In June 2021 I was asked by danssport Vlaanderen to put some of the tips for teachers and trainers on paper. Due to corona, the article would not be published until a year later within the VTS trainer documentation for a trainer program for teaching dancers with a visual impairment. Since I have been collecting more and more knowledge about dancing with blindness lately, I will rewrite and pimp the article for Danssport Vlaanderen in 2022. But we already got the green light to share my knowledge with you on our site in this article specifically aimed at the teacher. Happy reading and viewing.

EExplicit language, words such as: right, left, front, back, oblique, 90°, 180°, 360° are important and primordial indications for a basic course in dancing with visually impaired or blindness.

Welcome to the world of the blind where

  1. sound and
  2. touch

are the most important tools for them.

These two methods are therefore very important in a course “dance for the blind” and should be used systematically and orderly by the teacher with care and attention.

This text is an introduction to the use of these two methods.

Practical requirements:

  • For the dancer

1. Walking stick / cane (short or long does not matter depending on the place)
2. Good sound system / microphone – clear language
3. Good shoes

  • In the dance room

1. Plain floor
2. Piece of free wall
3. Rectangular panels of 1 m by 2 m
4. Chair
5. Point to attach the dog so that he or she can continue to see his owner

In addition, creating a repetitive framework is important and useful. The visually impaired person can therefore expect a routine that will help him or her.

By a repetitive frame we mean:

  1. Point of contact (it is best to have someone who welcomes the blind or partially sighted person)
  2. Space (must always be set up identically)
  3. Course (repetitive course of the lesson – also before and after)
    1. Point of contact or reception by a (preferably permanent) volunteer, dancer, …. Say who you are, ask how people prefer to be guided (on the shoulder, elbow, left, right), do not pet the blind guide dog when he is still wearing his armor, escort the visually impaired to a permanent place.  
    2. Fixed place for preparatory work: placing the chair, attaching the dog – watering the dog (the dog is a hard worker, do not forget to give the animal a drink before you start the lesson, often he has been on the track for some time and is a drink and a well-deserved break for his new task after the dance lessons)
    3. After designating seat, make sure stick, dancing shoes, drinking bottle are at hand.
    4. Dance lesson starts: designate dance place in the hall
    5. Each lesson informs/communicates the teacher about the presence of non-sighted people to the sighted in case of inclusive and how the procedure of the lesson will be (structure)

Warm Up Exercises

Blind people generally have many difficulties with orientation of the head and often also the shoulders. This has a causal relationship. Research has shown that this is because they initially receive fewer stimuli than sighted people, but also because they receive little or no feedback about this. This is the case for people born blind, but also for people with an abnormal disease. Extra attention to warm-up exercises is therefore not only interesting for flexibility, but also for the stimulation and further maintenance of the general motor skills of the body.

  1. Head:
    1. Right before
    2. Full left
    3. Full right
    4. Down
    5. Upwards
  2. Shoulders: classic shoulder warm-up exercises, where we clearly indicate which shoulder should be moved forwards and backwards, at what speed and how many times. Remain observant as you move the shoulders back and forth.
  3. Hips go – front and back, twists
  4. Bounce difficult (difficult relationship up-down movement)

The inclusive dance class

  1. Spatial arrangement & sound for visually impaired
    1. Guide the visually impaired to a fixed place. Keep the microphone and the speaker in mind when you teach with a microphone. The visually impaired will focus on the speaker and not on you. Make sure that the visually impaired is at a comfortable distance from the sound, but that you as a teacher can see the visually impaired good. Indicate the place so that sighted dancers become familiar with the repetitive nature of dancing with the blind or partially sighted.
    2. Holding the shoulders of your dance partner creates a better connection, you can’t see who is standing in front of you, but you can estimate the physical person in front of you that way. It allows you to control how big or small you perform your arm movements. The latter is important as it gives you the opportunity to be a gallant leader.
    3. For some exercises such as the basic bounce technique it is useful when the visually impaired stands behind the sighted and dances one after the other with hands on the shoulders instead of in front of each other – creates a cadence / understanding the rhythm
    4. Feeling is sometimes a must, let the movement be performed by the sighted while the blind feels: hips, knees. Many blind people drag their feet and show little mobility in the knees, to be able to feel this on the knees of the seeing partner
    5. Some dance figures are better left out or better adapted. eg. using hooking in is not always pleasant for the dance partner. Because the blind person cannot always estimate the exact proportions with regard to his/her dance partner, it is better as a teacher not to push certain exercises, in this way accidents are avoided such as elbow to nose, glasses, jaw of the dance partner who is dancing with the visually impaired / blind person. Point out this fact to the blind before the exercise or figure is taught within an inclusive lesson and also say why this figure or exercise should not be danced in eg socials. For salsa, for example, you can teach a setenta con rumba instead of a setenta et uno. The difference between the two figures is half a meter, so you can safely have fun.
    6. Walking stick as horizontal 0 line for feet and sound (teacher/music)
  1. Spatial arrangement & sound for the seeing dance partner
    1. As a sighted dance partner you have to take a few things into account. In other words, it is important to look for “2”. Dancing with a visually impaired also has its advantages. You will be double focused so that you will master the dance technique better.
    2. Easy protocol
      1. Say who you are and what you are going to do (in case the teacher does not give a joint assignment)
      2. Keep the distance between you and your visually impaired dance partner as equal as possible, this will enable him to master the mutual proportions per figure
      3. Check the hands of the visually impaired regularly. If the visually impaired is the leader, you must always respond to the changing of hands, if the visually impaired is the follower, you will have to take his or her hand a split second of the dance.
      4. Let them know when you’re leaving
      5. Familiar dancing with a dance partner is useful, too many changing dance partners can cause a lot of frustration in the beginning for the visually impaired, later when the dancer is more comfortable, more changing dance contacts are certainly possible
  1. Contact & touch

Some dance styles maintain permanent body contact, the best example is the Antillean and Brazilian Zouk where, if one does not have hand contact, one has contact with the upper body (think of the Argentine tango), the full arms (Waltz), or contact with the knees. Also feet next to each other, in front of each other, can be a nice indicator, eg very often applicable to the authentic and urban kizomba.

