How Dance Helped Me Work Through My Autism and Open Up to Others
At first I didn't consider the possibility of becoming a dance major. In high school, I wanted to be a doctor. I started college on the pre-med track, but found myself waking up in the middle of the night with an urge to express myself physically. I would get out of bed and go dance on top of the parking garages on campus.
With high functioning autism, I had a difficult time socializing. I pressured myself to force conversation. I thought that if I simply told myself to get over the social anxiety and force a smile, it would make things better. This didn't turn out too well—I would be exhaust myself trying to talk to others and still feel frustrated that I couldn't make friends.
One day, I came across an article about how much communication relies on body language. I wasn't skilled at speaking, but I figured that if I became more proficient at moving my body and understanding body language, I would get better at communicating.
My friend Maya suggested that I audition for The University of Texas at Austin dance department, and the next thing I knew, I got my acceptance letter.
My time in the dance department was challenging, to say the least. At the freshman orientation, I had a sudden panic attack at how many people were in the room and had to remove myself to the second floor, rocking back and forth for some time. I wanted desperately to be friendly, but I just didn't know how to do it.
Once, in technique class, we had a visiting choreographer come lead the class. He did not speak at all and only went through the movement, adding on little by little. It was the first time I had ever experienced a class where speaking was almost non-existent and without any explanation of what his body was doing.
I had another panic attack and had to sit out for 10 minutes while I collected my thoughts and reassured myself that the classroom was a safe space to dance.
It was also difficult for the other students to feel like they could come up to me and talk. I was always as nice as I could be, but I was a 21-year-old transfer student dancing with 18 year olds. For about two months, I was alone at a barre while the other students would crowd the surrounding barres so they wouldn't be near me. They had their cliques and their friends and I just didn't seem to fit.
Then I had a breakthrough. I was cast in Charles Anderson's (Re)current Unrest at the Fusebox Festival, which was exceptionally challenging, not only due to the technical difficulty and sheer physicality of his African Contemporary technique, but also because he wanted me to be a vessel to assist in the narration of his piece, to really set my own person aside and become the embodiment of his idea. The piece was critically successful and a formative moment in my career. Through it, I gained respect from the other dancers. It wasn't friendship, but it was the closest thing to it.
I continued to find acceptance in the department as a result of choreographing in two productions back to back. Teaching and conveying the ideas I had would have been much more difficult if it weren't for the movement vocabulary created by Rudolph Laban. His language greatly increased the dancers' understanding of what I wanted them to do.
This process helped to grow my social skills—I came to understand that certain words carry an idea much easier than others. Finding the right words to convey an idea can be a challenge, but it pays off with no forced sentences, and a greater understanding of one another.
In my coursework and an independent study project with Dr. Tina Curran, focusing on effective teaching methods for learners with autism, I learned new things about myself and best practices for others like me. Most importantly, lessons are most powerful when built around students' interests. For instance, if a student is particularly into trains and it's a math class, then creating a lesson that goes into the height, width, length, speed or the weight of the train would help a student with autism learn the material best.
Why I find dance works so well with autistic students is that teaching dance doesn't have to be done using words. It is possible to teach movement without saying anything. Students pay close attention to what the body is doing and this helps connect specific movements to emotions and emotional responses. Dancing helps students to understand body language and communicate to others, a practice children will continue for the rest of their lives.
I personally found dance effective because it helps me develop communication, literally from the feet up through the body and out the mouth into words. The idea of understanding the body has even helped me outside of dance. I continue my practice of dance so that I may continue to better understand communication from dancer to audience, communication in the classroom and communication between people.
- Dance/Movement Therapy and Autism | Psychology Today ›
- Autism in the Studio - Dance Teacher ›
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago The Autism Project (TAP) ›
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.