Working with Special Needs Groups

(written in 2003)

I have danced with a number of special needs groups since I first started teaching Sacred Circle Dance. I have been going to the Greenfield Centre in Reading since April 2002 and I really love it. Then, recently, I had a call from the leader of a group I used to dance with many years ago: her group has apparently talked about Circle Dancing ever since my previous visits so we have booked a series of sessions.

I am really passionate about this work as I see amazing changes in the people and I get such a 'buzz' myself from doing it. A few anecdotes will illustrate this. One of the girls at Greenfield has danced with me since I started last April on the day the centre opened. She hardly speaks at all, so you can imagine how I felt the day she answered my question "Did you enjoy the dancing?" with "Yes, thank you. Goodbye". On another occasion we were dancing Kastorias, which is a dance about a horse rider seeing a deer in the wood and the deer running away as we clap in rhythm to the music. She had never clapped before, just standing rocking backwards and forwards. Suddenly with great concentration and determination on her face she moved her arms upwards and clapped. It was enough to bring tears to the eyes. I was told that it was the first time she had done anything proactively at the centre. She still does not usually clap, but when she does it is magical.

When I first started dancing there, another client of the centre sat on the floor rocking herself back and forth not really participating in anything - she does not speak at all. One day she was encouraged to join in the dancing and has been coming ever since. Some weeks she is already in the room when I arrive waiting for me to create the centrepiece! One week she pushed up to me after the wedding dance, Nigun Atik, and I asked if she had enjoyed it. Her response was to tap her mouth, which means "Yes". This was the first time I had seen her express an opinion about a dance and it was a real thrill.

I have realised that the patterns we make are the most important thing for these folk in remembering dances. At Reading, I introduced them to Setnja just recently. This curves into the centre and then comes straight out. When I suggested doing it the following week, one of the chaps immediately demonstrated the pattern of the steps. My words are of little importance, it is the shapes we make on the floor or with our arms that they remember. That is how they tell me which dances they want to do.

I feel a great bond with these disadvantaged people and they have opened my heart in a very beautiful way. Some of my friends say they could not do it, but I just love it. I hope they will want me to go on dancing with them for a very long time.

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