Tap Dancing

Tap Dancing is a new recreational skill for Ian.  He’s been taking class for six months and has gotten progressively better and better. The sensory experience of tapping, the musicality of the dance and the fast pace all help keep Ian focused for his 45 minute class. Ian is taking classes at Creatively Wild, in DUMBO Brooklyn. The dance program is flexible and the teachers are open to working with kids on the spectrum and even adding classes for students based on interest. If you are interested in trying a dance class for your ASD child, I highly recommend Creatively Wild. I asked my son’s teacher Blake to share what it has been like working with Ian. Blake is an amazing tap dancer and teacher but had no previous experience working with a student with Autism. Here’s Blake’s story:

When I was told I was going to be teaching a teenage boy with Autism how to tap dance I, of course, had some expectations. I’d never really interacted with anyone with autism outside of maybe a short conversation. I was anxious that I might not be the one for the job. I predicted that, if I could keep him focused, we would work on one or two steps a day and hope that he retains at least some of the lesson.I could not have been more off the mark. Ian showed up with his therapist Lesly, slapped on his tap shoes and we got straight to work. He was hungry to learn. The biggest challenge was indeed holding his focus but it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. Having grown up medicated for ADHD I know what a challenge focus can be. Lesly and I worked together to develop ways to hold Ian’s attention and help him retain the knowledge. After the first couple of lessons Ian was learning steps faster than I could dish them out.  As it turns out, Ian needs his lessons fast. I tried slowly breaking down each step sound by sound but he quickly got distracted and lost interest.  We found that if we introduced the step to Ian quickly he would automatically break the step down himself. Once he saw the beginning and the end of the step he was able to piece together its connecting steps and rhythm by watching me repeat it over and over.  When we went across the floor repeating a traveling step, we ended each time by tapping our hands on the wall. It was a small reward system that kept his mind on the task at hand by showing him an end result in sight.  Once we had our structure for learning down we got to work on tightening up rhythms and lengthening the time of our combinations.

I was so nervous before my first class with Ian that I of course had to call Mom. Mom is a 3rdgrade teacher back home in Ohio, and is certified in special education. She gave me a lot of tips on how to approach situations with Ian and on how to hold his focus. One of the most valuable lessons she taught me on the subject was that Ian won’t pick up on social cues. I didn’t need to worry about making sure Ian liked me or that I didn’t hurt his feelings like when I teach my 5 year old all girls tap class. She assured me that my attention should be on holding his. I noticed early on that Ian was very distracted by sounds so I quickly realized that as long as I had taps on my feet I had a pretty fair chance of keeping Ian focused on me. If Ian ever got distracted by sounds in other studios or by himself looking particularly handsome in one of the studio mirrors I could usually get him back with a loud sound. We’ve also found that having a definite start and end of any activity is a good way to lock in a lesson and make sure it’s memorable and repeatable. Ian’s favorite way to start a combination is with “Stomp hop” so we start a lot of them that way. It helps us because when Ian sees me do “stomp hop” he knows we’re at the beginning of a sequence.

Overall teaching Ian has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. He’s helped me face my fears as far as being a good teacher is concerned and gives me something to look forward to every Sunday. Thanks to Ian I’ve added many more teaching skills to my set and have the pleasure of passing on my favorite form of dance to a new friend.