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"Universal Language" Of Dance Brings Movement Therapy to Children with Autism

Tuesday, June 19, 2018   (0 Comments)
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From: Saint Cloud Times

ST. CLOUD — Brittni Cleland had no idea when she started teaching dance it would lead her to movement therapy.

 

But now, 11 years later, her heart is tethered to teaching dance to people with Parkinson's disease, depression and cancer. She said the population of those who benefit from dance movement therapy is limitless.

 

This week, she will serve the autism community in St. Cloud during her specialized class — Dance for All, Autism Movement Therapy at the Paramount Center for the Arts. Autism Movement Therapy is dancing specifically tailored to children with autism, to help them get out of their box in a social way. 

 

"I’m a movement person myself," said Cleland. "I think it’s important for the individuals taking it to learn how to move their bodies and to just embrace who they are and being socially engaged." 

 

Cleland said many children with autism don't have as many opportunities to be in a group setting and a social environment, so dance is an important way for them to break out of their shells with kids like them. 

 

"Studies have found certain movements work the right and left sides of the brain," she said.  Movement curated specially for children with autism draws on these specific movements.  "Really it’s about maintaining that autonomy of the child and letting them be themselves however uniquely that is."

 

Cleland explained so many dance classes are rigidly structured, which can prove more difficult for children who have trouble focusing, like those with autism and even ADD or ADHD. Cleland's training in this movement therapy caters to those distractions and gives the kids the freedom they need right off the bat.

 

"I always tell parents, it's going to look like chaos at first," she said. "It does look like chaos on the outside, but it’s really just about letting these kids be free." And that freedom is giving them the space to grow and become more comfortable moving their bodies and being in a group setting. 

 

 "The purpose of it is to let them be themselves and embrace the movement, and whatever movement comes out of their body is okay, and to let them be empowered by it," said Cleland.

 

Cleland taught this same class at the Paramount last year. She's originally from Minnesota, but has bounced around much of the country for school and teaching. When the Paramount asked her to come back and teach again, she didn't have a second thought.  "I believe in whatever you’re learning to bring back and give to the community that gave to you," she said. 

 

She said in the past, she and those at Paramount had even done a class where dance was used to teach math — which may sound kind of crazy, but she said it really works. This autism dance class is no different.


 

Universal language

"In order to retain information we need to embody it, and move it and use it," she said. Often, dance is an expressive form of healing — what Cleland called a "universal language."


 

"You don’t have to have words to communicate, you can use your body language," she said. "We forget about how much our movement and moving our body can do for us to communicate a message." Cleland's hope is that even when she leaves Central Minnesota for her next dance endeavor, this class can continue. 

 

 "I hope that someone from the town sees it and is inspired and wants to go out and get certified and start a class themselves," she said. "Repetition is key for (these kids) and consistency is key." She hopes someone will keep it going and create a class for those with autism to have once a week, the way it should be. 

 

Dance for All really is open to all: children up to 17, parents, teachers or paraprofessionals. Anybody who could benefit from learning movement techniques with these children are welcome to attend. 

 

The class started Monday and runs through Thursday. Classes are broken down by age group and are capped between eight to 10 people to keep it personal. More information and registration can be found on the Paramount's website under the Education & Outreach section here.


 

Dance for All, Autism Movement Therapy Dance Class:

  • Open to all - children with autism, parents, teachers, etc.
  • Dates: Monday, June 18 - Thursday, June 21.
  • Classes broken into age groups: 4-6 years old, 7-11 years old, 12-17 years old.
  • Class start time respective to groups: 3:20-4:10 p.m., 1-1:50 p.m., 2:10-3 p.m.
  • Cost: $15
  • Classes capped between 8-10 students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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