This post was updated on October 25 at 6:39 p.m.
In traditional classes, dancing and disability can be mutually exclusive, but a UCLA club is looking to break down that barrier.
The Expressive Movement Initiative hosts accessible dance classes for children with disabilities every Wednesday, now on Zoom. Emily Coker, a medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine, said she founded EMI in 2013 after noticing a lack of accessibility for children with dance disabilities. As a member of the EMI-UCLA advisory board, Coker said his goals for the club were to provide students with an expressive outlet and to destigmatize disability at UCLA and beyond.
“We use dance as a form of therapy,” Coker said. “We’re able to give kids a chance to express themselves and maybe some of the challenges they’ve faced…in a way that results in more positive and exciting media.”
After learning about the club’s mission statement, EMI community relations director and fourth-year psychobiology student Gorety Nguyen said she joined the club because it unified her passions for dance and helping handicapped children. Nguyen said she believes the club provides needed space for students with disabilities who often feel left out of living in a non-disability friendly world. Through the program, Nguyen said she hopes to build students’ confidence from an early age and establish a community they can rely on.
“I think it’s really important for everyone to know that even though people are neurodiverse, they can achieve things that they don’t think they can achieve,” Nguyen said.
[Related: Student dance groups improvise fall plans, choreograph new ways to connect]
While at the club, Aria Terango, a third-year dance and neuroscience student and artistic director of the club, said she saw firsthand how dance can create a space for children with disabilities to connect with each other. . For example, she said that a mostly non-verbal student found the confidence to express herself more vocally through encouragement from her peers in the classroom.
All children ages 4 to 17 with any level of dance experience and ability are eligible to enroll in classes, Terango said. Each child is paired with a student volunteer who provides individual mentoring throughout the year. Although the student volunteers are not licensed physical therapists, Coker said each had completed the Community Programs Office’s youth safety training workshop. Additionally, each volunteer receives an introductory lecture on movement modification for children with developmental disabilities taught by Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Dr. Rujuta Wilson.
Unlike a traditional dance class, Coker said EMI specifically accommodates students with intellectual or physical disabilities — whether by writing a structured plan on a whiteboard to accommodate students with autism or by adapting leg movements. to do with their arms for students who use wheelchairs.
“The types of disabilities that we often see in our courses require special attention,” Coker said. “Whether it’s a physical obstacle that requires someone to adjust a movement or an attention deficit that forces the instructor to use different techniques to better engage the learner.”
During each class, a lead volunteer guides the group through a series of activities, which are then modified on an individual basis by the individual volunteers to meet the specific needs of each participant. Each week’s session consists of seven basic elements: warm-up, cross floor, strength and flexibility challenges, aerobics, a dance suit, games and a bow – a traditional ballet bow or bow for signal the end of the course, Coker said in an emailed statement.
[Related: Student club holds dance workshops to raise funds for peers affected by COVID-19]
Before COVID-19 hit, classes were initially held at the Semel Institute auditorium, and Coker said the club intended to move to the Wooden Center. But for this term, EMI has adapted its classes to Zoom, and Terango said the organization hopes to hold a virtual recital in the spring. Although Coker said COVID-19 was an unforeseen and disappointing stumbling block, Nguyen said she was optimistic after the first class held on Zoom on October 7 went better than she expected. foreseen.
“We were worried that the parents would be very involved in keeping their children with us, but they were all so committed,” Nguyen said. “They were following the professor, raising their hands to ask questions…and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Although she was initially worried about the transition, Terango said one of the biggest benefits of virtual teaching is the club’s ability to reach a wider audience, even while being accessible to students. from out of state. By bridging the gap between children who want to dance and the educational accommodations they need to succeed, Coker said EMI aims to create a welcoming environment for these children to express themselves in a way that is not centered on their handicaps but rather on their abilities.
“Dancing was such an important part of my life growing up, and I just wanted it to be accessible to everyone,” Coker said.