“Hello, my name is Michèle” does my introduction equally sound. I do see and am teaching salsa to visually impaired people. Last months I mainly advised sighted dance teachers, trainers and others interested in my sport discipline. But out of the dance world with blind people we aim to innovate by putting the world upside down. Together with Manuel Delaere, who’s having Retinitis Pigmentosa and who now is taking my dance classes for some 2 years, we came up with the idea writing an article about “Tips for inclusive dancing”. Instead of giving tips for sighted trainers and sighted students, we now do it the other way around. Our aim is simple: just building a bridge between two worlds where we can find and enjoy each other on the dance floor. This way we can have fun together in a context of inclusivity, having the focus 100% on dancing.

  1. Everything get’s started with the first encounter. Usually you have a phone call or send an email to the dancing school of your choice. This way you inform the organization about your handicap. It offers the school the possibility to think about it, take it into account and where needed, to adapt. Evenly important to you is to get some connection and to sense how the school reacts on your handicap.
  2. Always arrive some time before the lesson starts. This gives the organization the time to welcome you appropriately. The purpose is to dance together with sighted people. Hence Organizationally it is convenient to respond to all different students. Mind for example the reservation of a fixed place in the room.
  3. Besides your presence, a lot of other participants come to experience their hobby. Each one has his own live problems and comes to decompress. Within an inclusive lesson the trainer has the duty to deal with everyone and as much as possible, to teach homogeneously to a group of diverse people. The fact of just not making it an exception can overwhelm you, but it allows you to learn to dance at your own pace and within your own personality and independency, and so to grow as dancer and within your hobby event.
  4. People often do not realize the difficulty and courage required to exercise your hobby in a sighted world. So give them some credit on their lack of specifying things from time to time. A fellow student will e.g. not automatically tell you his or her name, age or physical characteristics. Blind and visually impaired people too often expect this being obvious.
  5. Therefore it is important to slowly observe and get to know the sighted dancers Practically you can do it yourself by the usual “hear and touch”. Ask people for their coordinates, but also show interest in their backgrounds and participate in the social happening. On the “touch” part I should recommend not to grope around randomly – hahaha, you never know where you end. E.g. ask to put your hands on the shoulders of the sighted dance partner. That way you can make an estimate, as leader or follower, of your dance partner and of the dance position to take. For “touch” same rules apply as for sighted people towards visually impaired people: always act respectful.
  6. Do inquire about the common protocol of the sport discipline. Each social environment has unspoken rules concerning the sport discipline and its practitioners. Asking about it will allow you easily to get integrated and to belong.
  7. You can assume you have as many assets as anybody else. Not seeing anything has its own advantages. Your less concerned about the beginner’s mistakes you make on the dance floor. Because you’re not aware of the reactions around you, this is pretty easy. You don’t care about the dance moves of the others and the glances, which results you’re get less distracted. You can pretty focus on your own progression. That’s the way dance will reinforce your self-confidence.
  8. Unlike for the world of blind and visually impaired people, where the auditive aspect is more important, the sighted world is primarily focused on visual stimuli. Seeing as first contact, as sensation, a perception, stays, for anybody except for the visually impaired, the most important communication factor in the society . As being visually impaired, you have the task to always take this into account to stay familiar with the world. Additionally it’s a fact in the dance world you can multiply the importance of the external appearance by hundred. Imagine the plenty of shows, contests and exhibitions. Literally “to see and to be seen.” When you don’t attach importance to this, , it gets difficult to think about integration, inclusion, to belong, from a full-fledged and integrated point of view. The purpose of learning to dance has in se nothing to do with physical appearances, but here the means justify the end and not vice versa. Taking this into account without undermining your own personality and taste, can help you a major step forward when you want to enter the world curiously.
  9. Couple dance or partnerwork is by the way about the connection with the other person. It’s no longer an “I” happening, but a “we” happening and under these circumstances everybody puts the best foot forward. We like to list some advantages of dancing being healthy and funny:
  • You quickly get to know new people by which you broaden your social network and can expand your circle of friends. This is great for the mental health.
  • Dancing is a sport and results besides in healthy movement also in body control and posture. Consequently it approves your general appearance.
  • Partner dancing or couple dancing offers guidance. Both as leader or follower, you can orient yourself towards your dance partner.
  • Partnerwork is convenient before, during and after the dancing lesson, on which your dance partner can help you to move safely on the dance floor or in the entire ballroom.
  • Music is a key aspect of the dance. The interpretation of music on a dance related approach will give you the opportunity to experience music more intensely and so to find more pleasure in it.
  • As being visually impaired you will not dance better or worse due to your handicap. The learning process of dancing is the same for all.

King Louis XIV did quite a lot for the arts and certainly for the dance discipline in general. He introduced free dancing mixing all people en did found the Royal Academy of Dance. This noble gesture welcomed everyone, but one was not yet taking account of people with a visual impairment.
Now in the 21st century we’re beyond this stage. Since this time the society is more conscious of the different worlds within one world and more attention is consecrated to each other and the different individuals.
For the blind and the visually impaired my greatest example stays a 24 year old girl from Lyon. She was dancing in an elegant and sensual fashion with her dance teacher in a bachata show. Up to now, for me, there is no better nor more beautiful symbiosis between this two persons and worlds.
Hence dancing has everything to do with personal interest and not with an impairment. That’s why we like to present Manuel’s vision:

“Long ago I took ballroom and Latin classes. For lack of a regular dance partner and of a dancing school giving adequate verbal explanation of the dance moves, I have been sitting on my dance hunger. Some two years ago I got the hint to try out salsa at Etage Tropical. Right away I got a warm welcome and was able to manifest myself as fellow student and not the odd one out. By means of a partner shifting arrangement (temporary suspended due to Corona) one can regularly dance with a new dance partner. That way you quickly get to know new people and it allows everyone to master the dance moves in a fast way. Michèle really does her best to get me a good dancer. The higher the dance level, the more thoughtful and more inventive she has to deal with the teaching of blind and visually impaired people. A mission she’s taking to heart.”

We’re hoping hereby to have opened the debate around inclusive dancing and welcome everybody to participate in our dance story.
Are you in the mood to start learning to dance, are you a dancer, do you love music, do you like to meet new people, , do you want to discover the pleasure of dancing salsa? We welcome you with open arms in Brussels, Ghent and Ostend. Just below you find our contact information:
Website: www.etagetropical.be
Mail address: info@etagetropical.be
Phone: Michèle Martens +32 473 80 97 18

©Etage tropical Productions – Ghent – 30/09/2021