment that they cannot believe the progress that students achieve through Ballet For All Kids – both in terms of behaviors and in terms of ballet technique. When students come into the classroom, they are in a ballet class (not a dance program for children with special needs) and are expected to follow all of the rules and etiquette of any ballet class. In ballet, you are to come to class prepared, listen and focus on the teacher’s instructions, try your best, and behave with grace and decorum. Ballet teachers expect that their students will try their best to have correct technique and will demonstrate the self- discipline to keep practicing and perfecting the technique in class.
So when kids, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, come into a Ballet For All Kids class they tend to conform to the expectations. Our students really become quite amazing dancers. Often people will comment that they cannot tell which of our students are disabled and which of our students are typical. We also get comments from other ballet teachers that our students have great technique. Many of our students will transition into a typical ballet setting quite easily and end up being extremely successful.
The first thing we tell our new volunteers is to expect the best from all of the kids. Do not let a student get away with poor technique or behavior just because they are disabled. The results again have been quite amazing. We have children with Cerebral Palsy completing ballet technique all the while improving their Range of Motion, balance, motor planning and coordination. Some of our students who are on the Autism Spectrum and have ADHD remain focused, calm, and are incredible attentive during class – this improvement in ballet class affecting positively in their school classrooms and at home.
Our expectation of our students to do their best is a huge key to our success – you really do get what you expect!
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.