  1. Social:

We came to the conclusion that because people do not see, a lot of social connection is missed, in addition, society creates physical barriers, which is normal. But in the case of visual impairment with regard to dance, a major factor is missed. It is as if the visually impaired lives in another private and closed world, which is mostly alone. To have a better social connection with the people who do see, we recommend the following to fit in: in our current society people need a listening ear. By being a listening ear, visually impaired and blind people can take on an important social role: showing interest in people’s stories, who they are, what they do, what their passions and joys are, but also their difficulties will create a bond . It will enable the blind to also fulfill a social responsibility towards others. We hope that this will make them more disconnected from their own “I” world and that they can grow as human beings into “a we” fact.

Solo Exercises or Exclusive Dancing

Covid-19 created a lot of challenges within the dance world. This was also the case for digital teaching to the blind. Private lessons or digital teaching on a solo basis can be used in the same configuration.

Clear directions are very important in any form, eg 2 steps to the left, 3 steps back.

Using the walking stick is the most convenient means of learning dance techniques anywhere and how.

Footwork with the stick as an aid

  • a. the stick as a horizontal guideline. The feet and the body in 0 position relative to the sound.
  • b. 90° a handy indication to the left or right with the stick in the middle between both feet

Using the cane on the ground as a guide for staking 90 degree angles is a handy tool. Visually impaired and blind people feel safe when they have their walking stick nearby. Laying their stick on the floor and thus marking out the lines of the left and right foot appears to be used with great enthusiasm by all blind people. Feel with the foot, placing degrees. ….eg using the stick as a straight line: toes and front foot on the stick to stand on a straight line, turning 90 degrees means that the stick ends up in the middle of both feet (difficult to get a constant of 90 degrees – 90 degrees angles are often smaller, rarely a nice straight roller)

  • c. 180° or fully rotated away from the sound
  • d. indicate how many steps forward or back, eg count 1 left foot forward or 1 right foot back.
  • e. 2 counts forward (past the stick) or 2 counts back (past the stick) by left foot in front, right foot in front, left foot over, add right foot and same principle backwards by left foot back, right foot back, left foot over, right foot over and add .
  • f. scenario 1: the dancer moves with weight on the left or right scenario 2: the dancer moves feet to the left or right but weight remains in the center
  • g. some example variations e.g. cumbia and chachacha
  • h. not on 8 but on 4 counts to the left or to the right
  • i. Dancing against the wall for shoulder work and others…. some possibilities
    • making a body roll is not always easy for sighted people. A fun exercise for everyone.
      • Stand half a meter in front of the wall and start using the body parts separately
      • Head against the wall, roll to the nose, roll to the chin, roll to the chest, roll to the stomach, roll the glutes, sit and back the same exercise but reversed from bottom to top.
    • shoulders forward and back. Blind people have difficulties with this, instead of front and back they raise and lower. In addition, blind people often do not keep their heads straight. Up to now, perpendicular to itself has not been possible in almost all cases. The wall can give them a resting position of the head in a straight way, instead of bending slightly backwards or forwards, or bending left or right. In all cases it is often a combination of eg head back and left, or head leaning forward and right. Presumably this poor motor posture could be avoided if attention was paid to it from the beginning (at birth) or the beginning of the disease.
    • Technically handy base for footwork when one foot has to be placed over the other or a cross movement has to be made.

Digital Lessons

A digital lesson with google teams. A start-up counselor (family, friend, or counselor) can help if the visually impaired in question cannot start google teams themselves, but initially most visually impaired or blind people can do it themselves. Preparation is a must. A test connection should be provided just before the lesson starts. In addition, the participants must indicate in advance which camera they will be working from.

  • Desktop computer
  • Laptop
  • Smartphone

Music and epilogue

As a salsa teacher, I have already taught more than 3000 people, recently teaching people with a visual impairment. For 11 years I dug deep into the steps of Cuban salsa and created my own methodology for my student dancers based on highly technical supporting properties. Footwork, arm movement, posture…. the last 3 years I was able to refine my methodology by teaching people with a visual impairment. My life vocation “dance lessons for everyone” became a fact.

Usually when one asks someone what is Salsa! Then most people immediately think of southern dance steps from Cuba. Dancing in the sun with a bronzed Cuban man or woman on a tropical beach or in the old streets of Havana on a balmy evening topped with delicious cocktails. Well correct! That’s the way it is. Anyone traveling to Cuba will be immersed from arrival in a world full of music, fun, happy faces and lots of dancing. It’s only recently that I finally started to see the big picture of the immense music repertoire in the Caribbean islands. Just as Salsa is linked with Cuba and of course its sister Puerto Rico, everyone knows the Reggae from Jamaica, but with my last trip to Guadeloupe it suddenly dawned on me as a clarification that now really all islands of the Caribbean are being showered not only with rum, but with an immense pallet of music genres. Dance is inextricably linked to music. One cannot exist without the other. Blind and partially sighted people have fewer opportunities in their lives to have fun and experience sensory pleasure stimuli. Music can give them a zest for life that can be used even to a higher level than the sighted dancer. That is why the right choice of music and the passing on of good music can give an important meaning to their private hobby life.